The Sri Lanka Air Force celebrated its 66th Anniversary with an exhibition and Air Show at the Rathmalana Air Force Base. The event was in full swing from 3rd to 5th March 2017, with large crowds flocking to the Rathmalana Airport to view the exhibition, air Show, dog show, and mock attacks; all while enjoy the carnival atmosphere!
I was fortunate enough to attend the festivities on two occasions; on the morning of the 3rd of March, when the inaugural session was conducted, and on the evening of the 5th of March for the closing session.
On Friday, 3rd March 2017, Harsha Aiya picked me up on his way to the Airport! I was very excited as it was the first time I was going into an Airplane Hangar!! On arriving at the Rathmalana Airport we proceeded to get our entry passes and made our way to the Airplane Hangar that belonged to the Fairway Aviation Academy. Due to the air show, all other airplanes were grounded, and we could set up our equipment right in front of the Hangar, facing the runway!
It was a beautiful sunny Friday morning with clear skies!! But our attention was quickly drawn to the loud noise caused by the propellers of the Lookheed Martin C-130 Hercules! And I must say, the C-130 is one amazing piece of machinery!! It majestically taxied itself towards the end of the runway preparing for takeoff. This was the closes I’ve ever been to a C-130 and it gave me goosebumps! The sound of the propellers, much louder than before, became even louder as the mammoth aircraft blew through the runway, took off and flew into the distance…
The C-130 was followed by a trio of K-8 light attack air crafts. They too taxied their way towards the end of the runway and screamed passed us with that familiar “jet engine sound” and took off in the same direction as the C-130.
It was time for us to take a trip back in time, as the de Havilland Tiger Moth, was pushed onto the runway. Yes, I did say “pushed onto the runway”! For those of you who don’t know the Tiger Moth has a tail drag, thus there were a bunch of aircraft technicians lifting the tail and pushing it towards the runway for takeoff. Originally built in 1937 at De Havilland aircraft Company in England, the Tiger Moth, a biplane designed by Geoffrey de Havilland,was received from Ceylon Air Academy on 21st of January 1982 in a poor state of deterioration. The aircraft was completely rebuilt and restored by the Sri Lanka Air Force and took to the skies the 18th of September 1988. The Tiger Moth is the oldest aircraft on display at the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum. The Tiger Moth roared to life and took to the skies via a short take off, and flew around the airport as the PA system kicked in announcing the start of the Air Show!
The first aircraft that come into view were a fleet of Helicopters. Specifically, a fleet of Bell Helicopters, led by a Bell-212 painted in Army Camouflage carrying the flag baring the insignia of the Sri Lanka Air Force followed by three Bell-412 Helicopters painted dark blue.
The Bell-212 is a twin-engine version of the Bell UH-1D Helicopter which was extensively used during the Vietnam War. It was induced to the Sri Lanka Air Force in 1984 and played a pivotal role in air operations. It is capable of ferrying 13 persons.This Helicopter is used for utility purposes, which includes its role as a gunship, and also used as a Helicopter advance trainer.
The Bell-412 is a twin-engine utility Helicopter of the Huey family manufactured by Bell Helicopter. It is a development of the Bell-212, with the major difference being the composite four-blade main rotor.The Bell-412 is used exclusively for passenger transportation. These aircraft were initially inducted to the Sri Lanka Air Force in 1985.
Bell-412 Helicopter taking off with a VIP Passenger onboard
Next a fleet of two MI-17 Helicopters took center stage.The Mil Mi-17 is a Russian Helicopter in production at two factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude. It is a medium twin-turbine transport Helicopter. There are armed gunship versions as well. The MI-17 is a versatile aircraft which is used to airlift combat troops as well as to fly VIP passengers. The aircraft was inducted to the Sri Lanka Air Force in 1993 and has proven to be a very reliable Helicopter.
The first Aeroplane to come into view was the Cessna-150. The Cessna-150 is a two-seat tricycle gear general aviation airplane that was designed for flight training, touring and personal use. The Cessna-150 is the fifth most produced civilian plane ever, with 23,839 aircraft produced. This aircraft has been in service since 1972.
The Cessna-150 was followed by three PT-6 aircraft. The Nanchang CJ-6 is an aircraft designed and built in China for use by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force as a basic trainer. The PT-6A (Export version of the CJ-6A) is fully aerobatic and was inducted to Sri Lanka Air Force in 2001.
Next up was a fleet of Y-12 aircraft. The Harbin Y-12 is a high wing twin-engine turboprop utility aircraft built by Harbin Aircraft Industry Group (HAIG). It has the capability to operate from short, unprepared runways and can carry 15-17 passengers. It has been in operation with the Sri Lanka Air Force since 1986.
It was then time for the big boys! And there were three of them… Front and center was the Lockheed C-130 Hercules; a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin). Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings. The C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medevac, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile Airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship (AC-130), for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol, and aerial firefighting. It is now the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. The Sri Lanka Air Force inducted this aircraft in 2000.
On the right of the C-130 was the Antonov An-32B, a twin-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. This aircraft, built in Ukrainian, was inducted to the Sri Lanka Air Force to replace the Avro HS-748 aircraft in 1995.
On the left of the C-130 was the Xian MA60 another turboprop-powered airliner produced by China’s Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation under the Aviation Industry Corporation of China. The MA60 is a stretched version of the Xian Y7-200A, which was produced based on the An-24 to operate in rugged conditions with limited ground support and has short take-off and landing (STOL) capability. The Sri Lanka Air Force took delivery of two MA60 passenger aircraft from China on in 2011.
