Thursday, May 17, 2012

Singapore, 1960s – Air Displays (by Tim Light)

“Look Mummy, there’s an aeroplane up in the sky.”

These words were spoken on Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, and the remind me of the time when I was a small child, in the 1950s, when the sight of any aircraft was a cause of excitement.  Today, if I look up on a clear day I can see a dozen or more airliners making vapour trails in the sky.  But in the 1950s there was almost nothing.  That all changed when we went to live in Singapore in 1961.  Because of the presence of British military bases on the island, as well as a busy civil airport, Singapore’s skies were amongst the busiest in the world.

On a couple of occasions in the early 1960s, my father took us along to an RAF air display.  This was a big thrill for a youngster like me, brought up on war comics.  I can’t be 100% sure, but I think the display was at Changi, although something at the back of my mind says Seletar.  In retrospect I think it was very generous of the RAF to open their doors to the public, at a place that most governments would have regarded as most secret.  Anyway, I remember that there was always a big crowd at these events.

My father seemed to know a lot about military aircraft, and he was almost as thrilled as we were to see them flying at close quarters.  He pointed out the Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor, Hawker Hunter, Canberra, Meteor, Javelin and lots more.  I loved them all, but I particularly fell in love with the Beverley, which was a big-bellied transport aircraft that looked a lot like a pregnant guppy.  The various aircraft demonstrated their speed or manoeuvrability, and even some formation flying.

After the flying was over, we were at liberty to walk around the hangars where we could inspect aircraft really close up.  There were one or two vintage items that looked like they had survived from the second world war, which my dad said would be used for reconnaissance or radar patrols.

In reality, living in Singapore at that time was like one continuous air display.  At the Naval Base School there seemed to be a procession of aeroplanes and helicopters coming in and out of Seletar, and military aircraft seemed to turn up any time, anywhere on the island.  I never got bored with these planes, as they all seemed to have their own distinctive character.  I have to admit that, wonderful as they are, most of today’s airliners look pretty much the same to me.


** Found these these photos of planes mentioned by Tim at the National Archives Picas Website.

A RAF Meteor Fighter being towed at midnight from RAF Changi to Seletar Technical Training School. The jet will be used by the Singapore Air Force for ground training. Picture shows the Meteor being towed along Upp Serangoon Road (Sep 1969)

Canberra WE139 which won the London-Christchurch Air Race in October 1953 in 23 hours and 51 minutes. Royal Air Force, Changi, Singapore.

Lightning supersonic fighter jets of the RAF 74 Squadron at Tengah Air Base. Known as “Tigers”, the 12-missiles jets will take over the air defence duties in the Far East. (1967)

Related Post: Plane-spotting in Singapore, by Brian Mitchell


Icemoon said...

Why this post has no title??

Zen said...

I really wish to see the jump-jet harrier which performed very well in the falkland war but unfortunately it is never on display in Singapore.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for pointing out. Blame it on Google. Suddenly they inform that Blogger no longer supports Internet Explorer and that I have to install Chrome. My Chrome keeps hanging and the format has changed. Not used to the new, and lousier format :(

Brian and Tess said...

James loved the blog and if have not already got it can I most strongly recommend you read 'Emprie of the Clouds' by James Hamilton-Patterson - simply wonderful book about the aircraft of the post-war period. Its available as a paperback and as a large format book full of photos (with slightly edited text). Can't recommend it highly enough.

James Tann said...

In 1974, while I was studying Aeronautical Engineering at Singapore Polytechnic, my entire course mates, about 30 of us, were bused to Seletar Airbase where 4 ex-RAF Gloster Javelins were ungraciously dumped at one corner of the airfield. We were given only one day to take whatever we could salvage from these 4 ex warbirds. Of course, the SADC already had 1st pickings and we were left with the scraps. Already gone were the engines, canopies and most of the avionics but still we managed to salvage smaller parts like actuators, flaps, push-pull rods. We even managed with herculean effort to detach an entire landing gear back to the Poly lab for our use and training.

These decommissioned aircrafts were given by the RAF to the SADC (Singapore Air Defence Command) for ground training as mentioned above and the SADC kept the scraps for us for our training. ha ha.

Zen said...

Only recently I changed the internet explorer to chrome which I really like. It was because of the former internet explorer I could not get through to gmy blog and I kept on blaming my old computer as useless (old horse). With chrome everything seems fine now.

TheSounDOne said...

@Zen The harrier did ever perform at one of the Asian Aerospace many years back. Also, don't be surprise you may be able to catch them flying around when the US military is in town for exercises.

Zen said...

TheSounDOne - Oh is it! I must have miss the display. Presently I think the chinese navy would be interested to get hold one of these jump-jets. Study and master its intricate technology and to produce them for their own future generation of aircraft carriers. Recently they renovated a disused aircraft carrier bought from Ukraine and use it as a 'training ship'. It seems that they are unable to deploy suitable air-crafts which are able to land and take off from its deck.

HCS said...

Does anyone have any recollection and photographs of the warbirds once static displayed at Sentosa in the grounds of an ex-British camp? There was a Meteor, the others I cannot recall.