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THE highlight of the Passing Out Parade of the 131st course of the National Defence Academy on Tuesday, was the breathtaking display by the Indian Air Force’s six aircraft aerobatics team Suryakiran. It was also a proud moment for Puneites as three of the six fighter pilots were from Pune. Based at Bidar Air Force Station in Karnataka, the Suryakiran Aerobatics Team (SKAT) flies advanced fighter trainer aircraft of British make, Hawk MK 132.
SKAT, that was formed in May 1996, has evolved into an important formation aerobatic team of the world, with several International performances in their kitty.
The team is now called the the ‘Ambassadors of the Indian Air Force.’ Their pilots are selected twice a year for a three year tour of duty, from the fighter stream of the IAF.
Wing Commander Ajit Kulkarni, who is from Pune, is the Commanding Officer of the team at present. He is a fully operational MiG-29 pilot. Other members of the team are Wg Cdr Vijay Shelke, who is from Pune and is a Mirage 2000 pilot, Squadron Leader Shishir Arora, a MiG 29 pilot, Wg Cdr Ashwin Thakare, also also from Pune and a MiG 27 pilot. Wg Cdr Thakare is the synchronisation leader, Wg Cdr Akhilesh Singh a MiG-21 pilot.
Other members of the team are Sqn Ldr Sahil Gandhi, a Sukhoi 30 pilot, Wg Cdr Prashant Grover, a Mig 21 pilot, Wg Cdr Mayank Nautiyal, a Mirage 2000 pilot, Sqn Ldr Praveen and Sqn Ldr Ajay Dasarathy and Wg Cdr Venu Nambisan.
Team members, while speaking to reporters after the display, said that the team will soon be upgraded to a nine aircraft display team with the number of team members also slated to increase.
The performance received a pat on the back by NDA Commandant Air Marshal JS Kler, himself an Air Officer with vast flying experience in helicopter stream.
The commandant also signed a photograph for the Suryakiran team.