Surya Kiran

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Sam Aerobatic Team (SKAT)
SuryaKiran IAF.jpg
The Suryakiran team performing at Aero India, Bangalore.
Active 1996 - 2011. Likely to be resurrected on Hawk AJTs in 2015.
Country  India
Branch IAF-roundel.svg Indian Air Force
Role Aerobatic Display
Size 9 Aircraft in flying display - 3 in stand-by - Total of 12.
Part of 52 Squadron, IAF ("The Sharks")
Garrison/HQ Bidar Air Force Station
Motto सदैव सर्वोत्तम - Sadaiva Sarvōttama
(Sanskrit: "Always the Best")[1]
Colors day-glo orange and white.
Equipment HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 trainer aircraft.
BAE Systems Hawk to be used in future
Decorations Chief of Air Staff Unit Citation
Aircraft flown
Trainer HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2

Surya Kiran (Sanskrit: सूर्य किरण Sūrya Kiraṇ - "Sun Rays") is an aerobatics demonstration team of the Indian Air Force. The Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) was formed in 1996, till 2011, to serve as the "Ambassadors of the Indian Air Force" and to "showcase the professionalism, the calibre and the mettle of the Indian Air Force", The team has since performed numerous demonstrations in various parts of the country and abroad, and is today among the three renowned nine-aircraft public display aerobatic teams in the world (the other two being the British Red Arrows and the Canadian Snowbirds). The Team was shut down in Feb 2011 due to shortage of Basic jet trainers in IAF after grounding of HPT-32 trainers. After shut down, all Kiran Mk-II aircraft were sent to FIS Tambaram for training of QFIs.

The squadron was primarily composed of the HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 military trainer aircraft and are based at the Bidar Air Force Station in Karnataka. Air Chief Marshall P.V. Naik said that Surya Kiran will upgrade to the BAE Hawk.[2]


The genesis of the 'Suryakiran Aerobatic Team' (SKAT) can be traced back to 1982, the golden jubilee year of the Indian Air Force, when 'The Thunderbolts', a nine aircraft aerobatic team was formed. The team flew Hawker Hunter aircraft (Also flown by 'The Black Arrows' of the Royal Air Force). The Thunderbolts gave their last public display in 1989. In 1990, the Hunters were phased out and replaced by HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 aircraft.

In early 1996, serious planning began for Aero India-96, the first major air show and aviation trade event ever hosted in India. The organisers' initial intentions were to invite an aerobatic team from overseas. However, senior IAF officers were confident that the IAF would be able to field its own team. Thus, the Suryakiran team was formed in 1996 as a 6-aircraft team, with Wg Cdr Kuldeep Malik VM, VSM, a former Thunderbolts member, as the first team leader. They gave their first display during the first Aero India in 1996. By 1997, the Suryakiran team had been expanded to 9 aircraft. The other Commanding Officers and Team Leaders of Suryakiran till date have been Wing Commander (late) AK Murgai VM, Wing Commander Amit Tiwari VM, Wing Commander S Prabahkaran VM, Wing Commander Sandeep Bansal VM, Wing Commander JT Kurien and Wing Commander Prajual Singh.

After the performance in Bangalore in February 2011 the Surya Kirans were grounded because the Air Force faced a severe shortage of training aircraft. Four years after their last flight, the Surya Kirans, is all set to take to the skies once again with the induction of the British Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer, being assembled in India by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited based in Bangalore. [3]


Closeup of a Surya Kiran HAL Kiran aircraft on the Tarmac at Bangalore during Aero India-2007. Note the two wing-mounted smoke generators.

Suryakiran operates 16 HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 trainer aircraft. The HJT-16 MK.2 is the basic armament trainer aircraft of the Indian Air Force, and is used for intermediate flight and weapons training. The aircraft is also effective in reconnaissance and counter insurgency operations. The aircraft used by the team are painted in a "day-glo orange" and white colour scheme.

A particular difficulty faced by the team was the side-by-side seating arrangement in the Kiran cockpits.[1] The members flying to the left of the leader have to fly from the right seat, whereas the left seat is the master seat. Therefore some aircraft have been modified to fly solo from the right seat. In unmodified aircraft, the pilot flying on the left of the leader has to fly in two pilot configuration.

The two inboard drop tanks of Suryakiran Kiran Mk.2 aircraft have been modified to carry colour dye for generating smoke. Diesel is used for generating white smoke and coloured dye is mixed with diesel to generate coloured smoke. Because of the smoke modification, only the two outboard drop tanks can be used to carry fuel, which gives Suryakiran aircraft a maximum ferry range of 280 nm. For displays, Suryakiran aircraft fly only with two inboard drop tanks, which carry dye for smoke generation.

