1982, the Golden Jubilee of the
Indian Air force saw the inception of nine Hunter aircraft performing feats in the air. The team flew Hawker Hunter aircraft (Also flown by ‘The Black Arrows’ of the Royal Air Force).Led by Wg Cdr PS Brar, they called themselves the ‘Thunderbolts’ and were painted deep blue with streaks of lightning passing all through.
The Hunters were eventually phased out and the indigenously manufactured Kiran MK Iis were tasked to stay in formation.Wg Cdr AR Nigam led the new team in 1990.In 1966 the team was christened ‘SURYAKIRAN’ and upgraded to a 6ac status under the command of Wg Cdr K Malik. 1997 saw late Wg Cdr Anil Murgai leading nine Kirank Mk Iis in formation and soon after, Wg Cdr A Tiwari included a two ac synchronised medley to complete the show to what it is today. Evolution does not stop here and new profiles with add-one are tried out frequently.
There are 33 aerobatic teams in the world, but only four countries have a nine-aircraft display. We are one of them. We are also much admired across the world. The nine aircraft take off in VICs of three and join up in close formation, manoeuvering between speeds of 150 and 650 Kmph with their wing tips a mere 5 metres apart. The various profiles undertaken are a series of dynamic combinations resulting in constantly changing formations. This subjects the pilots to alternating ‘g’ forces between +6 to –1.5. perfection comes only with practice.
The team has a total of 13 pilots of whom only 9 are flying at any given time. Pilots are selected twice a year for a three-year tour of duty. Only Fighter aircraft pilots are selected. All pilots in the team are Qualified flying instructors (QFI’s) with around 2000hrs of fighter flying experience and 1000 hrs on the Kiran aircraft.
One of the most popular maneuvers is the “heart-in-the-sky” routine, where two aircraft cross each other and create a vertical heart while the third streaks across, drawing an arrow across the heart. This maneuver debuted in Aero India-2003, and was added as a Valentine’s Day special. Due to its popularity, the team has continued to perform this manoeuvre.
With the ageing of Kiran aircraft, the HJT-36 Sitara aircraft has been developed as a replacement. The aircraft first flew in 2003, and is planned to be inducted into service by 2009. The first orders for the aircraft by the Indian Air force was for 16 HJT-36 that will replace the HJT-16s of the Surya Kiran team.