The call came at mid-morning in the middle of a press conference. “We are going to fly; see you at the ATC (air traffic control tower) in about three minutes. “Running to the ATC, crossing security barriers, one sees an old white Qualis approaching.Nine young men are crammed inside – dressed in red flying suits. Quick introductions follow. They all come from their airbase in Bidar in north Karnataka, the home of the IAF Surya Kiran aerobatic team. One of them shares a tablet of chewing gum. The van zips across the tarmac and the Surya Kiran pilots disappear quietly and coolly for the debriefing.About half an hour and several pieces of chocolate cakes from the mess – shared with other pilots waiting to fly – the team emerges. They all wear aviator sunglasses. Many sport that unmistakable swagger of a fighter pilot. They walk slowly to the runway. Wing Commander D. Setia makes a quick mobile phone call, maybe to his home in Delhi. Then they walk in formation as ‘the team’. They all step into the cockpit slowly.Nine out of a dozen Kiran MK II aircraft vroom. There is the smell of aviation fuel. The exhaust blows away one’s cap. What follows is the Surya Kiran show. The first half comprises turns, wingovers, loops and barrel rolls in various full formations.During the second half, the formation breaks into two groups to carry out manoeuvres like splits, level and rolling crosses, inverted runs, the cupid’s heart loop etc.advertisementAero India 2011 (held from February 9 to 13) could have been the last time the team flew in the Kiran aircraft in a major show. Just before they started, the Chief of Air Staff met them and told them about the future. The chief has offered them the Hawk, a transonic aircraft that could cross the speed of sound. Later HAL’s Intermediate Jet Trainer will be their workhorse.”There is a lot of attachment with Kiran; it’s nice beautiful,” said Squadron Leader G. S. Sudan, who flies the Kiran that makes up the cupid’s arrow. ” A new aircraft would mean new displays – more thrilling, captivating shows,” said team leader Wing Commander Prajual Singh, the man who flies at the front of the formation. A faster aircraft would mean a wider turning radius to account for the G- force that pulls the pilot’s body to the ground. ” Still we have to be within the ‘ visual bubble’ ( the spectators’ range of view). It will be a mix of slow manoeuvres and daring fast moves – a heady mix.” Would that mean a lot of changes while formation flying? Sudan has the stock Air Force answer – ” When we fly, we listen only to the command of the leader. His aircraft flies in front and sets the paces – the coordinate of the earth and the sky.”What goes through your mind when you do those manoeuvres sandwiched with a colleague’s aircraft? ” Nothing – we wait for the next command and the move.” Squadron Leader Ramji Yadov, the team’s ‘ spokesman’, explained that the whole show is planned in the minutest detail, well in advance, as if in a war room. Each move is approved at the command level and then at the Air Headquarters.And back in Bidar, the team members practise it again and again till they achieve perfection. “Each performance is photographed for reference – no two shows are the same.” While the induction of the Hawk aircraft might take many months, new teammates will join, as the pilots take three- year turns to be in the team. Only the team leader gets a second term.So what will happen to the Kiran, designed in Bangalore by Dr Gadge, the then- chief designer of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in 1960? The bird will go for training of fighter pilots, its original role. Then the old ones will end up as showpieces in a school or a museum.