From The Straits Times    |

 What it's really like to be a female fighter pilot

LEE MEI YI, 30
She is the highest-ranking woman fighter pilot in the air force.

Straight out of junior college, Mei Yi took up an SAF scholarship to study economics and political science in the United States. A chance encounter with a former Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) woman pilot during her Basic Military Training inspired her to become a pilot herself.

Following a three-year training stint in Australia, France and the US, this F-16 fighter pilot returned to Singapore and was posted to 145 Squadron as a junior pilot. Subsequently, she qualified to lead a flight formation of two fighter aircraft and, in August, she will be involved in the SG50 National Day Parade flypast.

The journey to becoming a fighter pilot is no easy feat – all applicants, male or female, need to meet initial physical requirements, such as having uncorrected vision of less than 500 degrees (minus 5.00 dioptres) in each eye and being able to endure extreme gravitational forces. Only those who show an aptitude for military aviation are shortlisted for further training.

“Ultimately, everyone is expected to perform the same tasks – whether it’s being able to assess potential threats or accurately navigating the aircraft back to the airbase during an emergency,” explains Mei Yi, who holds the rank of Major. “These require skills, such as being adept at prioritising tasks and making accurate and quick decisions, which are gender-neutral.”

So are guys intimidated by this cool, spunky lass? Rather than being put off, most of them are genuinely curious about what Mei Yi – who is single – does. She has fielded questions like how she relieves herself in the cockpit (she holds it in or simply drinks less water before the flight) and how to eject herself from her seat in case of an emergency.

With regard to the latter scenario, she says: “Thankfully, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to try it!”

PHOTOGRAPHY: WINSTON CHUANG, STYLING: EVON CHNG, ASSISTED BY GRACIA PHANG, HAIR: ANN LIN/ATHENS SALON, MAKEUP: AMY CHOW, USING MAKE UP FOR EVER. Vest from Greyhound/Robinsons, cuffs are stylist’s own.

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