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Stick to your dreams

When did I know I wanted to become a pilot?

My name is Theodon David Teo and my interest in aviation started at a very young age when I was taken frequently to Changi Airport for family dinners. I remember standing at the airport’s viewing gallery watching aircraft of all sizes taxiing out from the parking bays and taking off into the wild blue yonder. My parents also often took my siblings and I to Air Force Open Houses at Paya Lebar Air Base during our growing-up years. I was intrigued by the static aircraft displays and fighter jets performing aerial demonstrations at low levels. The sights and sounds of aeroplanes large and small thrilled me as a young boy and that was when I knew I wanted to fly someday.

How I began flying

I still recall how I found out about the Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC) through friends who were already in it. They told me SYFC was offering the opportunity for youths in Singapore to take up flying training for free. I immediately signed up without any hesitation after completing secondary school education.

I applied for SYFC in February 2009 and a few months later, I was ecstatic that my application was successful, and I would be enrolling with 21 other aspiring young aviators in 170 Basic Flying Course (BFC). The initial phase of the course was packed with numerous ground school lessons and several simulator sessions to prepare us for our first sortie. I realised even at that early phase of BFC, there was a lot that was required as a pilot but that challenge was something which kept me motivated.

There was a dedicated team of instructors and staff from SYFC who mentored us along the way, all of whom had a vast and in-depth knowledge about aviation. I did my first solo in the Piper Warrior II aircraft on 12 December 2009, after 20 dual flying hours with an instructor by my side. We were only allowed to take the aircraft up into the air alone after we demonstrated a high level of competency and safety. I was cleared for solo by my then Primary Instructor, Bernard Leng whom I am, to this day still extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from.

My Instructor Mr. Bernard Leng congratulating me after my first solo on 12 December 2009

Pursuing the dream

That first solo flight acted as the catalyst for pursuing the dream of becoming a pilot. I studied three years for a Diploma in Aviation Management and Services at Temasek Polytechnic and applied for various cadet pilot programmes after completing the diploma and the mandatory two year military service for all Singaporean males.

Unfortunately, things did not go smoothly when I applied for pilot positions in 2015. I was not successful in any of the cadet pilot interviews that I went for. I knew that the competition for cadet programmes were exceptionally stiff, as there are just too many applications for too few slots. However, I still felt a deep sense of regret and disappointment that I was not accepted and could not begin flying again. But one thing I learned was that for future selections, I had to be extremely well prepared for every part of the process which usually consists of aptitude tests and formal interviews.

With some encouragement from my parents, I decided to further my education by enrolling in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Asia. It was a relatively new private University which started its degree programmes in Singapore back in 2011. I took a full-time undergraduate Bachelor in Aeronautics degree (BSA) in 2016 and was expecting to graduate in 2018 after being given some credit exemptions.

Somewhere at the end of 2017, the school announced that there would be an option for flight training as part of the BSA with the first batch of students starting in mid-2018. Students in Singapore could take up a Flight Minor, with the flight training taking place at Embry-Riddle’s main campus in Daytona Beach, Florida to obtain a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Commercial Pilot License (CPL). At the time, ERAU was also in discussions with Singapore Airlines (SIA) for a partnership that would allow students that took the Flight Minor to be offered a conditional offer of unemployment upon completion. However, the ERAU-SIA partnership never materialized.

I thought it would still be a great opportunity to apply for the Flight Minor as ERAU's flight training in the U.S. was reputable and rated highly in the country. An FAA CPL would also open more doors for me to fly in many countries. I was accepted into the Flight Minor along with another Singaporean student and we began our flight training in Daytona Beach in July 2018.

Flight training in the U.S.

The new accelerated 12-month flight training program meant that we were given priority over normal flight students who only flew three times a week. I was scheduled to fly up to six days a week and progressed well through the training.

Throughout my flight training, I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the outdoors, grassy fields and the Atlantic coastline which was a sharp contrast from the Singapore high-rises. It was also great training on a large and modern fleet consisting of 62 C172s and 10 DA42s equipped with the latest avionics and traffic avoidance systems.

Grassy fields in Central Florida