KORAT — Group Capt. Rawin Thanomsingha was soaring nearly five kilometers above Thailand when the engine acted up.
Normally it wouldn’t be a big deal for the fighter jock with 20 years experience flying F-16s, but on that day in November, he was seated in the back with an inexperienced pilot-in-training up front where the engine start-up and kill controls are located.
“At 15,000 feet we had engine trouble,” Rawin said. “We had to shut it down.” Thailand flies around 50 F-16s, some built in the early days of the jet fighter’s production, so engine trouble isn’t unheard of.
The trainee managed to kill the engine and the unpowered plane started sinking. The F-16 is capable of gliding, but not for very long.
Rawin, 49, kept his cool and explained the startup procedure over comms to the trainee, who then proceeded to blow it. Pilots have a saying, “Speed is life, altitude is life insurance,” and they were losing both, very quickly.
Rawin considered ejecting to safety and ditching the multi-billion baht aircraft in an empty field, but with only 1,000 feet beneath the plane, he chose to talk the pilot through the process again. The engine roared to life and the rapidly falling F-16 shot upward with full afterburner.
Both pilots narrowly escaped a fiery death.
Rawin recounted their narrow escape from death with a perpetual grin in a small coffee shop behind the Wing 1 control tower at Korat Air Force Base earlier this month on Children’s Day, away from the deafening howl of the 103 Squadron’s jets.
Grp. Capt. Rawin Thanomsingha cruises around the tarmac on a bicycle.
Earlier I had been stuck in traffic heading toward the airbase when I first saw him – or at least heard him – and saw first-hand why he’s earned the nickname “Hollywood” for breaking all the rules with fearless, high-flying antics.