Surya Kiran: Pilot knew of aircraft electronics hazards

Surya Kiran: Pilot knew of aircraft electronics hazards

The Surya Kiran team

Surya Kiran, the formation aerobatic team of the Indian Air Force, is known for its jaw-dropping, precise and stunning formation. This year, it is in shock after it lost Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, flying Surya Kiran 7, on Tuesday.

He succumbed to his injuries when two aircraft crashed mid-air near the Yelahanka airbase on Tuesday. The team was rehearsing for Aero India, the five-day air show. The Indian Air Force officials announced that the team will not be displaying on the inaugural day of the air show.

Deccan Herald called one of his teammates on Tuesday evening, and he was overwhelmed by grief, and in no position to talk. Earlier, the IAF had announced the participation of an enlarged Surya Kiran team with nine aircraft. In the last edition, they flew just six planes. The last time they flew nine aircraft was in 2011.

The Surya Kiran event is one of the most-awaited at air shows in Bengaluru, and also in cities abroad. At the Aero India events, the pilots warmly interact with the crowds to encourage youngsters to join the Indian Air Force.

Sahil Gandhi was always upbeat about introducing the Indian Air Force to the crowds.

In an interview with DH on February 17, 2017, he had said, “This aircraft is intrinsically electronic in nature. This not only makes maintaining it a challenge but also more susceptible to failure.” That year, the team flew Hawk Mk 132 aircraft.

He had taken pride in a “sound maintenance team” taking daily care of the aircraft.

Two years on, the team is flying the same aircraft (Hawk Mk132) at the 12th edition of Aero Show. It is a single-engine jet and doubles the capability of an earlier version in speed and range, Group Captain Prashant Grover, leader of the team, told DH.

The highlight of Surya Kiran’s performance at this year’s Aero India show is its intensive, breathtaking manoeuvres. “The advanced speed and thrust allow for tighter manoeuvres,” he says. As members go farther away from the formation, they need more power. This aircraft has that, he explains.

Pilots join the team mostly for the thrill of being able to do things others will never get a chance to do. “Flying this aircraft is a huge draw because it not only boosts your own capability and confidence but also gives you recognition in the Indian Air Force,” Grover says.

What is put to the test is the pilot’s determination to stay in position without losing concentration. Surya Kiran pilots also learn to develop trust in the other pilots’ capabilities, he observes. The show is divided into two parts. The first, called composite, comprises nine aircraft making formations together. The second is called synchro-manoeuvres.