How air force pilots beat bad eyesight to guard Singapore’s skies

SINGAPORE: As a child, a helicopter ride left such a deep impression on Captain (CPT) Padigepati Anirudh Reddy that he dreamt of becoming a pilot one day.

The view from the sky “was just so amazing that I wanted to fly”, said CPT Anirudh, now 36.

But as a teen, he was unable to join the Singapore Youth Flying Club due to poor eyesight. He suffered from myopia – 450 degrees in his right eye and 400 degrees in his left eye – and astigmatism.

It was not until a recruitment talk by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) that he learnt he could become a military pilot by getting corrective eye surgery.

Since 2005, the RSAF has sponsored corneal refractive surgery for eligible air crew who pass stringent medical tests.

CPT Anirudh received his surgery when he joined the air force in 2010, and now serves as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot.

“For search and rescue, obviously it’s very crucial to have good eyesight. A lot of the portion of the time we’re flying low, we’re looking out in the sea to look for people,” he said.

To date, about 400 air crew have benefited from RSAF’s surgery programme. All returned to military flying duties after their procedures, with none developing complications that prevented them doing so.

The programme debunks the myth that perfect vision is needed to become an RSAF pilot, said aviation medical doctor Major (MAJ) Isaac Chay Wei Jie.

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