The hawks in the skies

The hawks in the skies

They are known for their daredevil manoeuvres performed in their signature fluid style. Splits, level, loops and rolling crosses are part of their game plan.

Much to the delight of their loyal admirers, after six years, the Indian Air Force’s aerobatics team — Surya Kiran — returned to the ‘Aero India’ show at Yelahanka Air Force Station grounds on Tuesday. They performed at speeds exceeding the previous Kiran Mk II aircraft’s maximum speeds.

In six Advanced Jet Trainer Hawks, they once again displayed their prowess — one that comes only with intense training, focus and aptitude.

Clearly, Wing Commander Venu Nambisan, and his team of exceptional men, flew into the hearts of Bengalureans on a cold Tuesday morning to warm it up.

In a chat with Anupama Ramakrishnan after the sortie, he turned eloquent about the preparations taken before the sortie, how their pilots are chosen and how it was flying on a Valentine’s Day.

Surya Kiran has returned to Bengaluru skies. How was it flying at ‘Aero India’ again?
The team has flown in all Bangalore ‘Aero-India’ shows except in 2013 and 2015 since its formation in 1996. This is the 500th public display for the team and it is our full aerobic routine after the upgrade to the Hawk. It is indeed a matter of pride for Indian aviation. Today (Tuesday), we had to restrict ourselves to the horizontal profiling because of the clouding over Yelahanka. We could not do the looping and rolls.

Could you tell us more about the team and what qualifies a pilot to be part of Surya Kiran?  
We have a team of very unique fighter pilots with more than 1,000 flying hours. They are also qualified flying instructors. Every year, we call for volunteers twice a year from the fighter stream of the IAF. And out of 20 to 30 volunteers, two are selected while two are standby. Apart from the needed qualifications, the person should be also be a risk-taker, a risk analyser and most importantly, should have flight safety foremost in mind.

Can you elaborate on Surya Kiran’s BAE Systems Hawk AJT, which you flew...
It’s a British-designed aircraft licensed by HAL. It is designed in the UK and made in India. It has widely successful running programmes.

How do you keep the precise timing?
The calculations are done to the second — not by minute. All this is maintained religiously. The process is extremely well organised.  

Is there a specific fitness plan that the team follows? What are the preparations done just before doing a sortie such as this?
Fitness is extremely important on a daily basis. The day of flying starts with a medical checkup. One can also do voluntary reporting if a pilot is not fit enough to fly. Besides that, there is pre-flight briefing, which is an exhaustive one. The briefing is what the profile would be, the action etc. After the sortie, there is a debrief session where every formation is discussed threadbare.

There is documentation done, which is important for any future learning. In fact, for a 21-minute flying, we do five to six hours of preparation. As far as the diet is concerned, we do not fly on an empty stomach. It’s important to have a bite. What we do is not normal flying but manoeuvres. Hence the pull of gravitational forces is strong. And since you are sustained for a long time in the air, waterlogging could be very high. Before and after the sortie, we keep ourselves hydrated.

You flew on a Valentine’s Day and one of the most looked-forward-to manoeuvres was the formation of the heart and arrow created by the smoke...
Yes definitely. It has been one of the most cult formations that we have been doing and provide for visual aesthetics. However, this time, it was not there. The Hawk has to undergo airframe modifications to incorporate the smoke machines. We might have it later.

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