The route to the skies is not an easy one. Those who aspire to become a pilot would usually start by taking a flying course at the Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC) and obtaining their Private Pilot Licence (PPL), before going on to obtain other flying certifications and attending conversion courses to pilot specific models of commercial or military aircraft. Tessar Goh Pei Xuan took up the Aeronautical Science option, which comes with a flying programme at the SYFC, offered free as part of the Aviation Management & Services (AMS) diploma course at TP. She succeeded – becoming the first female student from TP to obtain her “wings”. She recounts her experience….
During the JAE in 2013, I was not able to decide on what course I would like to join. I went through the brochures and booklets of the different Polys and diplomas and came across Temasek Polytechnic’s Diploma in Aviation Management and Services (AMS). Somehow, it struck me that this was the course for me! All along, becoming a pilot was one of my aspirations, but I still wasn’t sure until I joined the AMS course, which came with an Aeronautical Science option including a flying programme at the Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC). I have had friends, who paid $36,000 just to take a flying course, and there I was, with the opportunity of a lifetime to take the flying course for free (we pay only a small admin fee). So I decided to go with the flow and I must say, today I have no regrets.
I was initially hesitant as there were very few female pilots in Singapore, and there are still are very few! Also, to have to compete with guys was going to be really tough, I reckoned! Yet, my passion stood firm, and I hung on to my conviction that I would that girls can be pilots as well.
As I started my polytechnic education, I learnt a lot about airplanes and how they fly. I was really intrigued by the modules I was studying and I felt even more certain about my decision to become a pilot. Through AMS, I was exposed to various internships opportunities and various job scopes as well. But the main attraction must surely be the Aeronautical Science option and the highly subsidized flying programme at the SYFC.
As the staffs went through the selection process with us, I was pretty nervous. I was afraid that I was not able to qualify during medical checkups! However, I plucked up the courage, head to the admission office and asked for an application form. I filled up my details and they told me that I had to wait for weeks before the medical checkup and interview. The weeks of waiting nearly killed me! It was really long and filled with apprehension. I was initially afraid that I would not make the cut as well! Then, I thought to myself, if I am not able to make it, it’s okay as long as I have tried my very best!
A few weeks later, I was called up by the SYFC office and they requested me to go for an interview! I was very eager and worried at the same time! I was afraid that the interview questions would be difficult and the selection process of trainee pilots would be strict! Thank god I had seniors who had been thru the SYFC and they gave me many tips. I had my lecturers and teachers to guide me along as well. The interview wasn’t as daunting as I had thought; it went well. I then went for a medical checkup and before I knew it, I was an SYFC Trainee Pilot!
I was really happy and excited to be able to start my first class with SYFC! Like a driving lesson, we had to start with the theory component first. I was thankful that my course had prepared me well for the theory classes in SYFC and I made it through the various theory tests! After that, we had to go through several modules of aircraft simulations! The simulation was different from what we had learnt in “Airline” lessons in school. The simulation machines in SYFC were much bigger and I was in an “aircraft cockpit” in the room. We had to pass numerous simulation classes to be able to start our first flight with our instructors!
During my simulation classes, I tried very hard to pay attention. The reason being, most students actually fail during this stage. I was praying hard that I would be able to pass the simulation modules. But somehow, I managed to pass my simulation module and by then, I was ready to take my seat in the Diamond DA40 aircraft! This was a small 2-seater aircraft which is used to train pilots. Up in the sky, it would be just me and my instructor. In my first lesson on the aircraft, I was petrified… I was actually excited about flying, yet I was afraid that something might happen and I might die. Thankfully my instructor was really patient and guided me every step of the way.
With my instructor in an aircraft simulator
After numerous flights, we were ready to go alone – yes alone, without an instructor! There was one particularly memorable incident that whenever I thought about it, it still sends shivers down my spine. During one of my first solo flights, I was unable to land the aircraft as there was another aircraft with a burst tire stranded on the runway. I got in touch with air traffic control, which told me to circle in the air and wait for further instructions. In total, I circled the air for almost 30 minutes, during which it also began to rain. All kinds of thoughts ran through my mind – what if I ran out of fuel? What if my aircraft was struck by lightning? What if I were to black out and faint? So many what if’s.
But eventually, the tire of the aircraft on the runway was fixed, and the aircraft was cleared from the runway. I then made my descent – in the pelting rain – and landed safely. On hindsight, it was such a remarkable experience. Student pilots are usually not allowed to fly in the rain. But in my case, circumstances were forced upon me. In a way, I was very lucky to be able to experience that, and know that I can also perform a landing in the rain.
I guess the best part about flying was not just piloting the aircraft, but also being part of the aviation process – communicating with the Air Traffic Controllers and making my decisions in the air! The things which I had learnt in my AMS subject, “Airline Flight Operations”, certainly came in very handy.
From the selection process all the way to be able to fly with a simulation, then an instructor and then all alone, I was really glad to be able to come this far! I have proven that a girl can do be a good pilot as well; it all just takes determination, practice and will power!
Receiving my PPL at the presentation ceremony
On the day I was awarded my Private Pilot Licence, I was at a loss for words. It has been a long journey towards getting my PPL, and looking back, I had to carefully manage my time for my family and time for my flight training because I had to go to SYFC at Seletar airport 5 days a week from Tuesday to Saturday due to the nature of the full-time flight training programme. But I feel that it has been all worth it. I have found my direction in life; I know what I want. My ambition now is to join the air force and be a fighter pilot to serve my nation.
With my fellow flying graduates from TP – I was the only girl!