Thunder Over Bahrain

PAF participates in Bahrain Air Show-2022

The JF-17s Thundery performance at the recent Bahrain Air Show-2022 was not the only news which made it to the headlines of prominent media outlets during last month. PAF’s first ever air-to-air refuelling event of JF-17 during an international ferry flight was a much bigger news story, attracting the attention of global audience. The author brings out a historical account of the star-studded air show where JF-17 Thunder was in the spotlight.

The morning of 5 November, 2022 saw something unique happening in the clear blue skies of western Pakistan. A PAF IL-78 air-to-air refueller lurking around in the specified area waiting for the three JF-17 Thunders to join up. Soon the three-ship formation of Thunders appeared from behind the giant tanker and the wait was over. Without any difficulty, the first pair of Thunders got itself hooked-up to the tanker through the giant looking basket, the drogue. Within minutes the activity was over and Thunders broke off for the final destination, Bahrain. It was the red-letter day for PAF which would be remembered in the history as the day when for the first time, any aerial platform of PAF carried out live air-to-air refueling during an international ferry mission. A historic and proud day for the PAF, indeed.

The three-ship Thunder formation headed to the capital of Bahrain, Manama where the red-carpet reception awaited them. The honor of participation in Bahrain Air Show, this year, went to the elite No 2 Sqn of PAF who are known by their unique and proud callsign, “The Minhasians”. The call sign is a tribute to Plt Off Rashid Minhas (Shaheed), who is the only recipient of Nishan-e-Haider (the highest gallantry award of the country) of PAF. No 2 sqn carries the proud legacy of young Rashid Minhas whose name is synonymous with gallantry for the Pakistani nation. Wg Cdr Mudassir Riaz along with his under-command pilots including Sqn Ldr Sibatain Akhtar, Sqn Ldr Fahad and Sqn Ldr Hassan from No 2 Sqn were selected to perform at the air show. A contingent comprising technicians, marketing and sales production team under the leadership of Air Cdre Arsalan from PAC Kamra also attended the air show. Aesthetically  curated and well-designed PAF chalet was also erected at the air show to display various indigenously manufactured aviation products of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex.

As per plan, three JF-17 Thunders of No 2 Sqn ferried from Karachi to Manama, Bahrain on the 5th November, 2022. The sixth edition of the Bahrain International Airshow (BIAS) 2022 kicked off at the Sakhir Air Base on 9th and continued till 11 of November. The opening ceremony of the airshow was a spectacular event. It was Officially opened by HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of Bahrain who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces of Bahrain. Besides large number of foreign dignitaries, Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force was also in attendance at the opening ceremony of Bahrain Air Show. While interacting with the Pakistan Air Force contingent, the Air Chief lauded PAF personnel’s performance in the air show and said that their participation in the event was a matter of pride for the nation and appreciated their efforts for bringing laurels to the country. He also praised the PAF team for putting up a nice show at the mega event. Later on, he visited various stalls and met several high-ranking officials.

On the first day, the afternoon skies over Sakhir Air Base echoed with the roar of the variety of aircraft which included all types of fighter and commercial airplanes vying to impress the public. Gulf Air 787, RBAF, Pakistan’s Pride JF-17 Thunder, Fursan Al Emarat, UAE Mirage 2000, RSAF Typhoon, USAF F-16 demo team, Global Stars, Red Arrows, DHL B767-300 Flypast, UAE F16, Saudi Hawks and P-8 all participated on the first day to make it a memorable event.

A huge applause continued as the Pakistan’s indigenous state-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder took off for its breathtaking performance. Piloted by Sqn Ldr Sibtain Akhtar, the performance of JF-17 Thunder remained the highlight of the inaugural day of the show. Landing gears still down, the roaring Thunder pulled up vertically showing off its enormous engine thrust. High ‘G’ turns, half cuban 8s, inverted flight, barrel rolls, high alpha pass, muscle climb and signature thunder roll were some of the maneuvers that enthralled the cheering crowds. Classic vertical roll was the finale of the entire sequence which lasted for around three minutes. On subsequent days, Wg Cdr Mudassir Riaz and Sibtain Akhtar performed in tandem for the general public.

One JF-17 Thunder, along with variety of weapons that could be carried on the aircraft, was also put on the static display at the air show for the general public. At the display venue, PAF personnel briefed the eager crowd about the combat aircraft’s operational capabilities and sophisticated weaponry. The spectators were ecstatic to see the pride of Pakistan at the show as majority of them saw the much-talked-about aircraft for the first time.

The participation of JF-17 Thunder aircraft in the air show has proved to be an excellent opportunity to showcase its cutting-edge capabilities. It has also given an opportunity to the potential buyers to assess the fighter jet’s immense potential in the international market.