Since the first show in 1996, the Aero India show in Bangalore has gone on to become one of the most important showcases for aviation and defence companies.
Held at the Yelahanka Air Force Station biennially, the show’s importance has grown in proportion to the size of India’s defence budget (from $20.11 billion, or around Rs.1.1 trillion now, in 2006 to nearly double that in 2012, at $37.58 billion). According to a 2012 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), India supplanted China as the largest importer of arms between 2007 and 2011, accounting for 10% of global imports. And with this, the show has become the most important event in the world.
Not surprisingly, Aero India 2013 sees participation from some of the biggest companies, such as Boeing, EADS, BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation. In essence, it is a meeting ground for business houses to woo clients and partners from across the world, and in particular the Indian Air Force (IAF). At this year’s edition, on till Sunday, one can see “chalets” set up beside the airstrips as firms try to sell military and civilian aircraft, helicopters, aeroplane engines, weapon systems, missiles, howitzers, and other defence equipment.
But for the general public, Aero India 2013 is an opportunity to witness the latest and fastest in the aviation industry, and the clear February skies are perfect for this.
The inaugural flight on Wednesday was by a vintage de Havilland Tiger Moth, a bright yellow 1930s plane that was restored by the IAF early last year. The plane, which flew from Delhi to Bangalore over six days, charmed the Bangalore crowd with its stately take-off and elegant manoeuvres.
The most impressive of the performances was by the aerobatics Flying Bulls team from the Czech Republic, which wowed the crowds with its synchronized mirror flight, narrow flip and the drunken-man manoeuvre, where one plane loops around two planes as they fly straight. They fly a lightweight aircraft called Zlin Z50 LX, manufactured in the Czech Republic. All the members of the Flying Bulls are veteran pilots, inducted only after they turn 52. Some of them are former air force officers.
The other features of the show include the planes that are in the process of being inducted into the IAF. The one that created the most buzz was Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter jet, which bagged an $11 billion deal in early 2012, the biggest defence deal by the Indian government. The Rafale displayed its speed and dexterity and is expected to boost India’s aerial prowess. Other inductees include the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL’s) indigenous fighter aircraft Tejas, its advanced light helicopter Rudra, and the Pilatus (Turbo) trainer aircraft from Swiss manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft Ltd.
Though the Surya Kirans, an aerobatic team of the IAF, were missing this year, their absence was made up for by the IAF’s helicopter formation display team Sarang. Flying HAL Dhruvs, the four-member team performed daredevil manoeuvres that have won accolades across the world, including that of the best display team at the Dubai Airshow in 2005.
The best of the planes, including the aerobatics of the Russian Knights flying the Sukhois, will take to the skies on Saturday and Sunday, when the general public will be allowed in for the not inconsiderable sum of Rs.1,000. Or, like some of the more ingenious locals, one can also watch the spectacular show by climbing the trees abutting the airfield.