Sunday, June 5, 2011

RSAF Open House 2011: Post-event Review

The first weekend of the mid-year school holiday gave people in Singapore many leisure options and many banked their time with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Open House at Paya Lebar Air Base.

Full house: Spectators pack Paya Lebar Air Base on Sunday 29 May'11, waiting for the last Aerial Display of the two-day RSAF Open House.

The payoff was a chance to get a firsthand look at how the RSAF - the air force responsible for operating the world's most densely defended air defence operations zones - goes about defending our skies.

The crowd size on the open days (Saturday 28 May and Sunday 29 May'11) indicate strong support for the event. The footfall of around 45,000 visitors per day is noteworthy. This visitor attendance was achieved despite competing events such as the Grand Opening of Universal Studios Singapore on 28 May morning, the start of bargains galore as the Great Singapore Sale kicked off its first weekend and the start of the mid-year school holidays when Singaporean families tend to leave the city-state for a vacation.

Sure, the fact that the event was free could have spurred people to flock to the air base.

But Team RSAF apparently took nothing for granted and worked with mainstream media and social media to promote awareness of ("I know about the open house"), interest in ("Sounds interesting. Let me find out more.") and support for ("I will make time to attend the event") the RSAF Open House in major newspapers and blog postings. Such pre-publicity is commendable and will be addressed in a separate report.

For now, let's examine how the visitor experience can be enhanced when the next committee dusts off the files several years from today to organise the next instalment of the RSAF Open House:

1. Shuttle bus queue line management:
The crazy maze at Eunos bus interchange should be replaced. The current zig zag queue line essentially made every bus passenger trace the entire floor area of the queue line. This can be tiring especially for elderly visitors, people pushing prams or with kids in tow.

Rather than a zig zag arrangement, why not have people queue in parallel numbered queues starting from Line 1, Line 2 and so on. When the shuttle buses arrive, Line 1 will embark the shuttle first followed by Line 2 etc. Once the last line is filled, the now empty Line 1 is reopened for visitors and the sequence repeated. Done this way, visitors will be spared the crazy maze and will cover the minimum amount of floor area needed to reach the bus.

2. First touch point with visitors:
The time spent in queues should not be seen as dead time but an opportunity to get visitors into the mood for their experience. Most movie theme parks do this. The RSAF could have leveraged on its "Defending Our Skies" tagline for the open house to make visitors feel like they are being transported into an operational airbase.

Field Defence Squadron (FDS) personnel could have been deployed near the queue lines so the spillover crowd would have something interesting to photograph (like an FDS MB240GD jeep with GPMG) while killing time for the shuttle bus. Theming the queue area (correct password like "Defending Our Skies" before you are allowed to queue?) maximises visitor enjoyment as crowd interest is stoked even before they reach the airbase.

3. Information display boards:
Good show by Air Power Generation Command (APGC) weapon specialists in introducing the sharp end of the RSAF to visitors. Fully armed warplanes seldom fail to make a striking backdrop for photographs. But more could be done to introduce and explain the air-to-ground ordnance to the public.

Military enthusiasts and foreign military visitors would likely know what they are looking at, so the deterrent effect is achieved here. But commitment to defence can be strengthened if heartlanders are taught the difference between a laser-guided JDAM and a vanilla Mark 82 iron bomb and therefore walk away with a healthy respect for the RSAF's combat capabilities.

In this regard, a dedicated bomb park with videos and pictures should be devoted to teaching visitors what they are looking at instead of having aerial guns, bombs and rockets displayed as mere props for the fighter aircraft. Why not have a mock bomb crater (painted on canvas) to show visitors what the kill radius is for bombs of assorted tonnage? Or mock bunkers showing the penetrative power of some types of ordnance when pitted against hardened structures?

Remember that the best warplane in the world cannot do its job without the weapon specialists who load, arm and pre-flight the sharp end of the Air Force.  

4. Aerial display
This is the piece de resistance of every RSAF Open House and this year's 35-minute air display and mock attack sequence did not disappoint. This year, both the F-16Cs and F-15SGs took off from the main runway. At the last open house, single-seat F-5S Tiger IIs and F-16Cs roared off the taxiway and main runway, demonstrating the PLAB's ability to get its warplanes into the air in the shortest possible time. This made for a more dramatic show as half of the take-offs were executed much closer to the crowd line.

