Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kindered spirits

"The trainspotters' activities include 'camping' at train stations and recording the trains on each line and the advertisements on the carriages, among other things.

"Their findings are posted and discussed on an online forum." - The Straits Times, 5 June 2010.

Singapore's small community of bus, plane and train spotters are a goldmine of trivia for the island's land transport and aviation sector.

Raw data they amass points to the amount of information skilled operatives can collect from the open domain just by investing the time and passion to the task.

Spotters and militarynuts contributed greatly during my days as a journalist. Many want to remain anonymous, but I nonetheless thank them for the tipoffs and sighting reports which helped the 90 cents newspaper publish impactful defence-related scoops.

Admittedly, their criticisms and constructive comments on how a published story could've been written better also helped me up my game.

News of the air intrusion by a Cessna seaplane was contributed by a team of plane spotters. One of them was outside WSSS and thought it frightfully odd when peak hour airliner traffic came to a standstill while two F-16D+s thundered off the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Changi Air Base (East) runway, armed and clearly in a hurry, eastbound for the South China Sea on full reheat.

I received the tipoff that evening and the story made it to the Prime News page in time for the next morning's paper.

The last flight by the RSAF A-4 Skyhawks over Singapore was another timely contribution.

In recent days, the story of how a Singaporean train spotter was the first to upload a video of an SMRT train with an unusual paint job is yet another example of how closely spotters watch their quarry.

An 18-year-old student/train enthusiast, Mr Ong You Yuan, waited an hour to catch a train that caught his eye. His Youtube contribution was the first to show an SMRT train sporting the non-company sanctioned livery. Catch You Yuan's video here.

The saga emphasizes the contribution that eagle-eyed citizens can play in alerting authorities when something is not quite right or appears out of the norm.

The community of spotters is a small one. It is somewhat competitive as enthusiasts jostle to keep prime observation spots to themselves or try to be the first to break a fresh sighting report.

But hobbyists tend to know one another. Indeed, some of the militarynuts I've met on jaunts have become new friends.

Plane spotters can, for example, serve as a tripwire when outsiders lurk around RSAF air base fencelines. Their eyes and ears add to the security bubble around key installations, enhancing the physical security measures on MINDEF real estate.

When the outreach embraces people with a passion for the military, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will find that netizens can help the SAF's outreach in cyberspace, 24/7.

To this end, I am glad initiatives are being taken to address this. This is especially important at a time when SAF combat formations have gradually become aware how a certain individual has run down his directorate. We see it in the rotten advice given to higher management and the back stabbing of peer group officers, including but not limited to interfering with the social calendar of general-ranked officers.

As I said before, the system isn't stupid. So let's just leave it at that.

Going forward, people who get a kick seeing military vehicles on the road will welcome the start of the National Day Parade 2010 first Combined Rehearsal (CR1).

I bet I'll see the usual suspects stalk roads in the city centre to catch the Mobile Column as SAF A and B vehicles trundle past City Hall, not forgeting the Home Team's hardware.

Throw in the plane spotters who will be there to see the flypast rehearsals and we'll have the makings of another group outing.

Who's in?


Anonymous said...

Cool, I'm first one to sign up for the CR1!


Wocelot said...

I suppose, if there is such a chance,it will be at the proper place again?

FIVE-TWO said...

The SAF should decentralise the armour units so that there will again be convoys across the island (albeit at non peak hours). It is good training for drivers and commanders, and great for milnuts, spotters and a spectacle for the general public.