Legacy of Leading from the Front Continues…

The voice in the loud speakers directs the gaze of the spectators to their right in the sky, the most anticipated moment of the Pakistan Day celebrations, and hush falls. In the midst of the noiseless 30 seconds, eyes discern an intriguing little speck in the far distance, the likes of a fighter jet, racing towards the parade ground seemingly at the speed of sound.  As the low murmur of pride runs through the multitude, the Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, call sign SHAHBAZ ONE, connects his radio telecom from the cockpit with the loud speakers on the ground below. Leading the formation of 20 PAF aircraft from the front, his words drop like boulders “Make no mistake; we will always safeguard Pakistan. Presenting to you our wings of freedom and the guardians of your skies.” Flying 500 feet above-ground, SHAHBAZ ONE lets forth the war cry that has aroused fear in the hearts of the enemy,

‘Pakistan Zindabad! Pakistan Air Force Paindabad!’, and executes the 60 years old tradition of fly-past and salutes the resilient Pakistani nation.  

The legacy of leading the fly-past formations of PAF aircraft on Pakistan Day dates back to 1957, when Air Marshal Asghar Khan took over the command of PAF as the first Pakistani Air Chief at the age of 36 years. Being a visionary, bold and dynamic leader, he was the one who introduced the concept of fly-past of a PAF aircraft on the occasion of Pakistan Day Parade.

As he always believed in leading from the front, he decided to lead the first ever formation fly-past himself. During his eight-year command as the Air Chief, he led all the fly-pasts held during that period. To lead the formation, his aircraft of choice was mostly the F-104 Star Fighter. As fast as the present day Fighting Falcon, the aircraft always thrilled the spectators while flying at supersonic speed at low levels.

And there on, the legacy continues till date. It became incumbent on the following Air Chiefs of the Pakistan Air Force to lead the fly-past on Pakistan Day Parade. Over the years, the number of aircraft in the fly-past, type of the aircraft, formation patterns on Pakistan Day Parades kept changing. However, one thing always remained constant; the PAF fly-past has always been led by its Air Chief, a unique honor the senior leadership of PAF is proud of. 

On the morning of 23rd March, 2019, Air Chief Mujahid Anwar Khan followed the same run, entering the venue at almost 900 kilometers an hour. With a huge round of applause, spectators watched their Air Chief go off-script, rolling his F-16 Block-52 aircraft 90° right, experiencing eight times the normal force of gravity on his body, instead of replicating the traditional pull-up. Cheers and pride mounted to a new high as SHAHBAZ ONE completed the maximum performance ‘High G’ 360-degrees steep turn before pulling up the roaring Falcon. SHABAZ ONE exited the parade venue from precisely in front of the dais. Executing a series of vertical rolls while dispersing flares, it climbed 15000 ft before disappearing into hazy Islamabad skies, leaving spectators ecstatic.

The audience was still in awe of the breathtaking performance of the CAS aircraft, when a few moments later, a formation of four F-16s Block-52 aircraft, flying in a tightly maintained box formation, entered the venue. The formation belonged to No 9 Squadron (call sign: Griffins) of Pakistan Air Force and was led by Air Vice Marshal Irfan Ahmed, Air Officer Commanding Central Air Command, PAF. Following the F-16s, the much-awaited formation of JF-17 Thunder aircraft, the Pride of Pakistan, appeared on the venue. With squadron call sign ‘Tail Choppers’, the formation was led by Wing Commander Faisal Sajjad of No 14 Squadron. Next to enter the arena was the ‘BANDITS’ formation of the Mirage aircraft, led by the Squadron Commander Wing Commander Raja Jehanzeb of No 7 Squadron. On their tail, flew past the venue, the formation of F-7PG aircraft under the command of Wing Commander Nabeel. The formation represented the No 23 Squadron which is known by the call sign ‘Talons’ in PAF. Later, Wing Commander Ikram Ahmed led the formation of four F-7P aircraft from the No 18 Squadron, nicknamed ‘Sharp Shooters’. The icing on the cake was a stunning aerobatic display by PAF JF-17, and the world-renowned aerobatics teams BaYi (PLAAF) and the Solo Turk (Turkish Air Force).

