Patricia Yapp is first Asian woman fighter pilot to fly the MiG-29

Yapp quit her law studies and applied to join the RMAF to pursue her dreams of becoming a pilot. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

Mejar Patricia Yapp does not take the country’s independence and sovereignty for granted.

“Merdeka is an important day. We should respect the warriors who fought for our independence and sacrificed for the greater good.

“It is our obligation to maintain Merdeka not only by words but by actions,” says 41-year-old Yapp who made history as the first Asian woman fighter pilot to fly the MiG-29.

Sabah-born Yapp is probably the most well-known woman fighter pilot in Malaysia, and she has been named one of Malaysia’s Ikon-ikon Negaraku.

The mother-of-two says she is proud to be listed among the country’s most eminent individuals.

“I feel honoured and blessed to be chosen as one of the Negaraku icons,” says Yapp, adding that she feels lucky to be a Malaysian and to be able to do her part in ensuring the country’s security.

Yapp first became interested in flying when her elder brother Captain Ignatius Yapp became a pilot. But her father objected.

So, in 1996, Yapp moved to Kuala Lumpur from her hometown in Sandakan to study law. But by the second semester, Yapp knew it was not a path she wanted to pursue. She then applied for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) cadet programme without her parents’ knowledge. She only told her parents of her change in career plans after successfully completing the first stage of the selection process, and they relented.

Patricia Yapp (right) is the first Asian female fighter pilot to fly he MiG-29.

In 2000, Yapp graduated from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia with a diploma in Aeronautical Engineering. After completing her flight training in 2002, she chose to be a fighter pilot and flew the Aermacchi MB-339 aircraft for four years. After this, she became an operational and tactical lead pilot with the No. 17/19 Smokey Bandits Squadron in Kuantan that flies the MiG-29N Fulcrum air superiority jets. She also performed in the squadron’s aerobatics displays at air shows. Yapp, who qualified as a flight instructor in 2014, has now served with the RMAF for 20 years.

“Training has been part and parcel of my life in the military. We learn how to shoot not only on the ground but also in the air. We perform jobs that require utmost accuracy. Performing in air display, flying formation, firing missiles ... they are all about being disciplined. Learning to control our emotions and anxieties, and being disciplined in the flying world are very important,” says Yapp.

“In Sabah, when I was young, we were very happy to hold the Malaysian flag and wave it to each other. Now, I still do carry one but on my shoulders while flying the flag up in the air,” says Yapp who usually takes part in Merdeka celebrations each year by performing in a flypast.

Though the country has gone through various changes, Yapp believes Malaysians are still united, and it’s most evident during sporting events.

“We cheered for Misbun Sidek before and now we are cheering for Datuk Lee Chong Wei,” she adds.

Yapp believes that the country’s future lies in maintaining a strong family institution.

“Let go of unnecessary political issues, just focus on patriotism as a single entity,” she stresses.

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