Being with the Sarangs is like hitting a college campus. There’s never a dull moment. Energy in abundance. Tonnes of fun. Ideas hovering around all the time. And plenty of action!
Onmanorama recently caught up with the Sarangs (151 HU) at their own base at AFS Sulur to bring you this Web Special on the occasion of the 86th IAF Day on October 8.
This aerobatic helicopter display team of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been been thrilling audiences since 2003. They have so far has performed around 225 displays across India and 23 abroad, including at various venues in Europe, South East Asia and South America, to name a few.
Sarang is a four-helicopter display team operating the Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs). Though for now the team is consolidating and mesmerizing the audiences with their awesome four-helicopter displays the world over, the inclusion of two more helicopters remains a possibility in future.
Wg Cdr Sachin Anand Gadre (Sarang-1) is the team leader. As the Commanding Officer of the unit, he leads the team for its magnificent displays. Hailing from Nashik in Maharashtra, Wg Cdr Gadre has a rich experience of 18 years of service with the IAF and he has been with the team in this second innings since 2015. As an Experimental Test Pilot, he has flown 19 different types of aircraft and clocks roughly around 4,000 flying hours.
This Marathi Maanoos’s brain works on multiple frequencies simultaneously and has a never ending penchant for work. His attention to minute detail provides a refined edge to the team. At times, he can be heard humming old Hindi tracks, rarely heard these days. And, you speak of any sporting activity, he will be the first to hit the field!
The deputy team leader of the team is Wg Cdr Girish Komar (Sarang-3), hailing from Hubli in Karnataka. He is the most experienced display pilot in the team now. He has 16 years of service with IAF, and has been with the team for over eight years now. He is a qualified flying instructor and has flown over 3,700 hrs.
An alumnus of Sainik School Bijapur and NDA, he’s one of the oldest members of the team, who joined Sarangs at a very early stage. He was the baby face of the team for quite a while, he now runs the show at Sarang.
He is a victim of the travel bug and along with his family, spends his vacations exploring newer destinations. He forever remains ready to pose for a picture or two!
Team Sarang says they aim to motivate bright, young minds so that they join the armed forces. They say the selection to the team is rigorous and the subsequent training arduous. Towards this, the team itself is comprised of volunteers among volunteers who are ready to take a step further in accepting challenges of display flying.
What the team always looks forward to are those 15 minutes of thrilling aerial ballet, where the human spirit challenges the limits of the machine and the end product is an exhilarating exhibition of precision, symmetry, synchronization, and dare devilry.
“Each time those 15 minutes come to an end, the team asks for more and waits until the next time we get an opportunity to Tango and enthrall the audience. This spirit is the very elixir of the team,” says Wg Cdr Gadre.
A visit to the Sarang Museum gives you glimpses of what the team has achieved so far. There are impressions from National Defence Academy with the majestic ‘Sudan Block’ in the foreground or from Air Force Academy with the ‘Sekhon Block’ in the backdrop. Over the years, the team has collected memorabilia from across Europe, Singapore, Bahrain and Mauritius. Inside the museum one could get a crisp tour of all corners of India as the Sarangs play field is spread so.
The Sarangs have played the role of saviors on many occasions, including the recent floods that ravaged Kerala. During this mission codenamed ‘Op Karuna,’ the Sarangs were flying non-stop rescuing people stuck on rooftops and other interior parts.
The team was called in during Op Rahat (Uttarakhand flash floods of 2013), Chennai flood relief ops in November 2015, Op Synergy during Ockhi cyclone relief in December 17 and during the Theni forest fires of March 2018.
There are numerous other humanitarian assistance missions the Sarangs have taken part. And, it’s rare for a helicopter unit to have such a variety of expertise, experience and rare achievements.
And, for the hardcore Sarangs fans, there will be more action on all five days of Aero India at AFS Yelahanka in February 2019.
(The writer is an independent aerospace, defence journalist who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)