Hi! My name is Darren. At the time of writing, I am undergoing the Boeing 777 Type Rating training with a local airline to become a Second Officer.
Ever since childhood, I harboured an enduring fascination for aeroplanes. The mere approach of an aeroplane would halt me in my tracks, inviting a moment of marvel and wonder. During secondary school, I set my ambitions on a career in the aviation industry. Following the culmination of my GCE 'O' levels, I applied to various aerospace courses in the local polytechnics. After careful consideration, I ultimately chose to embark on the Aerospace Electronics course at Singapore Polytechnic. I became a Singapore Youth Flying Club member, immersing myself in the fundamental skills of manoeuvring a light aircraft. I savoured my inaugural experience of piloting an aircraft. The encounter was nothing short of transformative, instilling an insatiable desire for more.
I enlisted in the National Service in 2014. Throughout Basic Military Training (BMT), I ardently pursued a career with the RSAF as a pilot. Still, sadly, my aspirations were not fulfilled even though they offered me a compelling opportunity as an Air Force Engineer. I faced the diverging paths with a heavy heart. The engineering role was tempting as it involved working with planes, but I knew it could end my aspirations of soaring through the skies. I knew I had not yet exhausted all avenues to pursue my pilot dream, so I decided not to commit to the Air Force.
I completed my National Service in 2016 and started my 3-year Aircraft Engineering degree program. Despite my unwavering commitment, my attempts to secure a spot in various airline cadet pilot programs proved unsuccessful. Amid these challenges, a beacon of hope emerged when I stumbled upon Revion Ground School in 2018.
The program offered by Revion Ground School immediately captured my interest, prompting me to reach out to Youhao. The structured program entailed undertaking an intensive ground school in Singapore, meticulously laying the groundwork for the subsequent training phases, and ultimately working towards the pinnacle achievement of obtaining a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). I applied immediately without any hesitation.
I took a massive leap of faith upon passing the assessment and interview. I withdrew from the university to commence my ground school in January 2019. In hindsight, I took a calculated risk, as I only had one year left to get my degree. But, if I had chosen to complete my degree before joining Revion, I might have yet to reach where I am today. So, I am glad I made that bold move, and it has paid off.
Our course presenting a token of appreciation to Youhao.
Ground school was intensive – 14 papers in less than six months. However, I knew this was a rare opportunity to achieve my pilot dream. I took nothing for granted, and not only did I strive to pass all 14 papers, but I also wanted to excel in them. We had to adapt to the pace of ground school, and each day brought new challenges that required our best efforts to assimilate and retain the knowledge. However, what I found helpful was that the lessons were well-structured and progressive. The instructors swiftly addressed any doubts or uncertainties.
Trip to Airbus Asia Training Centre.
Beyond classroom learning, Youhao also organised educational trips to Airbus Asia Training Centre, Seletar Control Tower and Meteorological Service Singapore. The experiences provided a connection between the theoretical subjects taught and their real-world applications in the aviation industry.
I achieved first-time passes in all 14 papers, and it was time to prepare for our next training phase. In October 2019, we headed to L3 Harris in New Zealand. We had a week to settle down when we arrived, and our flight training kicked off after that. I needed to step up my game again.
My first solo flight was a dream come true.
We started our flight training under VFR (Visual Flight Rules). I mastered basic flight manoeuvres, then progressed to circuits and navigation flights on the DA20. The initial learning curve was quite steep, and we had to establish our foundation and demonstrate good airmanship before we were allowed to fly solo. There were also check flights during our training to ensure we are developing to a good standard.
Flying at 9,000 feet and admiring the beauty of Mt Ruapehu. What a sight!
We planned our routes and explored the country for our navigation flights (subject to the instructor's authorisation). The incredible sight of New Zealand enhanced the pleasure of flying. I visited multiple airports in a single day!
Everything changed in mid-2020 when COVID-19 swept the world and locked us down. Our flight training came to a screeching halt as the academy shut its doors for three long months. I felt a surge of panic. The pandemic had shattered the aviation industry, and I knew my chances of landing a pilot job after graduation were slim to none. Pilots everywhere were losing their jobs. The airlines would need years to bounce back, let alone hire new pilots. I also realised how lucky I was to have joined Revion before the lockdown. If I had waited to finish my degree, I might have never made it to the flight training phase, and I would have given up the dream of becoming a pilot.
But I always kept sight of my goal. I started this journey with a clear vision of becoming a Commercial Pilot, and everything has stayed the same. Even when the future looked bleak, I concentrated on the here and now. I knew I couldn't control the future, so I didn't waste time and energy worrying about it. I just kept chasing my dream with all my heart.
When we finally got back to flying, I entered the next phase of training - IFR (Instrument Flight Rules). This taught us to fly by relying only on the instruments. This was a challenging stage for me, as it required a lot of discipline in scanning the instruments and mental agility to 'stay ahead' of the aircraft.
Nothing like piloting the DA42, a twin-engine beauty.
After passing a few check flights, I reached the final stage of our training, where we flew the twin-engine DA42, the same plane we would fly for our CPL and IR tests.
I did it! I passed my final flight test!
In February 2021, I passed the flight test on the first attempt. I proudly got my Commercial Pilot License with Instrument Rating on Multi-Engine aircraft (CPL MEIR). It ended a two-year journey filled with hard work and perseverance. I had made it!
I came back to Singapore, hoping for the industry to recover soon. Even though it was hard, I never gave up on my faith that the aviation sector would bounce back; it was just a matter of time. Resilience, a key trait for any pilot, strengthened me as I waited for brighter days.
During the interim, I stayed sharp by reviewing the lessons from the ground school and the flying academy.
In 2023, a local airline started hiring again after a hiatus of over two years from the cockpit. Swiftly seizing the opportunity, I promptly submitted my application. A few weeks later, I received an invitation for an interview. I aced the interview and moved on to a simulator check-in, which I also nailed. In January of 2024, I officially joined the airline.
As I look back on this transformative journey from an aspiring pilot to an airline pilot, I realise that the skies, like life, are unpredictable and ever-changing. Every challenge, every setback, and every wait has made me who I am today.