Combat aircraft flew at low speed at the Aero India 2019 air show at Bengaluru today to pay tribute to a pilot who was killed in a mid-air collision during rehearsals yesterday.
Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi lost his life when two aircraft of the Indian Air Force's aerobatic team Surya Kiran crashed and burst into flames near the Yelahanka air base after grazing each other while rehearsing a mirror manoeuvre just a day before the start of the five-day air show. Two more pilots were injured.
In tribute, the Indian Air Force executed the "missing man" formation. The three-aircraft formation of Tejas, Jaguar and Su-30 flew past with an empty space for the leader signifying their comrade. The tradition of "missing man" formation was started to pay tribute to Charles "speed" Holman, an American stunt pilot, who died in an air crash in the 1930s.
#MissingMan formation was flown, today, led by Su-30MKI at Yelahanka as a tribute to Wg Cdr Sahil Gandhi, who was martyred during a rehearsal sortie on 19 Feb 19. Followed by a slow speed pass by #Rafale, as a salute to #Braveheart.— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) February 20, 2019
'You will be missed, blue skies to you always' pic.twitter.com/5ofzzb1Ofx
The Surya Kiran Aerobatics team is not participating today. The team said it "lost a buddy" in Sahil and IAF, a professional, and the nation, a hero.
Multi-role medium combat Rafale aircraft of the French Dassault Aviation also flew at a low speed as a mark of respect to the pilot.
The Rafale display caught attention at the air show in the middle of a political controversy over a deal for 36 fighter jets between India and France in 2016, for which the government has faced relentless opposition attacks in election season.
The Aero India's official website said a total of 61 aircraft would be on display and 403 exhibitors would be part of the biennial event.