First to enter the venue for aerobatics display was the JF-17 Thunder aircraft, with Wing Commander Zeeshan Baryar. The roaring Thunder straight away went into a loop as it entered the display area at high speed. All those in attendance were left spellbound as they watched Wing Commander Zeeshan Baryar push the JF-17 to its limits, in a series of spectacular manoeuvres. With its thunderous performance and trademark manoeuvres including Thunder Turns, Muscle Climb, Inverted Flying, Aileron Rolls, Alpha Pass and High G 360 turns, JF-17, the pride of the nation, remained the star of the show.

The spectators were delighted to see their own, indigenously manufactured, state-of-the-art modern fighter aircraft, performing extraordinary feats on the historic day.

Moments after the departure of JF-17 thunder, Solo Turk F-16 ‘Turkey’s Pride in the Skies’ appeared on the horizon for aerobatics display. Flying the F-16 Block-40 aircraft, Captain Erhan Gunar of Turkish Air Force, enthralled the audience with his jaw-dropping and mesmerizing aerobatic manoeuvres. Spectators, fans and guests of all ages and walks of life watched the show with great admiration. The jet’s sharp turns and low flybys were complemented by an equally energetic commentary by Turkish commentators which echoed around the venue. At the end, the audience waved, clapped and chanted ‘Pakistan-Turkey friendship Zindabad!’

In the finale, appeared on the venue, the Chinese aerobatics team ‘BaYi’ in 6-ship formation of J-10 aircraft. Emitting colored smoke, the team performed extraordinary thrilling manoeuvres. With their eyes locked on the J-10s, the audience thoroughly enjoyed the breathtaking aerial display of the team which carried out their maiden appearance in the capital. The spectacular air show concluded with their trademark bomb burst manoeuvre, leaving behind a fascinated audience.  

Earlier in the morning, the Air Chief arrived at  an operational base to lead the PAF formations participating in

Pakistan Day Parade fly-past. On his arrival, the Air Chief was received by the Base Commander and was taken to ADA hut to gear up. Later, the Air Chief attended a briefing about the mission. He also met with the combat air and ground crew at the base and lauded their extraordinary level of devotion and motivation.

These manoeuvres were neither stunts nor daring feats but extreme refinement of basic techniques taught to PAF aviators. At the end of the event, the author went around to gather views of the spectators in the parade grounds. Old and young, all believed that the day belonged to PAF and the incredible aerobatic teams. Fatima Yasir, a student of O-levels, said, “I loved the solo aerobatics display of JF-17 Thunder aircraft, it really is the Pride of Pakistan”.

Shahid Khurshid, a university student was in awe after watching the Air Chief in the leading aircraft and scattering his brilliance. “It was a dream come true to see the latest F-16 Block-52 aircraft roaring and performing manoeuvres in front of my eyes”.

Similarly, Fawad Ali, a government officer liked the performance of Solo Turk the most. Nauman Khan, an aero-modeler by hobby, loved the series of vertical rolls pulled by the Air Chief’s leading F-16 aircraft. While praising the performance of BaYi Chinese aerobatic team, school teacher Fauzia Khalid, said, “The Chinese pilots flew so close and low that they constantly kept us on the edge of our seats.”

The rituals of the Pakistan Parade Day draw to a close in steady rhythm after the pilots had shown off their prowess handling F-16s, the JF-17 Thunder, and the BaYI had executed eye-popping manoeuvres, blowing the audiences hair back. But no other amazing feat leaves everyone in the crowd, feeling like a fighter pilot at heart when an Air Chief, leading from the front, relives the heritage fly-past.