One IL-76 aircraft from IAF's No 25 Squadron located here will fly to South Africa next week along with four Mirage 2000 fighter planes to participate in multi-nation war games, code named Exercise Golden Eagle.
The squadron, which has earned the soubriquet of 'Himalayan Eagles' for operating in the northern sector, had flown an IL-76 heavy transporter to Alaska recently for Exercise Cooperative Cope Thunder.
The transport plane would be used for para-dropping operations, platform drops, night operations and formation flying, said a senior IAF officer. The No 25 Squadron, which also operates the AN-32 aircraft, has a fleet of four IL-76 planes that were inducted in 1989.
The IAF is flying four Mirage fighters, one IL-76 transport plane and one IL-78 flight refueller for the exercise being hosted by the South African Air Force. The fighters belong to No 7 Squadron based in Gwalior. No 78 Squadron in Agra operates the air-to-air refueller, which was first exposed to the West during Exercise Cope Thunder.
An IL-76 pilot said the aircraft had changed the concept of transport operations through operational innovations and varied use. The IL-76 transporters of this squadron were innovatively utilised during air exercises over Pokhran ranges in 1990 when the plane was modified and used for testing the systems' effectiveness to divert fire power of heat seeking missiles and jamming of radar by dispensing chaff around the aircraft.
The squadron carried out the de-induction of T-72 tanks from Leh in 1993. The Himalayan Eagles have also been involved in evacuation operations both within and outside India. The squadron conducted major airlift operations at the time of Gulf War in 1990 by evacuating thousands of Indians from Dubai and Basra. Two years later, IL-76 planes were flown to evacuate 5,000 passengers stranded at Leh due to a strike by Indian Airlines' pilots.