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SLAF - highly professional outfit:

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 published yesterday

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.


F7twoship

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 Force (SLAF).

Commander Mendis saw the need for a fully-fledged Air Force Academy to train pilots, engineers and administrators under one roof in the early 70’s.

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.

Rugby tournament

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.


M135

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 A Division.

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!

Battle areas

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 Defence Staff.

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

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