The peacocks are here. And, they are ready to perform the sky ballet. At the Yelahanka Air Force station they have begun the rigorous practice sessions twice a day. Then the debriefing, corrections, suggestions and finally by night fall, like the birds flocking together, they sit around the dining table for more plane talk.
Meet the Sarang Helicopter Display Team of the Indian Air Force (IAF), who share a very emotional bonding with Bangalore. It was from here they evolved as one of the finest aerobatic copper display units in the world. After their field evaluation of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)-built the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv, the team was tasked with the role of formation display flying to showcase the capability of Dhruv, way back in 2002. Since their official formation in 2004, the Sarangs have won the hearts of millions around the world. Their routine: Fly to thrill and even kissing danger at times.
Today they are an integral part of IAF’s 151 HU based out of Sulur Air Force Station in Coimbatore. So far, the team has performed over 35 air shows in India and abroad. In attendance at Aero India since 2003, the Sarang team is now led by Wg Cdr R C Pathak, who plays the role of the Commanding Officer. He is assisted by Wg Cdr Vinod Negi, the deputy team leader. The other members are: Wg Cdr Shailendra Pandey, Sqn Ldr Mudit Chaurasia, Sqn Ldr S Saravanavel, Sqn Ldr P R Ponnappa, Sqn Ldr Anil Yadav, Sqn Ldr S Jamkar, Sqn Ldr Abhijeet Kumar, Sqn Ldr Gurpreet Singh, Sqn Ldr Bhushan Rao, Flt Lt S K Singh.
Flt Lt Niket Tiwari, the latest entrant, keeps a watchful eye on the team every time it performs as its safety officer. Sqn Ldr P S Karthik is the senior engineering officer of the team. He along with Flt Lt Priyanshu Mukherji, Flt Lt Bharat Bajaj, Flt Lt Vijay Karthik, Flt Lt Gurjeet Singh and the other professional and qualified air warriors of the team keep the machines flying fit for such arduous profiles. Wg Cdr Bhavana Mehra is the team administrator and does the commentary for the displays.
“The team has the unique distinction of being one of the only two operational helicopter display team in the world, the other being ‘Blue Eagles’ of the British Army,” says a team member. “The ‘India’ formation was part of our profile for the Berlin Air Show in 2008. We couldn’t do it during Aero India last time, because we were doing the reverse flight profile instead of formation flying as a warm up to aerobatics,” says one of team members.
Flt Lt S K Singh is the youngest in the group. This 28-year-old braveheart from Bihar, now occupies the display pilot seat (co-piloting). Wg Cdr R C Pathak, the team leader, is the senior pro in the group. Hailing from Nagpur, the 38-year-old daredevil, is a qualified flying instructor and rotary wing Test Pilot.
“Six pilots in the team are performing for the first time at Aero India. We are happy to fly the Dhruvs -- India's pride. The matured Dhruv is a small step for HAL, but a giant leap for India’s aviation sector,” says another Sarang pilot. The team says that the appreciations they got from Al Ain Grand Prix at UAE and the Berlin Air Show are cherished forever. “We were adjudged as the best-looking close formation team,” says a Sarang pilot.
Over to Yelahanka. The place you have to be in the next couple of days.