Singapore Air Show

Black Knights are Singapore’s pride

 - February 17, 2008, 11:04 PM

Streaking across the Changi skies in their sleek red-and-white F-16s, the Black Knights symbolize Singapore’s determination to boost this revamped, go-it-alone airshow. The team has re-formed for the first time since 2000. Be sure to catch their performance here this week, for it may not be repeated elsewhere.

The six pilots came from the three F-16 squadrons of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) resident on the island (a fourth resides in the U.S. for training). They fly the Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 52 and boast a collective 6,500 hours in the type. They enjoy support from 25 hand-picked senior technicians.

Team leader Lt. Cmdr. Leng Wai Mun told Aviation International News that the Black Knights re-formed last May. “I had just finished a tour as a squadron commander, so it was good timing for me,” he said. Leng was joined by two veterans of the 2000 edition of the team–Maj. Tay Kok Ann (who flies position No. 4) and Lt. Col Philip Chionh (No. 5). Maj. Jeffrey Nah volunteered to join Chionh as the other half of the opposition pair, in position No. 6. Leng selected the two captains: Augustine Wan (No. 2) and Lester John Fair (No. 3).

So how did they work up such an impressive show? Leng said the team first traveled to the U.S. and the UK to confer with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows, respectively. Then they brainstormed their own ideas to come up with a display that was “logical and safe” for the restricted airspace available over Changi. They practiced for months over the islands to the south of Singapore, which also serve as a weapons range for the RSAF’s fighter-bombers. Last Thursday they flew over Changi for the first time, and will have performed here 11 times in 12 days before the Singapore Airshow ends next Sunday.

The 20-minute display comprises 16 different maneuvers, including a difficult Chevron roll in all three axes simultaneously. After that, the team splits into four-plus-two for some opposition passes by Chionh and Nah, who later join up for a nicely flown mirror pass followed by a slow pass at 130 knots. The main formation then sets up the “flaming heart” maneuver, which takes them to their maximum display height of 9,000 feet, before No. 5 and No. 6 rejoin for the final “Curtains,” a downward bomb burst.

The team had hoped to use red-and-white smoke in the display, but the red color was dropped after a ground running test at Tengah airbase, when unusual climatic conditions sent the red, oily smoke billowing over neighboring farms. An embarrassed Singapore Ministry of Defence paid more than $70,000 compensation for damage to crops.