First all-female F-15SG fighter crew say they make a good team
F-15SG pilot Captain Julie Lim and weapon systems officer (fighter) Lieutenant Hannah Teo have come a long way since starting flight training together in 2016.
SINGAPORE: For Captain (CPT) Julie Lim, 28, and Lieutenant (LTA) Hannah Teo, 26, their journey to the cockpit of the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) most advanced fighter jet was spent mostly together.
In 2016, they began flight training – called the basic wings course – at Pearce Air Base in Australia around the same time, where they flew the turboprop PC-21 planes.
The pair – CPT Lim slightly ahead of LTA Teo – then moved on to the advanced flying course in Cazaux Air Base in France to fly the M-346 advanced jet trainers.
“We graduated from our fighter wing course at around the same time in 2019, and that’s when we were both posted back to Singapore, where we are both in the 142 Squadron,” CPT Lim told reporters on Wednesday (Sep 22).
So when the F-15SG cockpit canopy finally closed on them – CPT Lim in front as the pilot and LTA Teo behind as the weapon systems officer (fighter) (WSO) – for their first operational flight in June 2020, it was as though things were meant to be.
CPT Lim and LTA Teo are the first female duo in the RSAF to fly the F-15SG together. The WSO is in charge of navigating, monitoring surface and air threats, as well as managing onboard weapon systems.
LTA Teo said it was a "great opportunity" to be able to fly with another female crew member, pointing out that an all-female pairing does not come around very often.
“When we get paired together, it’s like two junior air crew in the cockpit together,” CPT Lim added. “That brings a whole new set of learning, and we get to learn a lot more from flying together and making mistakes together, and figuring out what to do in a get-together, so it's exciting in that way.”
CPT Lim and LTA Teo had flown different missions with other more senior crew, calling them valuable opportunities to learn a whole lot from more experienced pilots and WSOs, but to them the experience of two good friends taking to the skies together was unlike any other.
LTA Teo said it is easier and more comfortable to fly with CPT Lim, adding that every crew member has their “quirks”.
“We've been training so often together, the camaraderie that we have and the amount of time that we spend with each other (mean) we know each other's habits and we are very comfortable working with each other,” she said.
CPT Lim said having LTA Teo as a partner also helps them build more confidence in their abilities.
“Because like I mentioned, we’re very used to flying with more senior air crew or our instructors, so when we are flying together, we realise the responsibility that we have, and it helps to develop our confidence,” she added.
In April, both of them were posted to the Peace Carvin V detachment in Idaho, US. They are currently honing their skills at this year’s Exercise Forging Sabre, held in Idaho from Sep 14 to 25.
LTA Teo, who is participating in the exercise for the first time, described it as an “eye-opening experience” as she gets the rare opportunity to use the jet's weapons.
CPT Lim, also a first-timer at the exercise, said it has helped her appreciate the integration between the army and air force, “and see how our job as F-15 air crew fits into that bigger picture”.
CPT Lim has appreciated aviation since she was a young girl, spurred by her dad’s career as an RSAF helicopter pilot.
She attended the Singapore Youth Flying Club and graduated with a private pilot licence, before studying aeronautical engineering at university.
“Growing up being exposed to every air force open house and Singapore Air Show I could remember as a kid, I definitely had an interest to sign on and to pursue being a pilot as a career,” she said.
The path for LTA Teo, who does not come from a military family, was a little different. In junior college, she played netball competitively, and she yearned for a career that would challenge herself physically and mentally.
“So I thought, why not join the air force since it seems like a challenging career,” she said. “When I actually signed on, I really wanted to fly, because I always saw on every National Day the jets fly. So, that kind of sparked my interest.”
While CPT Lim said the dream at the start of flight training was always to be a fighter pilot, she pointed out that the RSAF’s needs come first.
“The truth about the air force training journey is that were we get posted to depends on time and space, so it's not really necessarily 100 per cent where we want to go,” she said.
“I've seen the kind of good work that my dad has done in humanitarian assistance and things like that, but I've also seen his friends who were the so-called tip of the spear as fighter air crew.
“I guess it's one of those things where you never know where you're going to go, and it really depends on what the air force needs at that point in time, and I think that was the mindset that I had going into my training phase.”
When asked about her challenges in training to be a fighter pilot, and whether gender was a factor at all, CPT Lim said the training was “challenging for everyone regardless of gender”.
“It's not easy to learn how to fly an aircraft in the duration that we are given to learn, as well as to accomplish the complex missions that we need to be able to do,” she said.
“So, I think there were definitely many challenges along the way. There's really no perfect flight for us that we come down and say that, ‘Oh yeah, that was an awesome flight.’
“There's always something to learn, so the whole thing that keeps us going is to keep striving to be better each time. And to keep improving from there."
CPT Lim advised young women who aspire to be fighter pilots or WSOs like them to “follow your passion”.
“There may be many things in life that, especially for young girls when they're at the stage where they are choosing what they want to do for the rest of their lives, there will always be a lot of question marks,” she added.
“Regardless of whether your passion is in a more male-majority environment, if you do what you enjoy, that will be really what keeps you happy at work every day.”