S'pore's first & only female fighter pilot

Emblazoned on this fighter pilot's helmet is the word Thorn.

The joke is intended.

Captain Khoo Teh Lynn, 30, is Singapore's first and only female fighter pilot.

The ace, who's with the 145 Squadron at Changi Air Base (East), explains smiling: "Thorn among the roses. It's my twist on it. Sounds better than rose."

Her weapon of choice - the F-16C and the F-16D Block 52+ Fighting Falcon.

They're among the most sophisticated and advanced multi-role fighter aircraft in the world.

Equipped with avionics for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat roles, the F-16 can perform missions in all kinds of weather, both day and night.

They're also capable of flying at more than twice the speed of sound.

The RSAF F-16C will be performing at the Singapore Airshow, and the F-16D+ is on static display.

Capt Khoo has clocked more than 600 hours in the air on the F-16 jets.

She says: "I still have a long way to go in the sense that there are a lot of ways I can improve to be a better pilot."

Her love for flying began in 1998 when she was a first-year student at Raffles Junior College and joined the Youth Flying Club as an extra-curricular activity.

She recalls: "I kept an open mind. I never thought of being a pilot until I joined the Youth Flying Club. It was fun. I enjoyed flying a lot and thought that maybe I'd make a career out of this."

She obtained her private pilot's licence in 2000 when she was last interviewed by The Straits Times and even then, she aspired to be Singapore's first female fighter pilot.

Straight out of JC, she signed up with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

Says Capt Khoo: "I signed up to join the RSAF because I felt that it would give me more challenges, excitement and fulfilment."

She went through 10 weeks of basic military training and then attended Officer Cadet School.

Her training also took her to Pearce in Western Australia, where she attended the Flying Training Institute and got her basic wings.

That was followed by a stint in France, where she obtained her fighter wings in 2003.

She then joined the RSAF fighter fleet as a junior pilot, starting off as a wingman. She was promoted to captain in 2007.

That same year, she enrolled at the University of Southern California and graduated in 2010 with a double major in international relations and history.

Says Capt Khoo: "I joined so soon after school. I cannot imagine being in any other occupation.

Even if I try to think about it, I can't really imagine."

Her parents and sister, who is three years older, are supportive of her decision to become a fighter pilot, she says.

Asked if they were proud of her, she replies with a laugh: "I hope they are proud of me."

Her father, Mr Khoo How San, 61, who works as a part-time copy editor says: "We are very proud of her. Upon reflection, when she was a child, her motor skills were very good. She is very independent-minded."

He's proud that she is serving her country.

Says Mr Khoo: "The way I see it, male or female, my daughter and her colleagues are a very collegial group of people who love their jobs. When I observe them together, they are buddies and the gender difference does not come through."

Does Capt Khoo notice any difference?

She says: "I don't feel any different.

"In this professional organisation, first and foremost in the fighter squadron, you are a fighter pilot. There is no gender prefix to it."

Her longest trip was a 51/2-hour flight to Darwin in 2006. The plane has a range of 4,000km.

To contend with the G forces when she flies - it can be nine times her weight - she runs 10km each time up to four times a week.

Out of her fatigues, Capt Khoo reads fashion magazines on occasion, wears light make-up when she goes out and dons dresses for functions.

And when asked her age, the 1.68m-tall pilot says: "I don't want to be 31; I am 30. I turn 31 only later this year. I've reached the age when..."

She trails off with a laugh, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Capt Khoo got married last July. Her husband is a transport pilot with the RSAF. But no, they didn't meet on the job.

And they have no issues being co-pilots in their marriage and there are plans down the road to start a family.

Says Capt Khoo: "Our relationship is not influenced by our profession. Anyway he flies a bigger plane than I do."

This article was first published in The New Paper.