‘Missing man’ formation marks tribute to IAF pilot Sahil Gandhi

A Rafale aircraft of the French air force also made a low pass during the flying display as a mark of respect to Gandhi, who hailed from Haryana’s Hisar. A radio call given by the French pilot announcing this was broadcast over the PA system on the ground.
French aircraft Rafale manoeuvres during the inauguration of the 12th edition of AERO India 2019 air show at Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)
French aircraft Rafale manoeuvres during the inauguration of the 12th edition of AERO India 2019 air show at Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)
Published on Feb 21, 2019 09:03 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Yelahanka | By

The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Wednesday conducted a memorial fly-past at the Yelahanka air base for Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, a day after the fighter pilot was killed in a mid-air collision between two British-origin Hawk advanced jet trainers while practising aerobatic manoeuvres for the five-day Aero India-2019.

Three IAF fighter jets — a Sukhoi-30 fighter flanked by a Jaguar and a Tejas light combat aircraft — flew the time-honoured “missing man” formation to honour Gandhi at the inaugural fly-past of Asia’s biggest air show.

“The formation pays tribute to the fallen pilot. If he was alive, he would have been flying too in the finger four formation,” said former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major.

Gandhi, 37, was part of the IAF’s renowned Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT), which consists of the country’s finest pilots trained to perform complex stunts. Two other pilots injured in the twin Hawk crash - Wing Commander VT Shelke and Squadron Leader TJ Singh - are recuperating in an IAF hospital.

A Rafale aircraft of the French air force also made a low pass during the flying display as a mark of respect to Gandhi, who hailed from Haryana’s Hisar. A radio call given by the French pilot announcing this was broadcast over the PA system on the ground. Captain Nativel Babouc, who flew the Rafale in a low pass to honour Gandhi, said, “It was my way to pay homage to the fallen pilot. We fighter pilots are one big family no matter which country we come from.”

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said it was too early to say what went wrong and only an investigation would reveal the cause of the accident. The jets were in a mirror manoeuvre – one flying inverted above the other – seconds before the collision that has become the major talking point at the 12th edition of the air show. While SKAT is not taking part in the air show any longer because IAF wants to pinpoint the reasons for the accident, the display team’s Hawks were seen parked outside an apron near the main runway of the air base.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared the air show open, asserting that it intended to put India on the global map as “a runway to a billion opportunities”.

The IAF’s Sarang helicopter display team performed a string of breathtaking manoeuvres amid cheers and applause from the spectators, including ministers from foreign countries, and top military officials including the three service chiefs.

Another highlight of the biennial show was a fly-by performed by a B-52 Stratofortress bomber that came from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

Of the seven fighter jets competing for an Indian programme to build 114 planes locally under the strategic partnership (SP) model, only Rafales, F-18s and F-16s were part of the flying display.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022