Unfazed in the haze
Meet the RSAF helicoptor pilots who helped put out Indonesia's forest fires last year
When the one-hour PM2.5 reading in Singapore shot to 471 due to forest fires in Indonesialast October, everyone stayed indoors.
But instead of hiding from the haze, RSAF's Lieutenant Teo Jia Jun and Second Warrant Officer Vijaikumar Rangabashayam (inset) did the opposite.
With 38 others from the Air Force, they flew to the heart of the forest fires in Sumatra to help the Indonesian authorities put out the blazes.
Lt Teo, 25, was the pilot of one of the two CH-47 Chinook helicopters dispatched to Sumatra and 2WO Vijaikumar, 41, was the aircrew specialist on board the Chinook.
"We could feel the heat from the ground, even through our boots and socks," Lt Teo told The New Paper.
The duo will be part of the aerial display at the RSAF Open House at Paya Lebar Air Base this weekend. (See report at right.)
Sharing their experience in Indonesia last year, they said they had to work in conditions where the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) were of about 1,000 and the temperatures close to 40 deg C.
"We could see only a few hundred metres around us, so we had no choice but to fly a lot slower and closer to the ground," said Lt Teo, who was deployed for two weeks for the mission.
With the PSI hitting 1,000, the servicemen had to wear N95 face masks.
2WO Vijaikumar said: "We used three to four face masks a day because the masks would become caked with soot.
"I couldn't even walk on the streets without a face mask on, that's how toxic the air was."
Lt Teo and 2WO Vijaikumar were also part of the team that was sent to fight fires in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in March last year.
During fire-fighting missions, the Chinook is flown to a water source and a heli-bucket - which can hold up to 5,000 litres of water - is lowered to collect water for dousing flames at a hotspot.
During its two weeks in Sumatra, the RSAF team used about 400,000 litres of water to extinguish more than 50 hotspots.
Lt Teo's and 2WO Vijaikumar's families had been very worried for the men's health and safety.
LTA Teo recalled how his grandmother would frequently ask him if he had eye drops or if he was drinking enough water.
2WO Vijaikumar's children, aged 16 and 15, would send him text messages every day to ask how he was doing.
"I think when my kids saw footage of the smoke and fire on television, they got very worried. But I kept reassuring them that I was safe," said 2WO Vijaikumar.
Despite the challenges, both servicemen felt that their hard work in Sumatra and Chiang Mai was worth it.
"When our Chinooks flew past, the locals in Chiang Mai would come out of their huts to wave. It was a very heartwarming sight," said Lt Teo.
Nodding in agreement, 2WO Vijaikumar added: "The most important thing is that we helped to ease the haze situation and that our friends and families are safe."
RSAF OPEN HOUSE 2016
Where: Paya Lebar Air Base
When:Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 6pmAdmission: Free
TAKE A RIDE
Winners of the ballot on the RSAF Facebook page will get to fly in a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, CH-47 Chinook helicopter, Fokker-50 transport aircraft or Singapore Youth Flying Club's DA-40 trainer aircraft.
There are 3,000 seats available. Registration is at the Performance Hall.
BE A PILOT
Experience what it is like flying an F-16 fighter jet. With the help of RSAF servicemen, visitors can get a virtual experience in piloting the F-16.
With a throttle and a flight grip, you can control the plane's take-off and landing. A computer screen will display the gears in the jet and three others will show your surroundings.
Enjoy aerial displays by the F-15SG and F-16C multi-role fighter aircraft and a capabilities demonstration which include ground-based air defence and Surface-To-Air Python-5 missile.
There will be a showcase of air-land operations involving the AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
The SAF Red Lions Parachute Team will also put up a display. The 30-minute demonstrations will take place at 10.30am and 2.30pm on Saturday, and at 11.30am and 4.30pm on Sunday.
Latest updates on the show timings can be found on the RSAF Facebook page.
WIN A SET OF EXCLUSIVE RSAF FIGURINES
They are the people who make the RSAF tick.
And now, they have been made into figurines that you can collect.
Five groups of the air force personnel are represented in the set of figurines: Air Force Engineers, Command, Control and Communications team, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle crew, Ground-Based Air Defence personnel and Aircrew.
The first four figurines were given out at the Singapore Air Show in February. The Aircrew figurine will be given out at the RSAF Open House this weekend.
The New Paper is giving away four complete sets of these figurines to our readers. To win a set, answer the following question:
The Aircrew figurine will be given out at the RSAF Open House 2016. True or False?
E-mail your answer, along with your name, IC number and contact number to email@example.com by 11.59pm tomorrow.
Winners will be notified via e-mail.