Flying high and giving all Singaporeans a sense of pride upon sight is the State Flag Flypast, one of the iconic highlights of the National Day Parade (NDP) since 1970. Behind this slow and majestic flypast lies many hours of preparation, sweat, and tears for the Mustang Presidential Flag Salute Crew (MPFSC). On 24 June, members of the Military Aviation Photography Singapore (MAphotoSG) group were invited by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to a behind-the-scenes look at the flag rigging process at Pulau Sudong for the NDP 2017 Rehearsal that evening.
History of the State Flag Flypast
In 1970, the State Flag Flypast debuted at the NDP, flown by the Aérospatiale Alouette III SA316B helicopter from 120 Squadron operating out of Changi Air Base. The initial flag measured 2 by 3 metres.
Alouette III State Flag Flypast party taking off (Photo Credit : Singapore Memory Project)
In 1987, the Eurocopter AS332 Super Pumas of 125 Squadron took over the flag flying duties, with a flag measuring 28 by 19 metres, which set a then-world record for the largest state flag to be flown. In addition, the three trailing Super Pumas were each carrying commandos attached at the end of a STABO (STAbilised BOdy) rig and trailing coloured smoke.
The Super Puma last flew the State Flag at the 2000 NDP, with the Boeing CH-47SD Chinook taking over the following year. The current State Flag measures 20 by 30 metres, approximately 1.5 times the size of an entire basketball court. By comparison, it is more than a 100 times larger than that first flown 47 years ago.
CH-47D Chinook with Singapore Flag
With an area of about 600 square metres, 225kg ballast weights are rigged to the bottom of the flag to help ensure a proper unfurling during takeoff, making a fully rigged flag weighing about 1247kg. Air pockets with adjustable slits are stitched at the tail end of the flag, and these help to control the amount of air passing through and allows the flag to stabilise and fly straight. In order not to damage or tear the flag during flight, the suitable flypast airspeed for the Chinook is 45 knots (80km/h).
The preparation and rigging of the State Flag is carried out by the MPFSC, consisting of about 300 personnel from both 127, 806 and 816 Squadrons. The RSAF has up to 20 flags, but up to 15 of them are rigged and prepared at 3 different locations . Three flags are always airborne at the same time, with two of them serving as backups in case of issues with the main flag. The process begins with taking the flags out of storage, and checking to make sure that the flag is free of blemishes or damage. It is then rolled back breadth-wise in preparation for rigging.
Chinook patch on Air Crew Specialist
Air Crew Specialist on CH-47D Chinook
RSAF CH-47D Chinook
Special tailflash commemorating 20 years of Chinook operations on aircraft 192
For this visit to Pulau Sudong, 40 MPFSC personnel were involved in the flag rigging process. The rolled-up flag is first laid stretch out and hooked onto the underbelly of the Chinook to its triple hook system, which provides stability to large external loads. Ballast weights, cable slings and a flag release rope are attached before the Chinook begins its take off. As the entire flag is lifted up, the ground crew pulls the release cable to rip off the velcro fasteners, which allows it to unfurl naturally as the Chinook flies forward.
Disembarking from the Chinnok at Pulau Sudong
CH-47D Chinook approaches for State Flag pick up
Ground crew watches as the CH-47D Chinook moves into position for hook up
Hooking up the flag
Ground crew prepares to pull the release ropes that will unfurl the State Flag
Three 500lb ballasts are attached to the bottom of the flag
CH-47D Chinook lifts off once the 3 hooks are attached
Ground crew pulls the release cable to unfurl the State Flag as the aircraft rises
The Chinook will then proceed to rendezvous with the two accompanying AH-64D Apaches near Sentosa island, awaiting for its cue to fly past the Marina Bay Floating Platform during the National Anthem segment. As the parade continues after the flypast, the MPFSC will prepare for the return of the Chinook to recover the flag and store it for the next use. By the time the entire process is completed, it marks the end of a long day which finishes in the dark of the night.
Men from the flag rigging party
Air pockets at the tail end of the State Flag
Ground Crew Mission Accomplished – Aircraft is on its way to show centre
State Flag Flypast at Marina Bay
It has been a privilege for MAphotoSG to have been a witness to this annual tradition and we would like to thank the AFIC group for the invitation. Special thanks go to 127 Squadron, especially LTC Liao Ming Hao (Commanding Officer / Pilot), CPT Tan Jun Sheng (Co-pilot) and ME4 Edward “Fish” Lim, the flight crew of the Chinook that ferried the invitees from Sembawang Air Base to Pulau Sudong and back.
Interview with CO 127SQN, LTC Liao (Video Credit: Keen Len Chan @keenlen)