Sometime in April 1969, I quit my first job of a few months, climbed up a 3 tonner and was on my way to Seletar Air Base. It was RAF Seletar, a British base in the Far East of the British Empire. There were two of us at the back of the 3 tonner. Singam was a former school mate and we were rather surprised to meet again in the oddest of all places. We did not realise that we were the last two recruits to fill up the remaining positions for the first batch of pilot trainees for our infant air force. It was too small to be anything and they called it the Singapore Air Defence Command.
Seletar had a little airfield with a little air traffic control tower that would be our training school for the training we were to receive in flying. It was a crash course really. We jumped down the 3 tonner to get a glimpse of the air force we came to join. And the whole air force was right in front of us, two Cessnas, a 170 and and 172 if I did not remember wrongly. For those who are not familiar with aircraft, these Cessnas were light aircraft, piston engine with a propeller in front, used for joy ride by hobbyists in the Flying Club. We were impressed. Never seen an aircraft at such closed range, and never knew what an air force was like.
The Chief Flying Instructor, a Major Foster and a Major Ogden greeted us on arrival. My gosh, two senior English gentlemen in flying suits warmly received these two young men still in civilian attire. In 1969, the locals were still quite unfamiliar with the faces of our ex colonial masters. But they were great guys, seasoned pilots from the RAF. After a few pleasantries we were introduced to another few senior trainee pilots, Andrew, Pat, Tony, Norman and a couple of others.
Andrew was tasked to show us around the aircraft to get us familiar with the machine that would take us up in the air. He walked us through and showed us what was a flap, an aileron, pitot tube, propeller and all the external parts of the Cessna. We did not know that that was Lesson Number One of ground school. Back in the class room at the tower we were given two books on the principles and theory of Flight. Read and ask if we did not understand what we were reading. The senior trainees would be there to help. The content was quite elementary, really. We were genius.
After lunch, Major Foster came to take me for a joy ride. Everything happened so fast, it was like a dream. Joined the SADC in the morning, went flying in the afternoon. And that was Flying Lesson Number One, to test how we reacted to air sickness.
In about a week I went solo. Unbelieveable. I did not even have a driving licence nor have I driven a car. Then I flew cross country into Johore, over Yong Peng, Layang Layang, Gunong Pulai and a few other small towns, alone. The only thing that I could still remember was the last minute safety advice, to ditch into any open area if the aircraft developed any trouble or engine failure. I was on my own, with only a few hours of flying and barely any knowledge of emergency drill. Partly ignorant, partly foolish, partly young and innocent, everyone one of us went through the routine to prepare us for a Private Pilot Licence. That was the basic requirement for further training in the UK. We did not know what was fear, what was dangerous then. If we ditched, we would be in the news, history. Quite a number of pilot trainees did become history while learning how to fly along the way, the heavy price the young men paid and were mostly forgotten.
All in all it took me one and a half months to get my PPL. I did not know it was that easy. I remembered taking more than a year to get my driving licence a few years later and had to struggle to pass the highway code. During this short phase of our training the 3 tonner driver, NSman, faithfully fetched the handful of us every morning from RAF Tengah to Seletar and back. There was no time for drills or learning how to march. One moment I was an Officer Cadet. The next moment I was a second lieutenant without any basic military training or knowledge of the army rituals. I actually did my basic military training in an Officer Cadet Training School, in RAF Henlow, UK.
Then on that fateful day of May 13, 1969, 5 young men, including myself, left Paya Lebar International Airport to join the first batch of pilot trainees already in the UK to be trained by the RAF as the pioneers of the infant air force. This was part of the deal offered by the British prior to handling over the military facilities to our Govt.
Imagine how time flies and how things were in those days. No ground school, no flying school of any kind. And if I am not mistaken, of the two Cessnas, one was on loan from the Flying Club. The sole possession of the SADC was a solitary Cessna 172 when the Air Force first started. Maybe this was also on loan from the Singapore Flying Club.
A little unusual thing happened while I was going through the crash course. I was officially AWOL from the Police Reserve Unit I was attached to for my part time NS. Everything happened so fast that no one informed the PRU of my enlistment into the SADC. The police went looking for me, probably with a warrant of arrest. I was in camp and did not know what actually transpired. They must have sorted things out after that and I did not hear from them anymore. Those were the days that anything goes and all rules were meant to be broken. There were organisations and rules that were often overtaken by events.