Not sure how many visitors missed watching the RSAF recruitment video and Singapore Youth Flying Club 40th anniversary video that were screened at the end of the aerial display.

As spectators tend to pack the 5,000-seat capacity viewing decks an hour or more before showtime, this captive audience is an advertiser's dream. Rather than let their eyeballs stray aimlessly, the videos could have been screened before the aerial display segment just like movie trailers. The clips could even be repeated twice without testing the patience of the crowd as they were tastefully filmed and fun to watch.

With proper scripting, the FDS could also pull off a pre-show segment. The viewing gallery is almost full 45 minutes before showtime anyway so any pre-show would not lack an appreciative audience. Even a mock patrol sequence using V-200A 20mm vehicles driving in front of the crowd line with guns in a herring bone pattern would soak up camera time.

Now to the flying display proper: Showing heartlanders how F-15SGs and F-16Cs get airborne within minutes is impressive. Having them fly race track patterns around an intruding piston-engine aircraft isn't. To be sure, a WW2-era Brewster Buffalo could have done the same job. Pity 855 was not made to play the part of an intruding bandit as her distinctive tiger stripe paintwork would have made her show ready as a mock dogfight unfolded over show centre. Sure, the RSAF fights its air battles BVR these days thanks to AMRAAM but some creative licence would allow Team RSAF to dazzle spectators with aggressive flying.

Would have preferred to see the Chinook fly in fully armed.

That said, the aerial display was well received though the storyline is at risk of being dated for repeat visitors.

5. Traffic management
Facebook traffic updates are fine but drivers are more likely connected to GPS en route to PLAB than Facebook. A LED sign placed before the turnoff to Airport Road would help drivers make a go/no go decision before adding to the jam.

At places like Sentosa, roads are watched several kilometres away from the St James Power Station/Gateway Avenue turnpike for signs of traffic build up. The same could be done for Airport Road to better manage visitors who drive to the base.

The dropoff area at W7 could have been turned into additional parking. This was done during previous shows (in the mid 1980s!) when the apron all the way to the STAero hangars provided ample parking space.

An alternative cab rank could be formed outside AFS alongside the shuttle buses as the area is sheltered and can cope with any queue spillover. This also reduces pressure on the traffic control points as fewer people need to cross the road to wait for a cab since the cab rank is on the same side of the road as the open house.

To sum up, RSAF Paya Lebar opened its doors to tens of thousands of visitors with just two days of sneak previews for families of RSAF personnel and organised school tours to tweak last minute glitches.

The fact that many of the full-time National Servicemen airmen and officers were not in service during the last RSAF Open House three years ago underlines the steep learning curve for all ranks.

Indeed, only one officer on this year's organising committee was part of the brains behind the last RSAF Open House in 2008. Everyone else had to learn from scratch how a crowd magnet was put together.

That those involved adapted to demands of the open house and coped with huge crowds streaming through W7 validates the learning points institutionalised by the previous committee in its show report.

We hope the RSAF Open House 2011 committee will do likewise and will hand over valuable takeaways for the next committee.

Check Six!


alert5 said...

I believe the taxiway was not used as there were pyrotechnics installed nearby and could posed as hazards to a/c taking-off.

The aerial display could have featured a solo F-15SG flying demo instead of the DA-40 intercept. This was done in the previous show with the F-16D+.

Instead of taxiing back behind after landing, the fighters could have returned back to the grand stand for the crew to greet the crowd like what the F-14 Demo team did at Oceana in 2005.
This was done during the Hunter, Tiger days in the 80s.

Instead of the Chinook underslung ops with LSVs, they should have featured the new Peagsus howitzer. Men fast roping down Super Pumas have become too repetitive.

As usual, the event map provided online is of too low resolution for printing. There are people(me included) who might want to print the map themselves using recycled paper. Is Mindef trying to save on online storage/bandwidth?

During one of the preview days, I was told by the staff that I could not walk from hall 2 back to hall 1 as the single walkway might get congested. That should be looked into for the next open house.

I don't think the crowd was pleased when the DM, on his 1st official outing, was late 15 mins to open the event.

Lastly, the real heroes behind the event were the men in blue polo-ts walking around picking up litter no matter how small as they could be potential FOD.

Spotter @ Milnuts said...

