The Indian Air Force celebrates a milestone with a public interaction

What happens when scores of airmen in blue get into a city mall with all their flying machines, war gear and lethal missiles — in miniature?

Naive civvy curiosity met melody, bonhomie, infotainment and a never-before glimpse of the Air Force on Saturday as the country’s air sentinels began their first-ever public interface in the city.

The unlikely venue is Bangaloreans’ recent retail hangout, the Orion Mall in Yeshwantpur.

In full glory

As the Indian Air Force completes 80 years this year, Air Force Station, Jalahalli, is showcasing the air defence wing in all its glory to Bangaloreans over this weekend. IAF’s firepower, life in service, fun, risks and privileges are there to gawk at.

Within two hours of Governor H.R. Bhardwaj opening the show, it had captured public imagination.

The response has been so overwhelming that the public and the mall owners have cajoled them into extending the show to Monday, said Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command, Air Marshal Rajinder Singh.

Fighter aircraft models greet you at the entrance. Youth gawk at the plane models; older men and mothers with young children join the line to sit at the fighter plane simulator, Drona. “I want to feel what it is to be in the cockpit,” a young girl was overheard saying.

On the first floor, IAF publicity cell DISHA’s stall is abuzz with youngsters checking out their career fit: “I’m in second year engineering, what can I become in the IAF?”

That macho feeling

All around, young men, mostly, click themselves on their mobile phones in front of more models of the indigenous LCA fighter, Akash missiles, ejection seats, launchers and ground-based electronic commands centres.

If you are looking for fun and play, they are there, too, in the form of games on the monitor, aero models you can fly, win a quiz or drawing contest.

There is much music in the air at the large open space on the first floor and later at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall.

A very special 60-plus Air Warriors Symphony Orchestra performs three times during the event with brass, woodwind, reed, string and electronic instruments. The orchestra has played at international military music festivals across the globe.

Ramp show

Or you can behold a ramp show by officers and professional models to show how Air Force uniform has evolved from khaki to blue over the decades. Some more ramp walks will be there on Sunday, too.

“The Bangalore air show is a small campaign. But we want to create a wave by going to people on their familiar turf, where there are heavy public footfalls,” Air Commodore Dharam Veer, Air Officer Commanding, Air Force Station, Jalahalli, had said in a briefing ahead of the event.

The highs and lows

“Every Indian should know about his Force, our Force; the quality of life in an Air Force Station, a fighter’s career and the challengers before him,” he said.

Safety issues

There are also air safety issues that public should know, such as garbage around air units that can cause fatal bird hits. “For, each crew is valuable to us and each aircraft precious.”

Which is why the IAF held its first awareness drive recently in Delhi’s Saket Mall, and now followed it in Bangalore.

Busting some myths

Bangalore may be the southern hub of the IAF but it has little awareness of its Force.

“There are many myths about it that we want to wipe out,” said Group Captain B.C.S. Bharathi, public relations officer of Headquarters Training Command which has organised the event. “People think you have no family life when you enter the Services. Today half of our [local] officers and staff are out there, either as organisers or as visitors in their civils enjoying their day off with families.”

The Indian Air Force Exhibition, at Orion Mall in Yeshwantpur, concludes on Monday.