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At The Airbases Part 1

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MonsoonMaiden

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Besides doing civilian work at Changi Airport, we also have forecasters stationed at military airbases around the island. There was a shortage of manpower at one time, so several of the Changi forecasters had to cover duty there, including me.

The work consisted mainly of monitoring the weather and issuing a warning if a thunderstorm was going to affect the airbase. It was a good experience because I did a lot more outdoor observation there than I did at Changi. In Changi, we were issuing warnings for locations far from the airport, so we had to rely mostly on the radar. At the airbases, we spent a lot more time peering at the sky & watching the clouds develop.

The first airbase I went to was Tengah. It was large and sprawling, and many of the buildings were old, including the Met. Office, which was situated below the control tower overlooking the runway. It was a small office, & the forecaster's room was a claustrophobic little cell with no windows except for a small square of glass in the door. The radar display was housed in an adjoining room, where the aircon was so cold that temperatures seemed to reach arctic levels. Every time the phone rang, I would dash to the radar room to have a look first before running back to answer, in case it was the control tower calling for an update. The other disadvantage was that we were surrounded on three sides by trees, so that the only unimpeded view of the sky we had was westward over the runway. This meant that the control tower ironically had a much better view of the clouds developing than we did.

Tengah had the most peculiar work hours I have seen. They were something like this :

Mon 0730-1330hrs

Tue 0730-2130hrs

Wed 1330-2130hrs

Thur Rest day

Fri 0730-1815hrs

Sat Rest day

Sun Standby

There were two other forecasters there, an Indian gentleman called KT, and also Dr CT, who had done his PhD in Japan. Both have since retired. Dr CT was a short & bespectacled man with a loud voice whom everyone affectionately referred to as "Doctor". He was simple & good-natured, & the NS boys loved teasing him (Actually they should be called National Servicemen, but they were only about 17 or 18 yrs of age. National Service is compulsory in Singapore).

The head technician there was Mr Y, & I liked hearing about his treks in Nepal & various stories about the airbase. I remember him telling me that there used to be a cobra living in a hole in the ground near the Stevenson screen; it was quite bold, & used to come outside in the mornings to sunbathe.

I once got into trouble with KT because I was experimenting with some animated cursors on the PC (it being a fair day so I had some free time). I tried out this little walking dinosaur & forgot to reinstall the old arrow cursor before I went home.

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The thing about the dinosaur cursor is that the cursor tip is the tip of the tail, but Mr KT didn't know that. The following day I got a lecture from him & was told not to change the settings in the PC in the future. When he'd left, Mr Y, shaking with laughter, told me that KT had become very agitated the day before when he'd discovered the arrow cursor had suddenly turned into a walking dinosaur. He couldn't select anything on the PC screen, & called Y for help. It took them a while to figure out how to get the arrow cursor back.

We had to give a weather briefing to all the squadrons every week, & Doctor carefully told me what to do. I must open with "Good morning, Base Commander, Deputy Commander, ladies and gentlemen". The trouble is, I didn't know what the Base Commander looked like. The hall is huge, all the squadrons are present, & I'm up there on the stage looking at them from a distance. I had no idea whether the Base Commander was there or not. He sometimes wasn't present & the Deputy would take over instead. I usually solved the problem by only saying "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen."

I discovered that this wouldn't do, though. No formal complaint was made, but the message got passed down verbally that it wasn't correct protocol. My reasoning was that it would be ridiculous if I greeted the Base Commander when he wasn't present. Fortunately I was only at the airbase temporarily, & I was a civilian & not in the employ of Ministry of Defence, or I guess I would have been demoted.

Another peculiar procedure everyone had to do was F.O.D. - Foreign Object Detection. When driving in to the control tower it is necessary to cross the runway at one point, & there was an occasion when some debris got sucked into the engine of one of the aircraft. Whether the debris came from the tyres of a vehicle or not, from then on everyone had to stop their car, get out & examine their tyres before proceeding onto the runway. As a result, on approaching the runway one could often see several cars parked there, with their occupants crouched in various positions next to them.

It took me a while to get used to working at Tengah, especially having to listen to the deafening screech of F16s all day long. Despite the noise I did like watching them, in particular the takeoff and landing. I don't know why but there's always something magical about watching an airplane take flight. I enjoyed watching them practising for NDP as well, flying in formation. One morning I was also lucky enough to catch a parachute jump taking place overhead; it was a nice sight, all the little brightly coloured parachutes in the sky.

But the best times were in the evenings, when flying had ended for the day. Then a silence descended on the airbase, & it was very pleasant to stand outside & watch the sun set over the runway. This is one of the few places in Singapore where there are no buildings in view, only trees. There was usually a gentle breeze blowing, and a small flock of white birds swirling around in the distance, egrets perhaps. It was a very restful scene.

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