Sherdils’. The romantic aura surrounding the PAF Academy aerobatics team is something real and exalting. Made up of instructors of the Basic Flying Training (BFT) Wing, ‘Sherdils’ seem to be a shade above the squalor of ‘patters and demos’1 when they take to the air. Any one who has seen the ten-minute spectacle is bound to agree about one thing – it is technically superb and aesthetically pleasing.
The brainchild of an Academy instructor, Sqn Ldr Bahar-ul-haq, the team was formed on the lines of ‘Red Pelicans’, the aerobatics team of RAF College, Cranwell where Bahar had been on an exchange tour. It was decided to put up a brief show on graduation parades as a demonstration of the professional skills of Academy instructors.
The T-37 four-shipper first flew on the 17th August 1972 after several trials of candidate instructors. The team was finally formed under the tutelage of the famous 1965 War hero, Wg Cdr Imtiaz A Bhatti, SJ, the then Officer Commanding of BFT Wing; other formation members included Flt Lt Aamer Ali Sharieff, Flt Lt A Rahim Yusufzai and Flt Lt Niaz Nabi, the latter becoming a most durable master of the ‘slot’ position. The initial performance of the team brought instant applause and the ‘tweety birds’ became the star performers at air displays and firepower demonstrations for dignitaries, including Heads of State and military delegations.
The type of formation and sequence has virtually remained the same since the team’s inception – line astern to diamond formation during a loop, then clover-leaf, steep turn, barrel roll and finally, the breath-taking bomb-burst. Attempts were made to increase the number of aircraft in the team, but engine thrust demands were excessive for the outer formation members to cope with. A four aircraft diamond has thus remained the basic formation of the ‘Sherdils’.
Initially the team had no name, which was rather unusual. The personal call sign of the leaders also denoted the team; it flew as ‘Sherdils’ for the first time on 19th September 1974.
Appreciating the important quality affecting display aircraft ie, appearance, the T-37s were painted all red. However, maintenance of the red-painted aircraft without the costly polyurethane coating became a problem. The team reverted to the all-metal finish, with only the nose, wing tips and tail painted day-glow orange. In 1980, with the induction of six ex-USAF T-37s, which were polyurethane-coated all white, ‘Sherdils’ became a logical choice for a new titillating appearance. The dramatic ‘sunburst’ paint scheme was adopted, red rays on an all white background. Later, the aircraft were again painted red, but with the rays in white, a scheme that is in vogue today. Coloured smoke has been used to enhance the aesthetic qualities of the formation; smoke trails give the impression of multi-coloured ribbons twirling in the sky.
The story of ‘Sherdils’ would be incomplete without a tribute to its perennial member, the redoubtable Aamer Ali Sharieff. First as a Flight Lieutenant and then as a Wing Commander, he has the distinction of leading the team in the maximum number of performances spanning many years. Word has it that only his elderly spine, though not his spirit, kept Air Vice Marshal Aamer from becoming leader of the ‘Sherdils’ yet again, when he was the Air Officer Commanding at the Academy!
Team work is the hall-mark of ‘Sherdils’. Precise flying, sharp reflexes and sheer hard work go into each sortie. A ‘Sherdils’ display depicts mastery of machine, mastery indeed, over space, time and life itself.
‘Sherdil’ team had also displayed their skills on the international events like Air show at Dubai and Abu Dhabi.