The blazing sun. The clear blue sky. Fighter jets screaming through the air. Roar of afterburners hitting you like a hammer on your chest. Air acrobats drawing loops and hearts with plumes of smoke against the backdrop of a perfectly blue sky. Gleaming new-gen civilian and military aircraft glinting off the sun on the tarmac. Thousands cheering on daredevil pilots. The electric atmosphere and milling crowds. The best of aerospace technology laid out for everyone to see. Aero India 2011 was the best one ever, dishing out oodles of pure, unadulterated electric awesomeness to tens of thousands of aviation fans and enthusiasts in Bangalore and beyond. The blazing heat was not a deterrent, but an essential ingredient to the spectacle. All the defence deals the IAF was planning to sign resulted in all the top companies having to do anything with air-based defence making a beeline for Bangalore, resulting in a plethora of fighter aircraft on display, sweetening the deal for the spectators.
On display and in action were the creme-de-la-creme among the mean machines of the military and civilian aerospace world, such as the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, the MiG-35, the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Dassault Rafale, the EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing Hercules C-130J, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and a host of luxury corporate jets and other military aircraft. Only the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor was conspicuous by its absence.
The main attraction of course, were the air acrobatics teams. The tens of thousands of onlookers were treated to a delight of airborne acrobatics by our very own Surya Kiran acrobatics team (their last performance - signing off in style), the delightedly liveried Sarang helicopter team, and the Red Bull Flying Bulls. Each of them in turn stunned the spectators with their breath taking and complicated manouvers, dead drops and much more. Of course, if you were privileged enough, you could sit high atop over the 'general' crowds, sipping your wine while watching the show.
That was the awesome part. Now comes the ugly. If everything inside the show campus was awesome, everything outside was raw chaos, as it is expected of India. Despite being notorious for crowds, we still stand to be the worst in the world when it comes to crowd planning be it the Aero Show or the release of a new Rajnikanth movie. Especially so in a country where organized entertainment options are woefully limited as compared to the western cities. Maybe that is the reason crowd turnouts are so huge. I could hear comments like: "I was bored sitting at home so I came here", "What is gonna happen here?" etc.
It started with the confusion on parking. There were two 'P8' parking grounds 3 km apart and something called ADVA which no one had a clue what it meant. The Aero India website, as usual, had all the information except the required ones like what stall was where, what was the schedule of performances and most importantly, a goddamn map! The airport highway was jammed with clueless motorists driving up and down the stretch not knowing what to do. No one knew what to do with people carrying e-ticket registrations, and finally were asked to stand in like with others waiting to buy general tickets. So much for hi-tech. One silver lining: There were BMTC bus services to and from the parking lot to the show area gate.
The Horror That Was the Return Journey
But nothing beats the return journey. Someone, in a stroke of brilliance, decided that people should be able to capture not just the brilliance of the show in the air, but of the ground around it as well. And it wouldn't it be mean if only the airport road is jammed? All surrounding areas would feel left out! So we were rerouted all the way around the Air Force base, through some villages, Doddaballapura Pura road and Yelahanka to finally join the Airport Highway. The map below shows a glimpse of what we endured.
The line in blue is the actual route, and the one in red the epic journey we undertook (B to A). After 23 km of crawling bumper to bumper at a max speed fo 15 km/h, we reached back at the highway at Yelahanka after 2 hours - only 4 km from the original parking lot! Sheer traffic managing brilliance I must say! Then again, we must do all that we can for our VIPs to travel safely and fast so that they can efficiently plan the next loot! Another grueling 1 and a half hours later, we were at home. Still all that pain was worth it. And I learned to take the bus next time. Maybe.
All that endured, I would still say the low point of the show was Shahid Kapoor being allowed to fly an F-16. If it did not find any orders, I believe the reason could be: "Why should we buy a plane which even a Bollywood actor can fly??"