Aero India 2019 kicks off with ‘Missing Man’ formation

Aero India 2019 kicks off with ‘Missing Man’ formation

Sarang Helicopters performing at the inaugural of Aero India organised by Defence Ministry at Yalahanka Aerospace in Bengaluru on Wednesday. (DH Photo/S K Dinesh)

High on tragic symbolism, a ‘Missing Man’ three-aircraft formation flight delivered a stark aerial reminder of Tuesday’s twin Surya Kiran crash, as the Aero India 2019 kicked off with subdued euphoria at the Yelahanka Air Station here on Wednesday.

The flypast by a formation of Jaguar, Tejas and Sukhoi 30 Mki aircraft was a customary aerial salute to Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, whose Surya Kiran aerobatic Hawk jet had crashed in mid-air collision on Tuesday. The formation had one aircraft position vacant, as a telling tribute to the departed pilot.

The shadow of the tragedy loomed large at the airshow inaugural, as the presenters reminded the audience not to panic in case of any emergency. This announcement, unprecedented at Aero India, prepared everyone for a five-day aerial spectacle without the hugely popular Surya Kirans.

Almost as if to make up for the loss, the four-helicopter Sarang aerobatic team came flying in, with an inverted wine glass formation. Led by Wg Cdr Sachin Anand Kadri, the Sarangs enthralled the crowd with their synchronised cross-over breaks, level cross at 50-m altitude and the trademark Sarang Split.

But just as the choppers disappeared in the horizon, the controversial Rafale flew past to give a decisive message of its aerial prowess. Attached to the French Air Force, the aircraft on display returned for its rolls and turns, square dances and half eight turns. Watching from the gallery was Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Demonstrating a slow-speed pass at 150 kmph, the voice of Rafale pilot Babuk came on air, “Jai Hind, Wing Commander Sahil Singh.”

Debuting at the airshow, Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress made a grand flypast to pull the curtains down on the inaugural displays. But before the American long-range subsonic strategic bomber, with a payload of 32,000 kg of weapons and munitions flew past, the Americans made another pitch with their F-16 for the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal.

Adding a touch of vintage nostalgia to the show, a refurbished Douglas DC3 Dakota took to the skies. Rechristened ‘Parashurama’ and piloted by Gp Capt Ajay Menon, the flight brought back memories of the aircraft’s remarkable roles in the Indo-Pak, Sino-Indian conflicts and the Bangladesh liberation war.

For Hindustan Aeronautics Limited the airshow proved the best platform to showcase its indigenous might. That meant the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, the Light Utility Helicopter, the Light Combat Helicopter, the HTT-40 Basic Trainer, the civil Dornier and Sukhoi-Mki dominated the inaugural aerial display schedule.