Bengaluru, Sept 12: Aviation aficionados can raise a toast now with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) officially announcing the return of Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT), the famous sky party wing of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
MoD Spokesperson Sitanshu Kar dropped enough hints with the release of the first-ever photos of the Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) Hawks painted in the popular colours donned by the SKAT, who operated the Hindustan Jet Trainer (HJT-16) Kiran-Mk-IIs till 2011.
As reported by OneIndia during the Aero India 2015, it is now confirmed that the new-look aerobatic team of the IAF will fly for the first time during the Air Force Day celebrations at Hindon on October 8.
"After over 4 years, IAF's new Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team, with 4 AJT Hawks, to perform at AF Day Parade on 08 Oct," tweeted Kar.
Sources told OneIndia that the team would perform some limited maneuvers at the AF Day Parade.
"The show will be limited to a few display items only. By next year, we will be ready with a full-fledged plan. The entire team is excited as we waited more than expected to hit the skies, officially. The team will retain the same name as SKATs," an IAF official said.
Return of SKATs to inspire youngsters
One of the top aviation brains and a former IAF top gun Air Vice Marshal Ajit Lamba (Retd) welcomed the news of the return of the SKATs.
"It was on expected lines and there was something amiss during the last four years. It will be a treat to watch them donning the same colours, but flying different machines. I am delighted that the ‘Ambassadors of IAF' are back," AVM Lamba (Retd) told OneIndia.
Interestingly, AVM Lamba said that he was among the founder members of ‘The Battle Axes,' the nine Hunter aircraft aerobatic team of the IAF, formed in 1961.
The team flying the Hunter Mk 56As had their first aerobatic display on January 6, 1962 to mark the 20th anniversary of the No 7 Squadron.
Speaking to OneIndia, Wg Cdr C D Upadhyay (Retd), former Chief Executive Officer of HATSOFF (a helicopter training facility in Bengaluru), and former Chief Test Pilot of HAL, welcomed the return of the SKAT.
"SKATs have a special place in the hearts of aviators and general public world over. Their return means more fun in the air. I am sure that the SKATs will inspire many youngsters to join the IAF," says Wg Cdr Upadhyay (Retd).
Last public show during Aero India 2011
Raised in 1996, the elsewhere SKATs enthralled plane devotees for nearly 15 years until the IAF decided to take them off sky-party duties in 2011. This followed shortage of trainer aircraft for ‘ab initio' pilots at Air Force Academy in Dundigal, near Hyderabad.
On February 13, 2011, the SKATs performed with the HJT-16s for one last time during Aero India, striking an emotional chord with many. The team members had then headed for the Staff College in Wellington.
During the subsequent two air shows in 2013 and 2015, the organizers had to rope in aerobatic teams from abroad to enthrall the visitors.
The Kirans were later grounded following safety concerns and soon the IAF inducted Pilatus PC 7 BTAs.
The SKATs are based out of Bidar in Karnataka and the Hawks are manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) under license in Bengaluru.