The epitome of heroic flyers | Sunday Observer

The epitome of heroic flyers

4 April, 2021

Liyanado Davincionce said, “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you will always long to return”.

Only for a fraction of a second, the eyes of the flyers of the No. 8 Light Transport Squadron entertained a glance at the ground on April 1, 2020, on which they gallantly celebrated a 25 years of heroic and exceptional service rendered in the calibre of the ‘work horse’ of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) for the restoration of the stability of peace in the island.

The terrorists were a malediction that disrupted the peaceful co-habitation of the island for three decades where the nation’s heart was stabbed and the peace of mind was robed.

Under such stiff circumstances, while the island nation being embattled by the heinous, absurd and outrageous brutalities committed by the terrorists, the establishment of No. 8 Squadron of the SLAF on April 1, 1996, brought solace and a new wave of hopes for the ground troopers fighting with the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation.

Combat support air operations

During the humanitarian operation, the prodigious contribution, made by the No. 8 Squadron as an element of combat support air operations was of a ginormous prominence which fulfilled the promissory of a durable and lasting peace, equally sought by all the peace loving citizens of the island regardless of caste, creed, race and religious perspectives.

The Squadron’s identity is represented by its Y12, Beech craft and B200 aircraft of which availability is a sine-qua-non in extinguishing an array of workload scattered in military and civil air transportation where the duties performed by the Squadron are ubiquitous.

Group Captain Pujana Gunathilaka, under whose command the No. 8 Squadron shines, said that his Squadron has been playing a remarkable and prominent role in augmenting and carrying out the observation, surveillance and monitoring of air missions conducted during the pro and post humanitarian war time.

Any mention of the No. 8 Squadron without the name of Air Chief Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana is just like staging Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet without the presence of Romeo at the Royal Albert Hall where none exaggerates in the declaration that Air Marshal Pathirana is a flying veteran with instructor rating whose charisma and professionalism has ever decorated the walls of No. 8 Squadron.

The piloting grace of the flyers of the No. 8 Squadron is the manifestation of the meticulousness and professionalism applied in a flying mission of any calibre; they are well trained, informed, geared, articulated and fascinated by adventures, extinguished with the truest sense of patriotism which decorates their office up in the sky with a splendiferous sense of humanity. These marvels of flying human beings of the Squadron are the epitome of heroic flyers blossomed into perpetuity of loyalty to the island.

A visitor to the location of the No. 8 Squadron would indulge in nostalgia and carry lasting memories of the mannerism, decency and the work responsibility attributed with the officers, men and women of the Squadron.

Morale booster

Y12 of the Squadron has been a tireless and ardent rescuer where it came into the limelight to have dropped the food supplies for the ground troopers who were trapped in the fort of Jaffna in 1990, during the LTTE’s siege of the fort.

Metaphorically, Y12 stood as a morale booster of the ground troopers during the ‘Vadamarachchi’ operation in 1997, where the close air support extended by it deserves an accolade.

In 2004, Y12 grabbed the public attention to its air support extended on the natural disaster relief operations during the Tsunami with around 250 sorties.

The Beechcraft of the Squadron becomes an exception being the only platform of the SLAF inventory consisting of electronic war fair capabilities. By flying tirelessly during the day and night getting crucial and vital information exposed central to the subsequent operations, the Beechcraft rendered an exceptional service in rescuing the island from the grip of terrorism.

Group Capt. Gunathilaka recollected his memory on a crucial encounter that the Beechcraft of his Squadron had to engage with on February 12, 2009; the soldiers onboard the ‘Jetliner’ were being transported to the Jaffna Peninsula from Trincomalee.

Gunathilaka said that a flotilla of suicide LTTE boats was intercepted by the Beechcraft which was extending its assistance for the Navy in carrying out surveillance mission for the ‘Jetliner’.

He said that the opportune and prompt information given by the Beechcraft paved the way for the destruction of the suicide boats by the fighter jets which avoided a disaster which could have cost the lives of thousands of soldiers onboard the ‘Jetliner’.

In 2009, the heroic and lionhearted pilots of the Squadron were just like the guardian gods in disguise in fulfilling their role of ensuring the air defence of the island, tracking the terror aircraft flying along the Western Coastal belt towards Colombo during the night; the pilots of the No. 8 Squadron broke rest and sacrificed their sleep for the safe sleep of the public.

Airborne command centre

The B200 owned by the Squadron had been a popular airborne command centre during the humanitarian operation.

Despite the threat posed by the missiles, fired by the LTTE, for the acquisition of clear imagery, the dauntless pilots of the Squadron flew at low altitude while risking their lives.

One of the notable missions, executed by the B200 surveillance aircraft was its identification of two camouflaged terror vessels floating on the edge of the ‘chalai’ lagoon where the fighter aircraft were possible to be guided for the destruction of the vessels which contained ammunition which was being transported by the terrorists.

The pilots of the No. 8 Squadron whose safe hands do a miracle on the cockpit are celebrated to have owned the best flight safety records into their credit in the SLAF since its inception; they weep only on one single aircraft going missing in 1997.

Even during the peace time, the island cannot survive without the flyers of the No. 8 Squadron who are rendering a yeoman service to the country’s development endeavours among which collecting information pertaining to the culpable and undue activities on the land and sea, getting involved with the disaster relief operations during natural tribulations, executing the cloud seeding experimental projects and conducting domestic flying operations for civilians passengers are the most immediate.

In recognition of the service, courage and heroism demonstrated in executing the missions entrusted upon, one Rana Wickrama Padakkama and three Rana Sura Padakkama have been conferred on the officers and the men of the No. 8 Squadron. Till the rocks melt, till the seas dry, the flyers of the No. 8 Squadron would fly.