Breathtaking aerobatics by the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters and a stunning display of air manoeuvres by jet trainers Surya Kirans, marked the 72nd anniversary of the Indian Air Force today.
The Sarang Helicopter Display Team, the second of its kind next only to the one in the US Air Force, performed some near impossible air manoeuvres in formation, flying near each other and tearing away in a split second leaving the audience awestruck.
The air-ballet by the Sarang team led by Wing Commander Hari Nair, was preceded by a breathtaking vertical Charlie manoeuvre by the Sukhoi 30 MKi flanked by two MiG 29 near its wings.
The Sukho-30MKi, with MiG-29 on either sides, flew at a low altitude, only to surge vertically to disappear in the skies above leaving spectators spellbound.
The celebrations this year were particularly memorable as the country observes 50 years of the first Indian, Subroto Mukherjee, taking charge as Air Chief as also the birth centenary of J R D Tata, who pioneered aviation in India.
The officers and airmen marching to the tunes played by the Air Warriors Symphony orchestra were applauded by the Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, three service chiefs -- Chief of Air Staff S Krishnaswamy, Chief of Armed Forces N C Vij, Chief of Naval Staff Arun Prakash, besides senior bureaucrats, former service chiefs, diplomats and MPs.
Addressing the gathering, the Air Chief said the boys have been performing well to the best of their abilities. "I feel very fortunate to have led such a force and feel proud as I take the salute for the last time," said Krishnaswamy, who retires in the next few months.
As the Air Chief began inspecting the Air Force Day parade, aircraft took off from various nearby airbases to congregate at the Palam Technical Area here to display the country's strength in military aviation.
As the airmen and officers marched past the saluting dais, Mi-35 attack helicopters flew past it in a Vic formation followed by the five frontline fighter Jaguar aircraft flying in the arrowhead formation.
The Jaguars were followed by five MiG-21 Bison aircraft, both taking off from the airbase at Ambala. As the bisons disappeared over the horizon, the MiG-23, which took off from Halwara emerged, and were followed by the MiG-29 from Sirsa.
The might of the Air Force was on display with five Mirage aircraft from Gwalior zooming past and the recently-acquired IL-78 tankers demonstrating mid-air refuelling of two Jaguars.
The IL-78, force multipliers of the IAF, flew past flanked by two Jaguars on the either side, flying in the Alaska formation, named so after the mid-air refuelling squadron's performance in the icy regions of the US.
At an investiture ceremony, Krishnaswamy awarded the first Jeevan Raksha Medals to Sgt. Dewanand Tiwari and posthumously to P. Manokaran for acts of courage in aid to civilians.
Squadron Leaders Sanjeev Kumar Bhatnagar and Naresh Bhalerao, were honoured with the Vayu Sena Medal for showing exceptional courage in missions close to the Line of Control.
Later, talking to reporters, the Air Chief lauded the performance of the air warriors, particularly the Advance Light Helicopters 'Dhruv'.
The ALH has a very unique design and the twin engines and composite material used in the chopper makes it efficient in diverse terrains, even at an altitude of 18,000-19,000 feet, Krishnaswamy said.
He said the ALH had already been deployed in the Air Force with Dhruv making sorties to the glacier. The second squadron of the ALH will be raised soon, he said.
The Air Chief expressed the need to involve the private sector in the manufacture of the ALH.
Another highlight of the day was the air warriors parading with the indigenously built INSAS rifles.
The Air Force has armed its personnel with the multi-purpose weapon for the first time.
Also participating in the parade were the Garud commandos, a unit raised by the IAF to protect its installations.
The Garud special task force will soon depart to Congo to protect the assets of the IAF, which is on a UN peace keeping mission there.
Asked about the depletion in the number of aircraft, Krishnaswamy said the Air Force was making efforts to speed up acquisition of more multi-role fighters to ensure that the Air Force's squadron strength was not reduced alarmingly.
On the Air Force's decision to stop recruitment of officers from the Short Service Commission, he said the step was taken considering the need to reorganise and optimise the existing manpower.
Asked about induction of the Advanced Jet Trainer, the Air Chief said Hawk aircraft, the intermediatory jet trainers, would replace the Surya Kirans which have been in service for nearly 20 years.