Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister of State for Defence and Education, at the Singapore Amazing Flying Machine Competition Awards Presentation Ceremony on Saturday, 17 March 2012, at 2pm, at the Science Centre Singapore, Annexe Hall 1

I am happy to be here today to see the many amazing flying machines that all of you have designed and put together.

Since the launch of the Singapore Amazing Flying Machine Competition (SAFMC) four years ago, many students and flying enthusiasts have been inspired to create unique flying machines. This year, I am pleased to hear that we have a total of 309 teams taking part in the competition, a 55% increase since the first year.

During the inaugural launch of the competition, we saw flying machines in the form of a teacup and even a toilet bowl! The following year, we had popular cartoon characters, such as Spongebob Squarepants and Thomas the Train, coming alive, as they took to the skies. Last year, Domo-kun, the very popular and official mascot of Japan’s NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) television station, made an aerial appearance as well, together with a speedy, multi-coloured trishaw.

Today, we continue to see even more stunning demonstrations, which reflect the creativity and innovativeness that can be achieved when you let your imagination take flight. When we harness the power of our imagination, we create endless possibilities.

Flying Machines that Make a Difference

The history of flight shows us how human imagination can truly change and transform the world we live in. For many centuries, humans have tried to fly, just like the birds, but often with disastrous results. In Renaissance Europe, the talented Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by the phenomenon of flight. He made many detailed studies and drawings of bird and mechanical flight, but did not get to test out any of his models. Later, inventors came up with hot air balloons and gliders. From these early inventions, the ideas for a powered airplane soon took shape. They were propelled by the tireless efforts of the Wright brothers, who eventually became the first inventors to make the ancient dream of flying man a reality.

The history of flight is a remarkable story of how we can overcome our natural constraints with imagination, inventiveness and courage. It is also a reminder that innovation is a continuous process. Breakthroughs are often not the result of individual brilliance, but a process of experimentation and hard work, typically over many years and decades, with every new scientist building on the foundations of those who came before him.

Today, it is easy to take for granted the convenience of modern jets to travel around the world. Just last month, Singapore hosted the largest aviation event in Asia — the Singapore Airshow 2012 — which featured some of the latest flying wonders. Amongst them was the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first commercial aircraft, made almost entirely of carbon fibre composite, and the most fuel-efficient of its kind. Equally extraordinary is the fifth-generation multi-role Joint Strike Fighter or F-35, equipped with cutting-edge processing power, together with integrated avionics and sensors to increase the pilot’s situation awareness.

Around the world, innovators continue to push the boundaries with their inventions. In the area of unmanned airborne vehicles, or UAVs, a British defence company Qinetic developed an ultra-light solar-powered unmanned aircraft known as the Zephyr that set a new world record — it remained over two weeks. And there are already plans to push this even further. The US Defence Advanced Research Programme Agency or DARPA, is funding the development of a UAV that can stay airborne for up to five years!

At home, our local innovators are also aiming high. Last year, the Nanyang Technological University and the Defence Science Organisation (DSO) successfully built and launched Singapore’s first microsatellite, X-SAT, which is currently orbiting in space and sending down images which it captures for environmental monitoring. More recently, Hope Technik, a home-grown company founded by four Engineering alumni from the National University of Singapore, has been selected by Astrium, a European major aerospace contractor, to help design, build and launch a space plane prototype. The prototype, at 4 metres by 4 metres, would be half the size of the actual plane that Astrium hopes will bring tourists to space.

Significance of SAFMC

The wonders of flight continue to fascinate and inspire mankind from one generation to the next as they bring out the best designers, innovators and dreamers. Through the Amazing Flying Machine Competition, the DSO National Laboratories and the Science Centre Singapore hope to provide a platform for young Singaporeans like you to harness the power of your imagination, develop the confidence to translate dreams into reality, and enjoy the fun of creating something new. These qualities are vital in the world of science and technology, where we make forays into the unknown and push the boundaries of discovery.

On this note, I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to all participants, and thank all the parents and teachers for their steadfast support. I wish everyone an ever fruitful flight ahead in your never-ending quest to reach for the stars.