Musings: An Air Force wife and mum, whose husband and son have flown at the Indian Air Force’s Yelahanka Air Base, gets nostalgic at Aero India time. She fondly recalls time she spent at the Base, in the year it turns 50

Once every two years, Aero India brings the world to Yelahanka’s doorstep, galvanizing all of Bangalore. In the midst of all the fanfare surrounding the Air Show this year, India’s premier transport training base where the show is being held, turns a quiet 50. To an insider, the scant notice is not surprising. Life at the Air Force Station across the road from Aero India remains essentially unchanged from what it was 20 years ago.

Open spaces, dark and deep Eucalyptus woods full of mystery for children; a way of life that has remained insulated from the “larger” forces that have transformed Bangalore and, devotees would say, sapped the very soul of the city. Air Force Station Yelahanka has always had energy and vibrancy unmatched by any other flying station in India.

Long before Aero India catapulted it to the world stage, the base was unique for the number of young pilots who dominated the scene at any given time. On foot and on bicycles, in groups of two or more, they swarmed the place — indefatigable and perpetually grinning. If their trademark haircuts didn’t give them away, the positive energy that followed them, even to the Regimental shops, did.

Landing in the land of promise

For these young pilot officers on the last lap of their training, Bangalore had always conjured up visions of the good life. After the rigours of their three-year stint at the NDA and the rut of early flying training at some back-of-beyond bases, this was the Promised Land. Bangalored long before the word acquired its present connotation, before swank malls and pubs, the IT boom and the Hebbal Flyover with its eight-lane expressway to the airport changed the face of the city forever, they would head out “to town” every Saturday afternoon after pack-up.

Their destinations were Rex and Imperial for the latest English movies, Blue Fox and Lakeview for a change from the egg on toast and dal-roti of the Officers’ Mess.

Not to mention what was really uppermost in everyone’s mind – Bangalore’s beautiful girls and the refreshing change of scene on Brigade’s and MG Road, where you could stroll along both sides of the road and steal an occasional glance in their direction.

The journey to town on the treacherous single-lane highway was an adventure by itself. Motorcycles were strictly forbidden and buses to and from the camp were few and far between. If you missed the 281C to the City Market or the IAF bus to Shivajinagar, it would mean having to wait interminably for a bus with a black board or an obliging truck driver going to Mekhri Circle.

As the young and the restless braved this 20 km ride, the married officers and their families usually stayed put on weekends. There were regular get-togethers at the colonial style Mess with its sloping roof made of red Mangalore tiles and at another watering hole with an unfussy name - The Club, a newer addition.

Despite a persistent water shortage, garden competitions were the order of the day. A ground floor allotment also meant a back garden with papaya, drumstick, and banana trees and frequent visitors from the suspected snake sanatorium in the low lying area beyond the married quarters, designated as a dhobhi ghat.

Holi was a big occasion and large groups would go around knocking at doors to draw even the most reluctant into the spirit of things. Before the days of the VCR, the movie hall was a place to congregate, and old and new Hindi movies ran to packed houses. As always, VIP visits meant a makeover for the station, a genuine spring cleaning and not the proverbial spit and polish with dabs of blue paint over all things stationary.

Birds…then and now

Inside the camp, the texture of life has not changed dramatically from the laid-back style of the 80s. The ever-present whine of turbo-propellers on circuit and landing was first heard in those days when Avros and later AN 32s and helicopters replaced the piston-engined Dakotas as the workhorses of the Air Force. The present subway connecting the residential area to the technical area was a requirement even in those days, when crossing the road to get to work by 7 a.m. was an ordeal. Pilots had to cope with birds in the flight path of aircraft even then, but now, thanks to Aero-India, the BBMP has acted on complaints from the Air Force.

Whatever happens, one thing remains constant — Air Force Station, Yelahanka turns out generation after generation of some of the finest transport pilots in the world, as it has been doing for fifty years now.