Singapore pilots take first flight in Strike Eagles
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 31, 2008 10:53 AM
Lim Chee Meng traveled for more than 24 hours and endured a month of "intense academics" for the chance to climb a particular ladder on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
So when the Singapore Air Force lieutenant colonel finally got that chance Thursday morning, he settled into the cockpit and took it all in.
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Moments later, he and the other pilots currently in training with the 4th Fighter Wing's 333rd Fighter Squadron were somewhere in the skies over Wayne County.
And for the colonel, his first flight in the F-15E Strike Eagle was "exhilarating."
"A lot of us, we have heard about the Eagles and how they fly," he said. "It was great."
Lim, call sign 'NOODLES,' is one of 16 air crew from Singapore currently training on the airframe -- a result of their country's 2005 purchase of an F-15SG fleet from Boeing.
And after his flight, he said he now understands just why his government wanted it.
"The Strike Eagle has got a reputation by itself, OK?" he said. "It does what it does best."
The training course runs for the better part of a year.
But for Lim and the others, their stint at Seymour Johnson is about more than learning to employ a fighter jet.
"I tell all the guys, 'We are not just here as pilots. We are diplomats,'" he said. "We carry the country name, so we need to be at our best."
That means offering to educate the base and Wayne County public on their native country when called upon.
"It just takes time to understand," the colonel said. "When you haven't seen a side of the world, it takes some time to understand it. So if people see me and they want to know about Singapore, just ask."
The airmen see sharing their culture with others as a way to pay back the communities they say have adopted them from day one.
"Goldsboro people and the wing, they are great. We haven't had any problems and, actually, we have had some really good experiences -- people helping us out," Lim said. "Small gestures go a long way to helping us feel at home."
Upon completion of their training course, the Singapore crews will stand up an operational fighter squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, the 428th Fighter Squadron Buccaneers -- another stipulation of their country's contract with Boeing.
And for each officer involved, a deep sense of pride is associated with helping his country's Air Force transition to a dominant fighter.
"Of course, when you're the core group of any kind of program, you have a responsibility. There are a lot of ways you can chart the future," Lim said. "You get a lot of pride -- a lot of thrill."
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