Air Chief Marshal(Retd) Satish Kumar Sareen, more4, Indian Airforce

Mumbaikars throng to see their Air Force One

Su-30 painted in the Indian tricolour

Mumbai, April 12, 1998: Dolby took a vacation on Sunday evening as the Queen's Necklace was converted into a huge aerial theatre resounding with the thunderous roars of fighter jets. At least five lakh people thronged Marine Drive for a ring-side view of the grandest Indian Air Force show ever organised in the city, a visually overpowering series of gut-wrenching Ooh-Aah eliciting aerobatics.

To commemorate 50 years of Independence, fifty various aircraft from the air force, army and navy raced overhead from Land's End to Chowpatty two kilometres down. Below, heads turned skywards to watch this enthralling 45-minute display of India's air power in the Freedom Flypast Airshow.

``After seeing this show, I really feel proud to be an Indian. I think our air force is among the world's best,'' gushed yuppie MNC executive Simarjeet Baweja.

The day belonged to the IAF's newest fighter, the Sukhoi Su-30. Crowds erupted into cheers as three Sukhois, the lead plane painted in the Indian tricolour, thundered past inthe victory formation.

Simulating the classic dog fight, the IAF exhibited one possible scenario where the Sukhoi would be deployed. For five minutes, the bay became enemy territory as two `hostile' MiG-29s swept in and prowled about cutting circles around the sun, their afterburners sparkling. Suddenly two MiG-27 strike fighters came in for a raid. Leaping in to tackle the intruders, the MiG-29s hadn't reckoned with Big Brother. Two Sukhois swooped out of the sky onto the 29s, chasing them away. One Sukhoi wallowed in a self-congratulatory victory roll before the ecstatic crowds.

Wonderstruck 65 year-old Devyani Sawant from Dadar used her palms to shield the little ears of her three-month-old grand-daughter from the roar of the Sukhois.

While the Sukhois left people spellbound, it were the mid-air manouevres of the six Surya Kirans, the IAF's aerobatic ensemble, that brought in the cheers on the entire stretch of the Queen's Necklace this evening.

The bright red-and-white-painted Kirans, half the size of the Sukhois, flew roller coasters around the sky, flying diamond formations, their white smoke trails writing mysterious letters in the sky. They concluded with a `bomb-burst', flying together as a bunch headlong into the ground before peeling off in different directions.

The show displayed over 15 types of aircraft, from lightweight helicopters like the Indian army's three Cheetah helicopters and the IAF's IL-76 heavy lift aircraft. A lone IL-76 made rumbled past in a formation aptly named `bigboy', flanked by two AN-32s and two Dornier transport planes.

Meanwhile, six naval helicopters, including two Kamovs and three Seakings, clattered past, followed by an assortment of six Jaguar fighter bombers, MiG-27 strike aircraft and Mi-8 transport helicopters. Watching from the Oberoi, uniformed chests wearing medals swelled with pride as cheers errupted from the crowds below. ``It was a matter of responding to the appreciation showered on us by the people. Our pilots put in their best,'' Air Marshal SKrishnaswamy, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, South Western Air Command, said after the show.

The last time the city was priveleged to witness such a fine display was 39 years ago in 1959, when the Indian Air Force showed off its newly acquired Gnat fighters with the Air India's new Boeing 707s. Today's show was telling people about the air force. ``Our children should know what the IAF is all about,'' smiles air force chief Air Chief Marshal S K Sareen, even as masses of parents surged towards around Marine Drive, their kids on their shoulders.

Bumper grind

For thousands of cars that were stuck bumper-to-bumper between Haji Ali and Marine Drive, the show was as much on the road as in the air. Caught on the way to the show, it was one hell of a Sunday afternoon, the show for which they were making a beeline ending long before their cars hit Marine Drive at Chowpatty.

As the cars inched forward every five minutes, the only saviour from thegrimy summer heat was the expectation, literally, in the air. Most drivers spent the time between first gear and the neutral first hoping that the traffic would clear in time and then, when the roar of the first fighter drowned the collective purr of a thousand engines, they jumped out of the cars to take a good.

Quickly, the idea that Marine Drive was out of bounds sank in and the hot metal roofs, dickies and bonnets became vantage points. As a Sukhoi, painted in the national tricolour, proudly showed its belly and the Surya Kirans did the airloop, the crowds roared in appreciation.

But it was 5 pm too soon, and as the skies fell silent, it was back to the heat and at least another hour of eyeing the bumper in front. And as the traffic cleared another hour later, there was only one consolation for those who didn't make it to the show: it was now the turn of those who had made it on the other side of the road!

Yeh hai Bambai

True to their reputations, many money-minded Mumbaikars refused to believe that such a show could be on the house. ``From where can we buy the tickets for the show? Do we have to queue up outside CCI for it?'' asked two wide-eyed teenagers as they stepped out of Churchgate station. ``You don't need a ticket to look skywards!'' was the answer the two youths received from a paanwala standing nearby.

Families' day out

A Gujarati family of six had come all the way from Kandivli to watch the ace pilots in action. ``Usually on Sundays, the kids simply while away their time watching stupid tele-serials; in fact, I could manage to drag my wife and children here by telling them that the air show would be much better that the `Philips Top 20'. They were not disappointed,'' said daddy Navin Parekh.

Biting the dust...

For a moment, it felt as if the entire mass of bodies would topple into the sea as the two Chetak choppers took centrestage to perform the dashing Search and Rescue operation at Nariman Point and at Chowpatty. ``The spectators simplylunged towards the edge of Marine Drive to get a better view of the action, however, the police managed to control the crowd,'' said a young schoolboy, Rishabh Malhotra, who has now decided to become an air force pilot.

That's one more soldier gained to boost the strength of Indian Defence.

...another doesn't

Krishna Joshi, a sixth standard student hailing from the suburbs too liked the display, but was a little scared by the mighty machines whizzing through the air. Asked if he would like to be a pilot when he grows up, his answer was a quick ``no.'' ``What if my hands slip off the gear and I fall down, plane and all!''