Retired RSAF Brigadier General was the world’s first Sikh operational pilot for F-5 & F-16 fighter jets

He's an aviation trailblazer.

Henedick Chng | June 15, 2017 @ 05:20 pm

Retired Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Brigadier General Sarbjit Singh holds several distinctions from almost 32 years of military service.

Sarbjit’s military achievements are documented in Singapore At 50 – 50 Sikhs And Their Contributions, a publication by the Young Sikh Association (Singapore).

The publication points out that Sarbjit wasn’t just Singapore’s first Sikh to receive a star in his rank as a general.

He was also the world’s first Sikh operational pilot who flew F-5 and F-16 fighter jets.

An RSAF F-5 Tiger fighter plane. Source: Wikipedia
An RSAF F-16 fighter plane. Source: Mindef

Starting young

Sarbjit grew up with a keen interest in aeroplanes and his ambition to become a pilot started young. During his primary school days, he was so engrossed with chasing planes in the sky that he fell into a drain and broke his nose. Fortunately, however, he recovered well enough to still pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

While studying at Catholic Junior College, Sarbjit applied to obtain a private pilot’s licence from the then Singapore Junior Flying Club, in an attempt to get a leg up in entering the airforce. However, his applications were rejected for failing the medical examinations due to his heart rate.

Apparently, his heart rate soared at the excitement of being too close to his flying dream during the medical tests, which caused him to fail them.

Unfazed by these early setbacks, Sarbjit soldiered on and applied directly to the RSAF. With the help of breathing tips from his father to control his heart rate, Sarbjit was accepted into the RSAF and joined them on Jan. 17, 1983, fresh out of junior college.

Becoming a fighter pilot

Sarbjit’s achievements soared in the RSAF, despite the well known formidable difficulty associated with becoming a fighter pilot.

First, he topped his class in the 48th Fixed Wing Course, which had only a 13 per cent success rate for fighter pilots. But he did not stop there. He went on to top the 15th Tiger Conversion Unit Course, and was the only successful graduate from it.

As a fighter pilot, Sarbjit was a trailblazer in flying the F-5 and F-16 jet fighters. He made history by being the first Sikh in the world to become an operational pilot for these aircraft.

BG Sarbjit Singh in the cockpit of a fighter jet. Source: Singapore At 50 – 50 Sikhs And Their Contributions

Rising through the ranks, his RSAF career saw him serving as a Pilot Attack Instructor, Officer Commanding, Branch Head of the Operations Planning Group in Air Operations Department, Deputy Head Air Operations (Operations Planning), Deputy Commander of the Tengah Airbase, and the first Commander of the UAV (Umanned Aerial Vehicle) Command in 2007.

Sarbjit would eventually be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the RSAF. He was Singapore’s first Sikh general in the airforce.

One of his last appointments in the RSAF was Commander of the Air Power Generation Command. The unit ensures that Singapore’s air bases are operationally ready under all conditions. He served in the appointment till 2014 and retired later that year in October.

Sarbjit’s full story in Singapore At 50 – 50 Sikhs And Their Contributions can be found here.


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Top image from RSAF Facebook.

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About Henedick Chng

Henedick loves food. He is always hungry. In between his eating binges, he cooks and is just another food blogger who anyhow shares his recipes and dining adventures with the world.

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