Aero India: Fans may flock to 'free' rooftop galleries

Kept out of Aero India, fans will flock to 'free' rooftop galleries

Number of visitors restricted to avoid crowding due to the pandemic

In the past, aviation buffs kept out of the Yelahanka Air Base would watch the air show from highrise rooftops and treetops outside the venue’s periphery. Credit: DH Photo

For thousands of aviation buffs kept out of the Yelahanka Air Base this time, highrise rooftops and treetops outside the venue’s periphery would morph into free Aero India 2021 viewing galleries. Many did this for every airshow, but this time the numbers are about to explode.

Beyond the business deals, stalls and static displays, the spectacular aerobatic displays were the reason visitors flocked in big numbers to all the past airshows.

The Surya Kirans and Sarangs outdid one another in the skies to impress the crowds below. Foreign teams gave them stiff competition in this aerial tussle for maximum eyeballs.

But the cancellation of public days due to pandemic fears this time came as a big letdown for many. Unlike the previous editions, no foreign aerobatic teams have registered for the show till date. The only consolation for fans is the combined aerobatics of the Surya Kirans and Sarangs, scheduled for the first time.

As the Ballari Road/Airport Road slopes down from the air base heights, the highrise buildings on the far end of the road offer good vantage points to watch the aerial displays. Many of the big trees are gone, but nothing will stop the adventurous climb onto billboard frames and ground elevations when the flying machines soar upwards.

Based in Bidar, the Surya Kirans had performed at all the Aero India shows till 2011. Facing a severe shortage of training aircraft, the fleet was grounded before being resurrected in February 2015. Replacing the old Kirans were the British Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) assembled in India by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

But the 2019 show had a disastrous start for the IAF’s premier aerobatic team. Two of the aircraft on display collided mid-air and crashed on February 19, a day before Aero India began. Two pilots ejected to safety but the third pilot, Wing Cdr Sahil Gandhi died later.

Grounded for the rest of the show, the team however returned on the last day for an incomplete diamond formation dubbed as ‘The Missing Man’. It was a moving tribute to the departed pilot, a feat that sparked loud cheers from the thousands who had gathered at the air base and outside.

The Yak aerobatic team from Britain had made a big splash in the air with their four Yakovlev Yak-7s and Yak-11s in the last edition. For Aero India 2017, the Yaks had competition from the Scandinavian AirShow Team from Sweden.

IAF is hoping that at least one of these teams will return this time.