HEROISM in the skies
A spectacular air show by the Suryakiran team left city folks breathless.
THEY STREAK the sky in tricolour as they manoeuvre their aircraft into barrel rolls, vixen breaks, shock waves, phoenix, wedge and yankee and tango. Literally performing a tango in the skies. Flying upside down, inching into each other, they cross each other like lightning, almost touching but not touching and display from a repertoire of manoeuvres, mesmerizing viewers into holding their breaths.
"We are the only people who can mark the tricolour in the skies," says Wing Commander Sreekumar Prabhakaran, the commander of Suryakiran. "While performing an aerobic show in Singapore someone had queried, `How can you mark the tricolour on our skies? and I answered. It is our plane and our sky, when we fly, and so we streak it in tricolour, our flag.'"
Suryakiran is the crème de la crème of the Indian Air Force. Born in 1996, called Thunderbolts then, with aircrafts manufactured in India it comprises of nine Hunters, which can do breath-taking aerobatic stunts in the sky. Pilots with special skill from the fighter squadron are selected for this adventurous air show. Suryakiran displays are held all over Asia and other parts of India.
Three teams only
"There are just three teams in the world, with nine aircraft to perform these shows. And ours is one of it," says Wg.Cdr Sreekumar proudly. Only Canada, the Royal Arrows of Britain and Suryakiran. The others are aircraft formations of six aircrafts.
TEAM-MATES: Bhavna Mehra, the only woman member.
"Flying has been my first love. I had always loved adventure and my hobbies were hiking, mountain climbing and horse riding. I had got admission to engineering but I preferred to join the National Defence Academy," he recalls.
"We need total concentration for perfect synchronization because slight wavering can cause a mishap. We have to be prefect in precision, accuracy, motivation, and esprit de core. And we fly our own particular aircraft, to which we get used to, seldom switching to another one. Hence we know its feel, its behaviour, its moves, its responses," he explains.
Sreekumar has already put in 5,000 flying hours. "We have performed in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Myanmar, Bangkok etc apart from all metros here. We perform around 50 shows a year," he adds.
Doesn't he feel tense as he flies? "Not at all, it is just like driving a car. And oh..I would say it is easier than driving on Kochi roads, though," he jokes about the dense city traffic.
And this was clear from the casual, easy aplomb with which the team landed at the Naval Grounds in Kochi, to the accompaniment of ear-shattering claps as they strolled down to meet the thrilled audience.
The team practises rigorously. Just before a show they practise for at least two or three days, trying out the different manoeuvres. They always travel as a team. And they have Bhavna Mehra, a young woman pilot, in the team who normally gives the commentary on the show.
"Though not part of the flyers she does take the aircraft up and does each manoeuvre that we do," smiles Prasanth Arya. And Arya's favourite flying mode is upside down.
Wg. Cdr. Sreekumar Prabhakaran, commander of Suryakiran team
"I am supposed to be upside down for just 12 seconds and I have to float on the belly for six or seven seconds. I get carried away and fly for nearly 10 seconds," says Arya casually, recalling that once the engine of the plane stopped but corrected itself.
He says it as coolly as we say, `cheers'.
Faith in God
"We are great believers in God. We entrust our lives in His hands and we feel that God guides us," Sreekumar says. Belonging to the fighter pilot category, they have to go to the battle when a war breaks out. "We participated in the Kargil War," the team said. "What they like best is flying" and being grounded is a punishment for these star fliers. "Our family get tense, counting the minutes until we land. And my children are as crazy about flying as I was. I have two boys but I do not want them to take to the skies," says a determined Sreekumar.
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