IAF’s Mi-8 chopper flies into history

The Indian Air Force’s 45-year-old, reliable, medium lift Mi-8 attack and utility helicopter, symbolically flew for the last time on Sunday and vanished into the dusk.

Amid applause from the gathered personnel, who had flown the iconic craft, the military grey machine slowly lifted into the Bengaluru skies in a swan song, its long rotors whirring as it literally melded into the orange sunset. Over 100 veteran and service personnel, who cut their teeth in the IAF on the helicopter, had gathered at the Air Force Station, Yelahanka, on the city’s outskirts. They recalled with pride and nostalgia the decommissioned warhorse of wars and disasters.

Chief’s farewell

Former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal (retd) Fali H. Major, did the last flying honours along with the CO 112HU (helicopter unit), recalling later that his career was built around the aircraft. Three more Mi-8s joined him in a formation and flew for a few minutes before they took the bow.

Air Marshal S.R.K. Nair, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command, said the 107 helicopters that have been phased out would be used for static educational purposes at various institutions.

Air Marshal Nair said the IAF has replaced the Mi-8 with new inductions in the same category such as the Mi-17, Mi-1v and more recently the Mi-v5.

He recalled that the Mi-8 helicopters were part of Operation Meghdoot of 1989 in the Siachen Glacier and Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. The craft operated extensively in humanitarian, rescue and disaster relief operations across the country, including during the devastating 2015 Chennai floods of 2015, apart from ferrying many VIPs and VVIPs.

Air Marshal Jasjit Singh Kler, Commandant of the National Defence Academy and the senior most Mi-8 pilot, and other Mi-8 veterans pulled the craft some distance ceremonially to its rest.

The IAF described the Mi-8 as the backbone of its medium lift combat capability and that it was an ideal platform for graduation of air crew. The 112 Helicopter Unit based at Yelahanka is the last unit to operate it. The unit has the record of graduating 119 pilot courses, 89 flight engineering courses and 57 flight gunner courses.

The Russian-made Mi-8 entered India in 1971. It was formally inducted the next year. Between then and 1988, the Air Force inducted 107 of them, operating them across 10 helicopter units and used them in various operations for 45 years. The Air Force said, “Through its glorious service career, the Mi-8 did not just establish itself as a mainstay of the helicopter operations but also left an indelible mark on the future by providing the IAF with a lineage of professional helicopter aircrew.”

The Mi-8 left an indelible mark on the future by providing the IAF with professional aircrew