ood morning aviators. This is your captain speaking. Today’s exercise is dog-fighting.” After 34 years, Tom Cruise returns with his Maverick. He did (actually he didn’t) fly an F-18 doing Cobra and Vertical Charlie at the ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ trailer recently.
That reminds me of my years at Air Force Station Yelahanka, India’s only flagship aviation event for International Air Show. I was part of the host team twice for that spectacular, inspiring Air Show of Asia.
It was another afternoon shift during the 2nd Aero India edition 1998. A huge guy strolled over the end of the corridor and finally knocked on our WT cabin that noticed the Hourly Weather.”Hi there. Where is the Met section?” He was a staff sergeant from the US Air Force. That gave us insight into the arrival of Fighting Falcons. Bengaluru has the privilege of hoisting all the 12 air shows till 2019.
The first edition of Aero India 1996 earned international recognition for India for hosting such an exhibition. After successful completion of the inaugural event, the 2nd Aero India was planned.
Fighter jets boost combat capability for Air Force. IAF had then the newly acquired multirole Sukhoi SU-30 with existing fighter MiG-29, MiG-27, Dassault Mirage-2000, ground attack Jaguar and Interceptor MiG-21. A day prior to the event, the exhibitors Allied Signal, Bell Textron, Airbus, Aerospatiale, Dassault and Aerospace had displayed jets from across the globe. The French and Russian presences were especially strong while American Boeing brought in varieties of commercial aircraft.
While the aprons saw parking by hundreds of aircraft, we were disheartened by the absence of F-Series. We searched inside ramps, stands and hangars under lights but they were not sighted. Suddenly a strategic airlifter having 28 landing wheels touched down at 9 (92° heading) that threatened our ATC; the aircraft making a huge noise from its fuselage and wings as well as from its four engines. It quickly made a full reverse thrust at the runway. Alas, there was no sign of that supersonic Fighter. C-5 often accompanies the US president, in advance of Air Force One.
We had not seen such a gigantic airplane although IAF has IL-76 which has proven to be a tactical transport that was fitted with thrust reversers and a high lift wing for good STOL (short take off and landing aircraft) performance and high floatation landing gear with 20 wheels. But C-5 seems double in size to IL-76.
What we saw that day was an awesome moment. The Galaxy is so galactic; it won’t fit inside our hangars. It was the largest aircraft in the US Air Mobility Command. At a time when everyone was eagerly waiting to see the big birds, the C-5 completely opened its nose and tail. Can C-5 haul a fighter jet? Yes, the cargo had actually loaded an F-16 with its wings removed. It seemed dismantled and the bits pile into a heap while C-5 hydraulically kneel to truck-bed a height, allowing F-16 to be offloaded. But we were not anticipating the F-16 to be ready for flying the next day.
The flags waved in the wind on that big day, the morning of 8 December 1988. There were tens of thousands of business visitors while the monster C-5 dwarfed all other aircraft. The fly-pasts by Jaguar, MiG, Hawk, Mirage and aerobatic from Surya Kiran were incredible followed by the sky diving display by nine sky divers of Akash Ganga. Russian Sukhoi abruptly passed through visitors. Beyond all, visitors could get to see a Dassault Rafale on display.
And at last, a fighter jet suddenly took off at barely 1,500 feet, performing astounding manoeuvres to gain a positional advantage over us and upped itself into the clouds. The jet abruptly broke away from its pursuit. We failed to understand the American intensions. It was the same supersonic multirole F-16 that was unboxing from C-5 a day before evening.
Aviation films like Top Gun Maverick had never been done, but it’s releasing in June 2021, that could bring moviegoers to see some dogfight in Hollywood. But we saw the real hero at Yelahanka when F-16 did withstand to nine G’s (9 times force of gravity) vertically; while driving a car anything over -1.0G on deceleration is potentially a crash. On the fifth day, the most badass plane, C-5, was finally whisked away, swallowing the F-16 inside, airlifted back to America.
The writer is a former Air Warrior.