The 12th edition of Asia’s premier biennial air show conducted at Yelahanka Air Force Station, Bengaluru recently, passed through many fate trials this year. The five-day long biennial event, which showcased India’s air defence prowess, has also acted as a platform for aviation companies, the defence sector and government to forge new alliances and contracts, keeping all the adverse situations aside that it faced starting before its inaugural day itself.
The air show was all set with 61 metal birds, including HAL’s indigenous products Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Dassault Rafale set to soar, and roar in the city skies. The first tragic incident took place on that curve. On February 19, in the morning at around 1150hrs, two aircraft of Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team crashed while rehearsing at the Yelahanka Airbase in Bengaluru, honing the ‘Mirror’ manoeuvre. The Surya Kiran is an aerobatic team of the Indian Air Force (IAF) that is renowned for performing breathtaking mid-air stunts.
Wng Cdr Sahil Gandhi, who was airborne aboard Surya Kiran 7, lost his life. The other two pilots, team 2IC Wng Cdr Vijay Shelke and Squadron Leader Tejeshwar Singh were injured and airlifted to Command Hospital in Bengaluru. Later that day, the show continued as per the day schedule followed by a press conference in the evening. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed the press there along with other noted dignitaries.
Whilst interacting with the press, Defence Minister spoke on various issues. On the fatal SKAT incident, she said, “A lot of care and attention shall be ensured for the air warriors. Every incident is unfortunate. It’s too early for me to comment further, let’s get down to the actual cause of the incident that happened. A court of inquiry is on.”
On the morning of February 20, after the inaugural speech of Defence Minister and other officials, the air show started followed by the air display showcasing the first VIC formation of three Mi-17 helicopters carrying the national flag, IAF and Aero India ensigns along. The formation was led by Wng Cdr Simon. In the display, ‘Gooneybird’ followed to be the second one. A Dakota (Douglas) DC-3 from the vintage fleet of IAF flown by Grp Capt Ajay Menon along with Sqdn Leader Shubhanshu Shukla made a fly-past.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) flew three aircraft – Tejas, Su-30 Mki and the Jaguar- in the ‘missing man’ formation as a tribute to Wng Cdr Sahil Gandhi. Aerobatic teams like India’s Sarang (ALH-Dhruv) and UK-based Yakovlevs enthralled the audience with their display.
The Sukhoi SU-30Mki, Rafale, LCA Tejas, P-81, Hawker Siddeley -748, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Super Hornet and the mighty B-52 Stratofortress bomber also made a mark at the air show with their strategic manoeuvre and graceful fly past. CEO’s round table, drone Olympics, start-up manthan and women’s day (celebrating women achievers) were also some of the highlights of Aero India-2019.
Dassault Rafale, the French twin-engine, canard delta wing, multirole aircraft took on the skies of Bangalore to thunderous applause by force corps and attendees at the air show. Later in the day, at a special ceremony at around 1730hrs – the country’s military aviation regulator CEMILAC handed over the final operational clearance certificate and other release-to-service documents to Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa for LCA Tejas.
India’s first self-made fighter jet Light Combat Aircraft Tejas is finally ready to be used in operations by the Indian Air Force. In what was termed as a “landmark day” in India’s defence capability, LCA Tejas received the FOC for induction into the air force as a fully-weaponised fighter jet aircraft. “It is a major milestone for the LCA (Tejas) to get the final operational clearance. The aircraft could fly in many sorties and has demonstrated the precision with which it can deliver weapons,” Air Marshal Dhanoa told the press in the presence of Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar.
The Indian Air Force recently placed an order for 83 advanced FOC aircraft of the LCA Tejas. Speaking about the order and the air force’s future plan, Air Marshal BS Dhanoa said, “Not only will we have to induct the LCA Tejas MK II, we will, in the days ahead, replace the Jaguar, Mirage and MiG 29 fighter jets.” The air chief added, “After that we will go ahead with the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft.”
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa visited various exhibition halls and stalls. He also interacted with the participating companies and aviation industries during Aero India- 2019 at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru on 22 February 2019. In the consecutive days, Surya Kiran team took to blue skies of Yelahanka, for one last time at Aero India 2019. Living up to the Squadron motto “Sadaiv Sarvottam” (Always the Best) and the indomitable spirit of IAF- People First, Mission Always.
A special event, highlighting the achievements of women in Indian Aerospace Industry, was held as part of Aero India on Saturday. Several women, working in the aviation, science and research sectors, were felicitated during the event for their contribution to the Aerospace sector. As a mark to the women achievers in the aviation and aerospace sectors, Indian badminton star PV Sindhu became the first woman to fly DRDO developed (LCA) Tejas at the Aero India Show 2019.
Wng Cdr Asha Jyothirmai and Sqn Ldr Khusboo along with other women achievers from varied aviation backgrounds were felicitated on 23 Feb. Lt Cdrs Seema Rani Sharma and Ambica Hooda, the first women aircrew of Indian Navy, were also felicitated at the programme. These women combatants were the P 8i Mission Controllers and have the distinction of being amongst the first combatants of Indian Armed Forces.
Showcasing women achievers in the aerospace sector, and leading with the theme ‘Saluting the Queens of the Skies’, Chief Post Master General (Karnataka circle) Charles Lobo released a commemorative stamp.
On Feb 24th, a Valedictory Function was conducted wherein Governor of Karnataka Vajubhai Vala addressed the gathering. In his address, the Governor said that while the people of India have exhibited exemplary valour and have the necessary intelligence, the need of the hour is getting them the right opportunities. On behalf of the Government of Karnataka, he thanked all the people involved in the organisation of the show. He handed over the awards to the winners in categories of photography contest, Instagram contest and best Students project. The Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology, Bangalore, got the first prize in Drone Olympics for GANNET: The Amphibious Drone.
Highlights of this year’s show:
- More than 600 Indian Companies and 200 Foreign Companies participated and witnessed the largest Air show of Asia
- The total area of the show has grown from the previous of 27,678 sq m to 28,398 sq m this year
- A total of 61 aircraft participated in the event
- Several seminars were conducted by a host of agencies, including the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Skill Development Ministry, State Governments, and Industrial Associations in addition to Ministry of Defence
(The writer is a Delhi-based independent contributor to print and online publications)