For Singapore Airlines Captain Sam Yeo, flying was always an ambition, even as a young boy. After spending his time in school participating in extracurricular activities such as the air modelling club, and NCC Air (National Cadet Corps), he wasted no time after graduating from polytechnic to get started. “After I got my [polytechnic] diploma, I didn’t even go home, I just went straight to the Central Manpower Base and signed on to be a pilot in the Singapore Armed Forces,” he recalls with a laugh.
His first solo flight was a two-seater training plane, which he says was “liberating, and a bit scary at the start, but once you get up there your training just kicks in.”
Sam spent most of his career with the air force flying transport aircraft, a role which was exciting and, at times, required difficult decisions to be made. “When there’s a crisis in the region, transport aircrafts are the first to go,” says Sam. He remembers a time when he had to take off with three engines instead of four during a mission in East Timor. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make – I spoke at length with the crew and deliberated for an hour before making the decision to fly,” he says.
Regardless of being an airforce pilot or commercial pilot, a responsibility for the lives onboard remains and for Sam, this is something that must be kept top of mind for pilots.
“Safety is always important,” he stresses, noting that the pre-flight checks for both the army and Singapore Airlines are very similar.
As part of his job with Singapore Airlines, Sam works as a Line Instructor Pilot for the Airline’s Boeing 777 fleets, involved in command development and training new second officers. “Of course for trainees, they think the most important thing is to be nice to the captain,” jokes Sam. “But in my role, I believe it’s important to do more, and to show and share with junior co-pilots.”
For Sam, encouraging younger pilots to be strong leaders is an important part of the role.
He is thoughtful when it comes to discussing the necessary traits a pilot should have. “You have to have composure, you also have to be quick-thinking and be ready to think outside the box. You need to be confident of every decision and not hesitate to put them into action.
“When you make a decision, you have to have the team behind you. Being in the cockpit is very much about teamwork. It is just like how you have to help co-pilots come out of their shells during their training. Everyone has to cooperate and work together.When you can get all that, I think you can be a successful leader or captain.”
Now that Sam has traded in dangerous missions for commercial flying, he has had the opportunity to invest more time in his hobbies. “Training flights are usually short, regional ones which gives you more time to have a life. As a pilot, you get to see so much more [of the world] and you’re exposed to so much more as well.”
This freedom has allowed him to indulge in motorcycles – a beloved hobby of his. “Biking can be a spontaneous, exciting ride,” he says with evident enthusiasm. “When you’re flying, you always need to have a way out, you always need to think of contingencies and exit plans, but on a bike, it’s just you and the road.”
Sam has used his annual leave to travel to interesting places with his bike, listing cities like Hamburg in Germany as one of his favourites. His most memorable trip was taking two months off, arriving in Lisbon and just heading east, going where the road would take him.
He’s even found like-minded pilots within the Airline who enjoy the same activity. “We’re called The Hocks,” he says proudly. The group has travelled around on biking trips together and are planning to visit Sabah together this year. “That’s the thing with aircrew, they will always put in their 100% in the things they do,” he says.
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