The first public formation display was over Air Force Administrative College, Red Fields, Coimbatore during their Golden Jubilee in September 96 followed by Aero India 96. In 2011, all the aircraft of the team were re-deployed for pilot training duties due to the shortage of trainer aircraft and the SKAT was grounded. The IAF has ordered 20 more BAE Systems Hawk Mk. 132 aircraft for the Surya Kiran which are solely to be used for aerobatics display purposes.[2] This will also help to give a modern feel to the team.


The Surya Kiran team were conferred squadron status in 2006, and presently have the designation of 52 Squadron, Air force ("The Sharks").[1] The parent base for the SKAT is Bidar Air Force Station. The AOC of AFS Bidar serves as the guardian for the Squadron when it is at base or touring. AFS Bidar is one of the main training bases for IAF pilots, and operates numerous Kiran Mk.2 aircraft and the IAF's new Hawk Trainer Aircraft.

The available maintenance and repair infrastructure at Bidar suffices the maintenance requirements of the Suryakiran team. The team has four engineering officers who lead a team of air warriors posted to the unit.


The team had a total of 13 pilots of whom only 9 are flying at any given time. Pilots are selected twice a year for a three-year tour of duty. Only Fighter aircraft qualified pilots are selected. All pilots in the team are Qualified flying instructors (QFI's) with about 2,000 hours of fighter flying experience and 1,000 hours on the Kiran aircraft. The Team is headed by a Commanding Officer who is also the leader of the formation during display sorties. The Team Leader has the opportunity of selecting his future team pilots after subjecting them to grueling flight trials and tests. The present Team CO is Wg Cdr Prajual Singh, a Mig 29 pilot.

Besides the pilots, the team had a Flight Commander, an Administrator and qualified Technical Officers. The Flight Commander is in charge of operational planning. The Administrator, apart from looking after administrative requirements of the Team, also provides the commentary during public displays. The Senior Engineering Officer (the SEO or ‘Spanner’), along with fifty technicians, has the task of maintaining and servicing the Team’s aircraft. In all technical aspects, the decision of the Senior Engineering Officer is the final word.


On an average, the team performs over 30 shows a year, and flies three sorties a day during the training season and two a day whilst on aerobatics display. The nine aircraft take off in groups of three and join up in close formation, maneuvering between speeds of 150 to 650 km/h with their wing tips less than 5 metres apart. The maneuvers subject the pilots to alternating g-forces between +6 to –1.5.[4]

The team has performed at all Aero India's to date, as well as during the International Fleet Review in Mumbai in February 2001. It has also performed in various cities, right from South India, to Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. The team, under the leadership of Wing Commander Amit Tiwari, performed abroad for the first time in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to mark the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the Sri Lankan Air Force. In February 2004, Suryakiran led by Wing Commander S Prabahkaran enthralled audiences at the Asian Aerospace-2004 air show in Singapore. The Team, under the command of Wing Commander S Bansal, made its debut in Malaysia in December 2007 at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) 2007 from 04 Dec to 08 Dec, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Malaysia's Independence. Whilst in Malaysia, the team also displayed at Subang airfield of Kuala Lumpur on 29 Nov 07.[5]

On December 11 – 12, 2007 The Indian Air Force Aerobatic Team "SURYA KIRAN" in coordination with the Royal Thai Air Force conducted a nine-aircraft Aerobatic display to commemorate the 80th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the King of Thailand. This display was witnessed by the Chief of the Royal Thai Air Force. In November 2008, the team was invited to participate in the Zhuhai Airshow, China. Suryakiran were the only foreign participants in this airshow. The Team displayed on all five days of the airshow. Their displays were highly appreciated by everyone. On the return from China, the team displayed in Laos as well.[6]


A Suryakiran aircraft crashed while practicing on March 18, 2006 near Air Force Station, Bidar during a training sortie. Two team pilots, Wing Commander Dheeraj Bhatia and Squadron Leader Shailender Singh, were fatally injured.

Another crash of Surya Kiran aircraft happened on January 21, 2009. Wing Commander R.S. Dhaliwal VM (35) of the Indian Air Force was fatally injured when his aircraft crashed in an open field at Bellura village close to the Air Force Station, Bidar at 8:45 am on a routine practice sortie. $.


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External links[edit]


  • "India's Suryakirans Aerobatic Team To Perform At LIMA 2007"., Malaysian National News Agency. 27 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-28. KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 (Bernama) -- The famous Indian Air Force aerobatics team, the "Suryakirans" or sun rays in Hindi, will be making its debut appearance in Malaysia next week at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) 2007. 
  • Flying colours of courage