Finally, it was time for the most awaited part of the air parade! The JETS!! Three K-8 jets came into focus from the distance, and whizzed over the runway! The Hongdu JL-8 (Nanchang JL-8), also known as the Karakorum-8 or K-8 for short, is a two-seat intermediate jet trainer and light attack aircraft designed in the People’s Republic of China by China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation(CATIC). Its export variant, K-8P Karakorum is co-produced by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex for the Pakistan Air Force. This aircraft is used as a trainer in the Sri Lanka Air Force.
Last, but not least, the supersonic fighter jets captured everyone’s attention!! They passed us by in a split second leaving behind its signature deafening boom!! One of the supersonic jets that flew by was the F-7GS a third-generation export version of the Chengdu J-7. Though production ceased in 2013, it continues to serve, mostly as an interceptor, in several air forces. It’s older version, the F-7BS is the first Chinese built fighter aircraft procured by the Sri Lanka Air Force in 1991. It is also the first supersonic aircraft to be inducted to the Sri Lanka Air Force. At present, the F-7GS fleet is deployed as the sole air defense fighter fleet of the Sri Lanka Air Force while F-7BS is used for training of pilots converting to the Kfir and MIG-27 aircraft.
The other supersonic jet, the one better known to the general public is the Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir (“Kfir”meaning”Lion Cub” in Hebrew) an all-weather, multirole combat aircraft based on a modified French Dassault Mirage 5 airframe, with Israeli avionics and an Israeli-built version of the General Electric J79 turbojet engine. In service with the Sri Lanka Air Force since 1996. It is a formidable weapons platform which is equipped with computerized bombing programming systems for the accurate delivery of weapons.
The first day at the Air Show was an amazing experience!! I had a good opportunity to take photographs that received lots of positive feedback, followers, likes and shares! The popularity of the photographs presented me with the opportunity to attend the Air Show again on the last day!
On the 5th of March, we managed to get to the Airport just as the air parade was starting. There was a huge crowd attending the event and the roads around the Rathmalana Airport were chock-a-block with traffic!
Since it was the last day, the air parade was extended with Y-12, PT-6 and K-8 aircraft performing additional flybys whist performing various aerial maneuvers. The “Mirror Pass”, a precision aerial maneuver performed by two K-8 jets astonished the crowds as they observed afternoon sky with great enthusiasm.
On the far side of the runway, there were two MI-17 Helicopters performing the “Helicopter Dance” in a display of maneuverability.
Meanwhile another MI-17 painted in Army camouflage ascended into the heavens. Little did we know that this Helicopter had on board the Air Force Paratroopers! Upon reaching an altitude of 1000ft, the team of static line jumpers exited the chopper. When performing a “static line jump”, the parachute opens automatically by a ‘static-line‘ which is attached to the aircraft, this means that there is no free-fall involved initially. The jumper can then fly and land.
The MI-17 Helicopter continued to assent to a height of 6000ft, at which the skydivers exited and put on a colorful display of smoke trails. After a free-fall, the skydivers open their parachutes and maneuver themselves in the air drawing various smoke trail patterns.
After the Paratroopers where safely back on the ground, the K-8 aircraft returned for another display, engaging in different aerial maneuvers.
The PA system announced that it was now time for the Mock Attack!! The K-8 light attack aircraft, set the tone by dropping bombs onto the mock enemy target! Smoke billowed up and shook the ground as loud booms erupted from the battlefield. A Bell-212 took off from the far side of the runway, with Sri Lanka Air force Regiment Special Forces troops on board. The image of the troops seated on the chopper with their legs dangling out of the aircraft on route to battle reminded me of a scene from “Tour of Duty”, a TV show that I watched as a child. The only thing missing was the song “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones playing in the background!
The troops were dropped into the battlefield via a tactical heliborne insertion technique called “Rappelling” also known as “Abseiling. (Viewed from a distance, Rappelling and Fast-Roping from Helicopters can look very similar. In both cases, troops slide down ropes that hang out of Helicopters. But the person rappelling is usually attached to the rope by a D-ring or snap-link, while a fast-roper is only attached by hands and feet.)
The firefight followed, as the choppers continued to bombard the enemy targets. The gunfire died down, as a MI-17 Helicopter landed and extracted the troops.
It was around 5:00 PM in the evening, and everyone was eagerly awaiting the return of the supersonic fighter jets. From my perfect vantage point, thanks to our good friend Squadron Leader Asitha Manage, I spotted two F-7 jets heading our way! They boomed over the length of the runway, one jet performed a barrel role, just as they split into two directions and ascended into the sky. They did a few more low flybys, their afterburners, glowing orange, clearly visible in the evening sky!
The last item for the day, and the event, were aerobatics performed by 3 PT-6 aircraft! The had previously sky-written the number 66 when the airshow began, and now proceeded to draw smoke patterns. The typical smoke generator used for this type of display consists of a pressurized container holding a low viscosity oil, such as Chevron/Texaco “Canopus 13“, formerly known as “Corvus Oil“. The oil is injected into the hot exhaust manifold, causing it to vaporize into a huge volume of dense, white smoke. The P-6 aircraft then performed an array of loops, flips and rolls that left us, the audience in awe!
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
List of References used in composing this article