Cadet reaches for the heavens

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 April, 1996, 12:00am

Flying an F-16 fighter jet may look impressive in movies, but in a real cockpit you would probably be confused by the vast number of tiny buttons.

That was certainly the case for Stephen Cheung Sing-hang.

As a cadet corporal for the Hong Kong Air Cadet Corps (HKACC), Stephen has had a few 'flying experiences' - sitting in the cockpit and watching someone fly the plane.

He does not have a pilot's licence yet.

'I am intimidated by all those buttons. Each has its own function and I really cannot master them all,' he said. 'You can imagine how much pressure the pilots of passenger aircraft undergo when they have hundreds of lives in their hands.' When Stephen joined the Air Cadet Corps three years ago, he did not realise that most of his training would be land-based - foot drills, discipline training and textbook knowledge - rather than flying a real aircraft.

He attributed this lack of flying experience to Hong Kong's relatively tight budget for the air force.

'We don't really have an air force of our own. The Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom has its own duties and so does the Government Flying Service,' the Form Seven student from Rosaryhill School said.

'Governments in other countries train their air cadets to become real pilots.' Stephen's experience at the International Air Cadet Exchange Programme in Belgium last summer convinced him that overseas air cadets were far luckier.

Out of the 19 young air cadets who took part in the programme, 13 had a pilot's licence which allows them to fly small aircraft like gliders. Stephen, on the other hand, could only watch them enjoy the fun of flying.

'I was discouraged because they were much more experienced. They told me that air cadets were part of their countries' national air force and were very well-trained,' he said.

Stephen spent two weeks with air cadets from Britain, the United States, Norway, Sweden and Israel in the exchange camp.

Although he was discouraged, Stephen said the exchange programme gave him the motivation to continue his training.

He also realised that there were other things he could do apart from flying. When he turns 21, he would like to enrol as an officer at the HKACC so he could share his knowledge and skills with his successors.

'As a cadet corporal, I have to lead about 30 basic cadets, and being with the Corps for such a long time, I want to ensure that my knowledge will be passed on and help train air cadets to become disciplined young people,' Stephen said.

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