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the RSAF for a job well done for the Open House. It's not without flaws, which I consider minor, and it is definitely better organized that most of the regional open houses and airshows that I have attended.
I would like to offer some constructive comments on some aspects of the show.
Great thought for the multiple ladders for cockpit access for the static park. It eases the waiting time for the aricraft queue during the peak periods. But is visiting the cockpit the major draw of a static display? More effort to explaining the new weaponary that is on display would have been better. The impact of displaying laser guided JDAM and GBUs on the static, and Sniper pods and various pods, AIM-120X etc without proper description is lost. There was a stand on the Sniper pods but unfortunately it is located at Hall 2, far away from the static. Side tentages covering each munition / pod near the aircraft display would have greatly help the general public understand the advances made by RSAF. For aircraft enthusiasts, having twin ladders attached to fighter aircraft in the static park it means that no clean picture of the aircraft is possible. I would request that at least an example of each fighter aircraft be either kept in a cordorned off area as per F-15SG and F-16 Blk 52+ (sadly no F-5 arming display this time round) for the arming display or restrict the ladders to a single aircraft of each fighter type. I was disappointed that I could not get a decent full side of the F-5S/T. The fact that this could be the last display for the F-5S/T seems to be lost on the organisers.
Next, the flying segment. The sequence is almost unchanged from the last couple of airshows and it is in danger of being too predictable. If airspace contraints locks down the orientation of the run-ins, one could understand. I appreciated the diagonal run across the runway during one portion of the bombing run, and the syncronized vertical climbs which did not go un-noticed, which was something different. Although one may be reluctant to change a winning formula, the script badly needs to be refreshed for the next show.
IMHO the use of a DA-40 to act as an intruder was a big mistake. Using TWO F-15SGs for this task seems like using Hellfire missles on softskin jeeps (ala some misguided Apache pilots in the first Gulf war). I would have thought that using the venerable F-5 to simulate a MiG would be more appropriate. At least it will look more believable and more exciting. It would be good if RSAF consider firing off flares in the intercept maneourvers. This will add visual impact for the spectators and create excitement. This was done to great effect at the regional air force open houses at Don Muang and Korat.
I would like to suggest that ALL operational aircraft types be flown during the show. Even a simple flypast or a couple of touch and go's would have been greatly appreciated by the crowd. Many were disappointed at the absence of the F-5S/F in the flying display. Also not all variants of the F-16s were flown. Adding a fly-by to introduce all the fighters and other fixed wing assets would have added more meat and enhanced the flying sequence.
Lastly, I thought that the RSAF missed out on a great opportunity to display her heritage more prominently, especially this being the centennial year of aviation in Singapore. Aircraft enthusiasts would have appreciated a complete line-up of the old retired birds like Strikemaster, T-33, A-4SU, TA-4SU, RF-5S, S211, UH-1H/B etc on Taxiway W7 leading to the show entrance.

bob villa said...

Drove all the way from j.b., a great set up . Love the Eagle and Falcon light up their AB,and going vertical during their airborne scramble.

A great open house, Bravo to the open house.

A million time better then Singapore aerospace show last year.My 5 year old enjoyed the games for the young ones in the air-cond tent behind the hanger on our way out.

alert5 said...

Forgot to add that they could have done a 'heritage' flight by having the E-2 and G550 fly together for the aerial display. How often does the RSAF have a retiring platform and replacement both in service at an Open House?

Anonymous said...

I believe some of us saw TWO RED SIGNAL FLARES launched over the public area where the Gound Based Air Defence exhibits, on Sunday morning before the first aerial display. Given the extreme safety consciousness that pervaded the entire open house and which crimped the excitement of the performances, it is safe to say the flares which could have set someone's hair afire were not a scheduled event.

This was posted on the RSAF OH event page but nothing beyond a token response has been given. Such a response is an invitation to free speculation.

Area51 said...

Some observation to add to Spotter’s earlier remarks. I do agree with him that using the F15SG to intercept the Diamond DA-40 was a bit of a overkill. An F5 would be a more suitable and provide a more dramatic interception. From the show, you can see the F15SG Mudhens have problem tracking the low and slow flying Diamond due to the great different in speed.
May I suggest, for slower and low flying intruder, they should be intercepted by the Apaches. To add more drama to it, get the Apaches to escort the intruder to the show center where the FDS will conduct a take down of the Diamond DA-40’s pilot