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The Battle Axes' formation aerobatic team
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by Air Marshal R S Bedi
As against the prevalent perception, the first nine aircraft aerobatic team of the
Indian Air Force was formed by No 7 Squadron, The Battle Axes, in late 1961.
In fact, the first nine aircraft (Hunter Mk 56A) formation aerobatic display was flown on
06 Jan 62 on the occasion of the squadrons 20th anniversary.
The team was led by the Commanding Officer, Sqn Ldr Bharat Singh (later Gp Capt) &
comprised the Flight Commander, Flt Lt AK Mukherjee (later Wg Cdr), Flt Lt P Rawlley
(later Sqn Ldr, died in 1965 war), Flt Lt RS Bedi (later Air Mshl), Fg Offrs DK Dhiman
(later died as Gp Capt), Pritam Singh (died in Hunter accident later), H Kailasam (shifted
to Air India), DR Nadkarni (later Air Mshl), SK Behal (later AVM) & Choudhary (died in
1965 war). Each of these ten pilots, including one as stand by, was trained for two
This saga of the nine ac team began when the two sister Sqns- Nos 7 (CO, Sqn Ldr
McNeil) & 17 (CO, Sqn Kanwar Singh) were located at Ambala, after conversion on
Hunters in UK. Having gained some experience, both sqns started to train their respective
pilots for formation aerobatics.
Gradually, a sort of unhealthy competition developed between them. One fine day, this
led to a mid air collision over Ambala airfield, involving Harry Bhagat & Lamba of 17
sqn. Fortunately, both ejected safely. At this stage, the command stepped in &
designated 7 sqn (now under Sqn Ldr Bharat Singh) to form the nine ac aerobatic team.
Consequently, the syllabus was made & each pilot was taken through it, till he reached
the stage of being comfortable with nine aircraft.
The nine aircraft used to get airborne in three vics, having lined up one behind the
other. The formation used to form up over points East/West (Barara/Rajpura) and run-in
over Ambala airfield, forming a figure of 7.
While winging over, the formation used to change into a Diamond
and continue into a loop. This was followed by another wing over & a loop in the
reciprocal direction. Likewise, two reciprocal barrel rolls, one each to either side, were
executed. All manoeuvres were interspersed with a wing over to keep the formation in sight
of the grand stand. The last loop used to commence as a Diamond & change
into an Inverted Wine Glass during the upward vertical part of the loop,
reverting to the Diamond in the downward vertical part, thus, executing two
formation changes in a single loop.
The last part of the display was the most spectacular to watch, wherein, a Double
Bomb Burst was executed. As part of this manoeuvre, the rear five used to
burst upwards, turning through 45O, while the leading four, would
burst downwards, turning through 90O. The nine aircraft used to reform over
point East/West for a landing in three vics. The aerobatic floor for the display used to
be 500 feet agl, with speeds varying from 180 to 420 knots.
It was very difficult to carry out a thorough debrief in regard to station keeping wile
executing various manoeuvres. For this purpose, a Hunter Mk 66 (trainer) with a G90 cine
camera, flown by late Flt Lt Vijayan was used. However, this often led to contentious
arguments about each others position keeping, since it was not easy to discern
clearly whether the formation was on its back or otherwise.
Once the team was fully ready, a display was put up for AOC in C WAC, on 17 Mar 62,
followed by another display for the CAS, Air Mshl AM Engineer on 28 Mar 62. This legacy
was carried forward for quite some time by subsequent sqn cdrs, including the Late ACM
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