Air Force Day: When Fighter Jets Tore Through The Skies, Performing Aerial Ballet

Like every year, Indian Air Force (IAF) Day was celebrated in style at Hindan air force station in Ghaziabad, near New Delhi, on October 8.

We live in Ghaziabad, where we shifted from Delhi last year after COVID-19 lockdown was eased. From where we stay, I could spot a few of the aircraft which participated in the air show, the roar of fighter jets tearing the sky like a shifting thunderclap.

But the view from home was restricted, the enjoyment limited compared to the experience I had watching a couple of Air Force Day celebrations at Hindan air base in the past as a journalist.

The first time I saw Air Force Day celebrations was in 2005. I was thrilled to go to the event. On our way to the venue, I remember, we journalists crossed Rajpath. The view from my bus window was beautiful. To my right rose Raisina Hill. And on our left was India Gate — majestic, stately.

From 2006 onwards, the celebrations have been held at Hindan. At the venue, it’s a front row view of the aerial ballet, irrespective of where you are seated.

The Suryakiran aerobatic team flew the Kiran aircraft at that time. In later years, the Kiran aircraft was replaced by the Hawk. The aerobatic team, like the Top Gun song, takes your breath away. They fly in perfect formation, as if all the aircraft are not different machines but simply one machine –peeling off, rejoining, flying inverted.

I remember during one of the shows, fighter jets participating in the event approaching spectators from straight ahead, swiftly passing over us, then disappearing behind. MiG-21s looked the sleekest, appearing like arrowheads.

I thought the Suryakirans, too, would arrive from straight ahead but the jets came from behind us, filling me and others with surprise, joy and awe. I stood up for a better view of the jets till someone asked me to sit down.

Another year, exhilarated as I was, I lost my sunglasses which I had placed on a chair but forgot to collect after the show.

Helicopters look fascinating, yet more complex than fixed-wing aircraft. But when you see the Sarang team perform, it leaves you in awe of the pilots who fly these machines.

The 75th Air Force Day celebrations remain memorable. Flying low and slow, I remember a Su-30 executing a Cobra manoeuvre before the audience. It was the lowest, slowest flight I have seen.

Air shows are a great way to draw young people to aviation. For me, a five-minute joyride in an NCC glider in Bhubaneswar during college days provided me with enough lift for a life-long love for aviation.

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