SLAF - highly
Rendering indispensable, humanitarian service
The 60th anniversary of the Sri Lanka
Air Force (SLAF) fell on March 2, 2011. The Sri Lanka Air Force which
was initiated by the British 60 years ago has turned out to be a highly
professional outfit with its servicemen and playing a pivotal and
indispensable role in defeating LTTE terrorism on May 19, 2009 along
with the other forces of Sri Lanka
First part of this article was
During this period the RAFs heavy transports and AN-22 transport
aircraft from Russia were streaming into Katunayake carrying 2 KA-26
helicopters and 6 MIG ground attack aircraft with their associated arms
and servicing and control equipment.
By the end of April the Government Security Forces were well in
control of the situation.
Ceylon became the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on May
22,1972 and the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) became the Sri Lanka Air
Commander Mendis saw the need for a fully-fledged Air Force Academy
to train pilots, engineers and administrators under one roof in the
The RCyAF China Bay was incorporated into establishment as the Air
Force Academy on April 17, 1975. The No 1 Flying Training School and
Aeronautical and Administrative Training School Katunayake were combined
to establish the Academy.
The new Academy provided basic and advanced training in approximately
50 trades. Officer cadets who completed basic combat training at
Diyatalawa, could now obtain their professional training at the Academy.
Flying Training School
Six Cessna twin and single engined aircraft were purchased and placed
under the command of the Flying Training School to help put trainee
pilots through their paces.
An important event was also recorded in 1972 in the field of
aeronautical engineering by enhancing a De Havilland Heron MK11D
aircraft to a super luxury flying machine at the Technical Maintenance
Depot, Katunayake headed by Group Captain M Herbert Marasinghe.
During AVM Mendis’ command that lasted November 1, 1976 the SLAF had
grown in manpower from 1,400 to 3,100 personnel, an increase of over 150
percent, occasioned largely by the requirements to counter the
insurgency of 1971.
Air Commodore Harry Goonetileke became the fifth Commander of the Air
Force on November 1, 1976. His period of command saw the beginnings of
some important reclamation work, in terms of restoring disused RAF
airfields; a task that was pursued with great vigour by his successor
AVM Dick Perera in later years.
He also began the archival process that led in later years to the
formation of the SLAF Museum and contributed greatly to SLAF sports
particularly Rugby Football.
Another development in 1976 was the setting up of the Air Force
Commando Unit headed by Flt Lt J Eksith Peiris.
SLAF detachments were established at Wirawila on July 1, 1978,
Vavuniya on August 1, 1978 and Minneriya on November 20, 1978. They went
on to become fully-fledged independent Bases and Stations later.
During AVM Goonetileke’s Commandship two Dauphin SA 365c helicopters
were purchased for VIP transport duties.
He was one of the more obvious sporting Commanders the Air Force has
seen over the years.
Under his guidance, sports flourished and reached great heights. He
was popularly called the father of Air Force Rugby. The Air Force team
was placed in the B Division of the premier Rugby tournament in the
country. He raised standards, groomed players and brought them into the
He also extended great support to the setting up of the Families
Welfare Association (FWA) was formed to look after the interests of Air
Force families and the Ex-Servicemen’s Association.
Air Vice Marshal Dick Cuthbert Perera succeeded Air Vice Marshal
Harry Goonetileke as Commander of the Air Force on May 1,1981
established SLAF units at Batticaloa, Anuradhapura, Koggala and Sigiriya.
The first three Mi-17 helicopters joined the fleet in 1993. A real
workhorse the Mi-24 attack helicopter joined the fleet later. Another
three IA58 Pucara aircraft were also acquired, further enhancing the Air
Force’s ground attack capabilities.
During the period of Air Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe as the Air Force
Commander in 1994 another Pucara and three Mi-17 helicopters joined the
SLAF fleet. The SLAF carried out flying support actions for 20 missions
in the North and East in 1994.
However the then People’s Alliance Government’s ceasefire and
discussions ended and fighting began after three months in 1995.
Naval vessels in the Trincomalee Harbour were attacked on April 19.
Thus began a particularly intense and bloody period in the war!
The escalation of hostilities prompted further aircraft acquisitions
and six more Mi-17 tactical helicopters were purchased. For the first
time, an attack helicopter, the Mi-24 joined the SLAF fleet.
At the same time, three Antonov AN-32B transport aircraft joined No.
201 Heavy Transport Squadron (later No. 2 Heavy Transport Squadron).
Six aircraft were lost and even more tragically 14 experienced pilots
lost their lives in 1995. Two Avro HS748 aircraft were downed by enemy
fire on April 28 and 29. In July, an IA58 Pucara was lost.
One of the newly added AN32Bs went down in September, a Y-8 in
November and another AN32B also in November.
The bringing down of the two Avro HS748s revealed a new capability of
the terrorist’s anti-aircraft missile power. However a total of 25
missions were supported by the SLAF in the battle areas.
The main thrust was Operation Riviresa, stages one, two and three, up
to that time the largest military operation conducted by the Army. These
missions helped capture large areas of the Jaffna Peninsula.
The newly acquired Mi-24 attack helicopters played a significant role
in the battles. In 1997 the SLAF flew over 20,000 hours, operationally
for the first time ever, logging 21,895 hours in total and they did this
despite losing nine manned aircraft.
The Air Force supported 14 operations throughout 1997, of these,
Operation Jayasikuru launched in May was one the most significant.
Dawn of new era
During the period of Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody as the AF
Commander, he re-organized the SLAF’s Flying Formations into effective
squadrons. The Junior Command and Staff College at China Bay, a College
designed to prepare officers in the rank of Squadron Leader and Flight
Lieutenant for managerial appointments opened on March 4, 1999. The SLAF
began to induct an unprecedented number of aircraft to fulfil to
increase ground attack capabilities in 2000. Six MIG 27s, a MIG trainer,
Mi-35 helicopters joined the fleet and were technically enhanced with
electronic equipment, to undertake night attack duties. Heavy Transport
Squadron took delivery of the SLAF’s first two Hercules C130 aircraft in
March and September 2000.
Air Chief Marshal WDMRJ Goonetileke was appointed as the SLAF
Commander on June 11, 2006 and he is the Commander and the chief of the
He commanded the SL Air Force during the humanitarian operation that
eliminated LTTE terrorism on May 19, 2009. The Air Force has rendered an
indispensable service in the fight against terrorism. Concluded