Sri Lanka Air Force to hold first international airshow in decades to mark 70th anniversary

COLOMBO | Sri Lanka’s first international airshow for 20 years will take place in Galle Face next week, marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s air force (SLAF).

Photo: Indian Air Force

A celebration on the day of the anniversary will be held at SLAF Base Katunayake on the 2nd of March, followed by a major flyinf display over Colombo’s prestigious Galle Face Beach from Wednesday 3rd-Friday 5th March, starting at 5pm each day.

Three Indian Air Force teams are due to display over Galle Face: the Surya Kiran aerobatic team, flying nine BAE Hawk Mk.132s, will be performing in the country for the first time since 2001, while the Sarang helicopter aerobatic team and the HAL Tejas Light Combat Aircraft will be making their Sri Lanka air display debuts.

The Indian Navy has also dispatched the Dornier Do228 to participate in the festivities, as Sri Lanka mulls purchasing the type for maritime patrol duties. SLAF pilots and observers will fly along with the Indian Navy crews.

The SLAF will stage a flypast as part of the show, due to feature the Chengdu F-7, Bell 212, Bell 412, Mil Mi-17, Cessna 152, King Air B200 and Xian MA60. Promotional images also show a Nanchang CJ-6 in the colours of Sri Lanka’s first official aerobatic team, the Blue Eagles, which was created in early 2019. A total of 24 SLAF aircraft are due to participate.

The event in Galle Face appears to replace the SLAF’s traditional annual Air Tattoo, held each March at SLAF Base Hingurakgoda. The Air Tattoo is Sri Lanka’s only regular public airshow, and typically features parachute displays, role demonstrations and flypasts.

The SLAF operates a small but eclectic mix of ageing Soviet, American, Israeli and Chinese aircraft, with only three jets (one second-hand IAI Kfir and three Chengdu F-7s) currently in its front line fighter fleet. The HAL Tejas LCA was once considered an option to replace these venerable jets, but in 2018, Sri Lanka instead opted to restore five retired Kfir airframes, which will serve for at least another 15 years once they are returned to service. Three more SLAF Kfirs have been written off in accidents, including two lost during an air display practice in 2011.