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What is the ‘Missing Man’ formation IAF chief flew as tribute to fallen Kargil MiG-21 hero

IAF chief B.S. Dhanoa and Western Air Command chief R. Nambiar were part of the formation in honour of Squadron Leader Ahuja who died at the start of the Kargil war.

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New Delhi: Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, and the Western Air Command chief, Air Marshal R. Nambiar, Monday flew together in the ‘Missing Man’ formation as a tribute to Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja who was killed during the Kargil conflict exactly 20 years ago.

In doing so, both officers made history as this is the first time that an IAF chief and the Air Officer commanding-in-chief of a command have flown together in the same formation.

The missing man formation | Photo: Angad Singh

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa led a four aircraft, MiG-21 Missing Man formation flypast at the Air Force Station Bhisiana, Bathinda, to honour the valour and supreme sacrifice of men killed during Operation Safed Sagar in Kargil.

The Missing Man formation is an aerial salute that IAF personnel accord to fallen comrades. It is an arrow formation, with a gap between two aircraft in the formation depicting the missing man.

Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja

It was on this day in 1999 that Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja VrC (posthumous) was killed during the Kargil conflict. He was at that time the Flight Commander of the 17 Squadron.

A memorial for Squadron leader Ajay Ahuja, who lost his life in Kargil war. | Indian Air Force

Squadron Leader Ahuja was flying a MiG 21, well within the Indian territory, when his plane was shot at by the Pakistani Army. He ejected but landed in Pakistani territory.

Pakistan later handed over his body that was severely mutilated.

A post-mortem of his body revealed that he was tortured. He had suffered multiple puncture wounds over his left and right thighs, rupture of the right lung, injury to his neck, small intestine and left liver and there was a gunshot wound near his ear.

The squadron leader had sustained a fracture on his left knee when he parachuted down but the gunshot wounds showed that he had landed alive and was shot.

IAF chief to fly another missing man formation

The IAF chief will also visit the Air Force Station at Sarsawa, Uttar Pradesh, on 28 May to fly in a Mi-17 V5 Missing Man formation to commemorate more Kargil martyrs.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa with his team. | Indian Air Force

It was on 28 May 1999 that India lost a Mi-17 after successfully attacking the Pakistani positions in the Drass sector. Squadron Leader R. Pundhir, Flight Lieutenant S. Muhilan, Sergeant R.K. Sahu and Sergeant PVNR Prasad died in action in that Mi-17.

Earlier this year, the Missing Man formation was flown at the Aero India show in Bengaluru in February as a tribute to the Surya Kiran pilot who was killed in a freak mid-air collision during training before the show.

The Missing Man formation at Bengaluru Aero India Show | Indian Air Force

Also read: The lesser-known events in India and Pakistan leading up to the Kargil war of 1999


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  1. Military history distortion are usually a form of propaganda which is economical with truth .This particularly true in Indo Pakistan conflicts. Sqn Leader Ahuja committed suicide by shooting himself when asked to surrender . Pakistani troops surrounded him on landing after his aircraft was shot down in Kargil. Thesee pictures are available in Pakistan . Soldiers driven by vanity choose death even when it is not desirable.And that’s bad .RIP

  2. When will you fly missing men formation for the su-30 pilots killed on surprise day? the the Mi-17 shot down by friendly fire.

  3. Good, but..1980….now 2019….compare vast modernised on date…past insurance company ..past ..just to invest..terms and conditions market value….be realistic….raw material we have ..skill we have…but…just dance for 1980 weapons..rather then having make one with own raw material and expertise… missiles we can make but..gun ..Uff…..up they make and sell…politic and the parties….Make in India… don’t boost.1980 out dated weapons… corruption is the game..unis bees..which ever party

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