Exercise Eastern Bridge in Oman (2009)
Far removed is the terrain at Oman that IAF pilots of ‘Flaming Arrows’ and ‘Cobras’, the two Jaguar Squadrons, normally fly around their airbase - Gorakhpur, in India. Poor visibility, birds, obstructions and other restrictions usually make flying pretty much daunting. But for Jaguar pilots, low-flying remains raison d’être of their lethality.
At Oman, the local flying area around Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) Thumrait airbase is a terrain of a flatbed desert with hardened surface with unlimited visibility. Birds, if sighted, would normally be a welcome sight here unlike elsewhere, but is rarely encountered by the pilots.
All sixteen IAF pilots participating in exercise ‘Eastern Bridge’ with RAFO completed their local familiarization sorties ahead of the tactical part of the air exercise. To sum up, their low-flying experience at the very start of the exercise was simply, as most put it -exhilarating.
Flying 500 feet above ground level seemed like flying almost mid-level felt some pilots, having done unhindered low-flying.
IAF pilots usually have their desert-flying experience around Jaisalmer and other airbases in Rajasthan. In many ways, the flying environment at Oman is not too different. But visibility is certainly markedly superior here felt the IAF pilots. However, at Oman the landscape changes rapidly from small mountains in the north, to flat terrain around Thumrait that changes over to coastal landscape in the south near Salalah, about 65 Kms south of Thumrait.
The sprawling flying infrastructure at RAFO Thumrait also impressed the IAF contingent. “It has just been three weeks since we got the runway resurfaced before your arrival,” informed a senior RAFO officer, reinforcing their commitment to the first-ever joint air exercise with IAF. Flight safety, however, remains paramount for both sides.
Thumrait is base to the only two RAFO Jaguar squadrons. RAFO pilots periodically visit the IAF airbase at Gorakhpur in India for simulator training and are familiar with some of their Indian counterparts. The camaraderie between the IAF-RAFO pilots in the crew room is all too palpable with both sides keen to switch over to their professional excellence in the air in the remaining days of Ex-Eastern Bridge.