After three consecutive days of just a few colors, mostly shades of greys and heavy showers over the capital city Islamabad, the morning of 25 March was warm and wind checks were good. The stands where guests were seated and the decorations at the parade venue were a sea of colors. The show was a go, when the ACM Zaheer Ahmed Baber, Chief of Air Staff, PAF in state-of-the-art F-16 D Block-52, came up in a burst of speed and pulled up in front of the chief guest, heads of the army and the navy, and the audience in the stands – a visual symbol of the trust between the people and PAF. Flying 500 feet above the ground and following the Air Chief, were Air Vice Marshal Zafar Aslam and Wg Cdr Junaid, leading the formation of the four multirole F-16s of the No 9 Sqn ‘The Griffins’. Behind this group was Wg Cdr Sarmad, heading the No 16 Sqn in the JF- 17 Thunder and the newly inducted dual seat JF-17 Thunder B. This squadron is famously known as the ‘Black Panthers’. The sky above the capital city was then filled by the noise made by the ‘Zarars’ from the No 27 Sqn flying the ‘Miracle’ Mirage aircraft. Wg Cdr Hammad Khurshid was leading the formation of the four delta-winged jets that are feared for their speed and agility. While Wg Cdr Kamran Yasin led the ‘Tigers’ from the No 17 Sqn in their F-7PGs, close behind was his comrade, Wg Cdr Farhan Zia, from the CCS, leading the ‘Dashings’ formation of four F-7PG fighter jets on his wings. After the fighting complements of the PAF, the force multipliers closed in at the parade venue. Wg Cdr Kashif Hussain and Sqn Ldr Umair Mumtaz, led the formation of the Karakoram Eagle (KE-03) and two Saab 2000 aircraft from the No 3 and No 4 squadrons, respectively. Air Force support and transport helicopters, the Mi-17 and AW-139 from No 83 and No 87 squadrons followed close behind. Soon after, the aviation assets of the Pak Army and Pak Navy followed. The venue echoed with the deafening sounds of the incoming ‘Choppers’, sleek and lethal ‘Cobras’, mighty MI-35 and veteran MI-17 were all there to enthrall the audience. Pak Navy assets were next to appear on the scene. Sea King, Orion, Z9-EC all zoomed past the cheering audience. SSG Commandoes of Pak Army, carrying Pakistan flag, hanging with a sling from the overflying heli, was nothing short of a spectacle. Taking off from PAF Base Minhas and inbound for the next high-octane mission was Wg Cdr Mudassir Riaz, who brought his ‘A’ game flying the JF-17 Thunder. “The JF-17’s solo performance spelled thrilling and beautiful any way you looked at it,” said an audience member after the show. “It was an adrenaline rush,” said another. It was the moment Wg Cdr Mudassir Riaz, had practiced so hard for. The rolls, the loops, and tight turns pulling high Gs in the corners were a marriage between gutsy and precision flying. The after-burner was thrown in and the Thunder looked like a ballistic missile. Thunder turn, barrel-roll, muscle-climb, high alpha-pass, and half Cuban-eight were some of the exotic maneuvers which kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Towards the finale, the roaring Thunder disappeared in the skies over Islamabad performing multiple vertical rolls dispensing flares all the way. Next, the air space belonged to an aerobatic sensation, the internationally acclaimed ‘Solo Turk’, who had flown in especially to perform at the Pakistan Day celebrations. All the way from Turkey, Solo Turk had arrived early, to get some extra practice, doing above and beyond maneuvers in his high-performance F-16. “Solo Turk is always incredible to watch fly. He is a huge name in the demonstration flying industry after all,” said a guest witnessing the air show. Wearing an all-black livery with a prominent golden eagle on its tail and gold colors of the crescent star on the lower side, the Solo Turk F-16 was a treat to watch. Flying for about 18 to 20 minutes over the venue, Capt Serdär Dogän displayed some jaw-dropping maneuvers. During the performance, the aircraft demonstrated a variety of maneuvers including high-G steep turn, loop, inverted pass, high alpha pass, etc. From dropping speeds to meagre 220 Km/h and then accelerating to 1200 Km/h, Capt Dogän made the performance look like child’s play. Capt Mustafa Birjan, official commentator of Solo Turk along with Sqn Ldr Hassan Jalal (PAF commentator) equally enthralled the audience with their powerful commentary. According to another guest, watching Solo Turk perform was like leaning forward and seeing the edge of the cliff. That was just cold courage strapped in the Fighting Falcon, with thousands of pounds of deafening thrust, she said. All eyes were on Solo Turk especially when his low-level passes looked like close scrapes with the afterburner kicked in, added another spectator. Just when the guest could all breathe again after the end of Solo Turk’s demonstration flying, rolled in the PAF’s official aerobatic team ‘The Sherdils’, and the blinking was not allowed. The Sherdils are the dream team of demonstration flying business, made up of some of the best formations pilots of the PAF. In aviation, there is nothing more dangerous than formation flying. With nine jets up there, it is extremely complicated what the pilots are trying to achieve sticking a few feet from each other and maintaining steady positions through the loops and rolls. Above all, formation flying is about absolute trust. It took every bit of concentration to pull off their tightly-boxed formation stunts at the same time showing off the amazing handling of the K-8 aircraft. With the angle of the sun making the jets glisten, the PAF’s demonstration team had put together a tight routine of various maneuvers filling the Pakistan flag-colored trails in the sky, finishing their demo with their favorite gig, the bomb burst. The event was a huge success and came with an inherent message. It’s not merely a ‘Show of Force’ showcasing the might of the Pakistani military but also a reassurance to the nation that the defense of the motherland is, and would always remain, in the safe hands of its professional armed forces.
by S. Khalil