ONLY one in a thousand makes it as a fighter pilot in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), and Lieutenant Yusri Abu Bakar, 25, not only made the cut but also secured the distinction of becoming the first Malay Singaporean fighter pilot.
The young lieutenant got his wings in October 2001 and completed his F-16 training a year later.
To earn the coveted wings, he went through 26 months of pilot training, which included 11 months in France on fighter aircraft.
Lt Yusri, who was with the police force for a year after finishing his A levels at Tampines Junior College, signed up with the RSAF in 1998 to pursue his childhood ambition of being an air force pilot.
At the start of the RSAF Open House at Paya Lebar Airbase yesterday, visitors made a beeline for the fighter jets, each manned by RSAF personnel like Lt Yusri, who posed for countless snapshots with visitors and patiently answered their questions about the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The crowd got a chance to get up close to the RSAF's arsenal of warplanes, transport aircraft and helicopters, and also watched aerial displays by Super Skyhawks and F-16s.
The first Malay Singaporean to become an air force pilot was Lieutenant Mohamad Zakir Hamid in 1992, and he used to fly transport planes.
According to a Ministry of Defence spokesman, he is now a major and a flying instructor at the air force's Flying Training School in Pearce, Western Australia.
But Lt Yusri has the honour of being the first Malay Singaporean to fly a fighter jet.
A bachelor, he has two younger sisters aged 21 and 16. His father has retired from SingTel but his mother still works for the telco.
He was on hand to explain to Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean the inner workings of the jet, after the minister inaugurated the two-day event.
Asked about Lt Yusri's appointment, Rear-Admiral (NS) Teo said: 'We need good people in the SAF and we evaluate people on their ability, aptitude, commitment to Singapore and their dedication to the SAF.'
And does Lt Yusri himself feel additional pressure to perform, being the only Malay fighter pilot in the RSAF?
He said: 'Pressure? I don't think so. I'm here to do my job, like everybody else.'