‘Pull-up’ to ‘Bomb-Burst’: The Sherdils' Ride

Written By: Squadron Leader Usama Tassawar


“For the people on ground, if they want to know how exactly the life of a Sherdil inside a cockpit is; It’s a tight rope walk with blindfolds on. It is an absolute trust on members and they, in turn, trust the leader blindly even to doors of heaven or hell!”

Defining Sherdils

Precision, brinkmanship, sharp reflexes and alertness! Blend all of them together with synchronized harmony achieved through grueling training, spirit of teamwork and you have just defined: The Sherdils. Sherdils are the selected group of instructor pilots who belong to Advance Jet Training Squadron of PAF Academy, Asghar Khan. From the first call of ‘Pull- up’ to ‘Bomb Burst’, the Sherdils’ Ride is jaw-dropping; it leaves the viewers enthralled for  those  eight  minutes, no witnessing eye can afford to look away lest it misses out the splendid color-filled Sherdils’ sequence. To put an analogy in perspective, the Sherdils’ display is a formation aerobatics display, well-choreographed to milliseconds and rehearsed to perfection – where movement of the whole appears as one. The only difference is that Sherdils are meticulously matching their steps: maintaining a wing-to-wing distance of only 3 meters, at a speed of over 600 kilometers per hour in an environment of upto 6-Gs (under a gravitational force five times normal weight). That’s the finest blend of pilotability, guts, and passion seamlessly fused with aesthetics that you can't find anywhere in the world.

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Sherdils’ Legacy

The idea of formation aerobatics in PAF Academy was the brainchild of a flying instructor, Squadron  Leader  Bahar-ul-Haq,  back  in  early  70s.  After  months  of  trials and practices, a four-ship team of T-37 aircraft (nicknamed as Tweety-Bird) performed historically – first-ever aerobatics’ sequence over the skies of PAF Academy on August 17, 1972.

 

It is interesting to note that the team did not own its present name from the onset. In fact, it performed for 2 years with call-sign of its formation leader. It was entitled to the appellation – The Sherdils’ – on September 19, 1974.

 

From these humble beginnings, the Sherdils legend was born. Tweety-Bird served Sherdils for 37 years. In these four decades, it performed on various national occasions like Academy Graduation Parades, heads-of-state visits, Pakistan Day and Defence Day celebrations. Internationally, it performed in Dubai Airshow in 2007.

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In late 90s, PAF Academy had inducted the modern K-8P aircraft for jet training; in parallel to old T-37s. With the turn of the century, the idea emerged to trade T-37 with K-8P for the Sherdils’ team. The idea went through deliberation and rigorous test flights and trials.

 

In 2009, Sherdils were hurtled into the future when K-8P replaced the T-37 as the premier choice of aircraft for performing Sherdils. 

 

 

Building Upon the Legacy

Since the baton has been passed to K-8P, new chapters of splendid glory and saga of success have been added to Sherdils' resumé. Owing to K-8s bigger size, faster speed and  enhanced  agility,  the  Sherdils’  performance  looks  even  more  eye-catching and breath-taking.

 

Those few minutes are like an unforgettable treat to watch for the viewers. For the guy sitting inside the cockpit; however, the time virtually feels like an eternity. Over the years, a lot has changed in the Sherdils from display point of view; from four-ship to six-ship and now to nine-ship formation performance. Additionally, the concept of Singleton and Paired High Speed Aerobatics display coupled within the main six-ship formation display.

 

The only thing that has not changed is the professional acumen and relentless training of Sherdils' Team members. In words of the Officer Commanding Advanced Jet Training Squadron and Sherdils’ Team Leader, Wing Commander Khalid Matin:

 

Becoming a Sherdil

As pleasing as it might look from the outside, it is equally nerve-racking from the inside. Then what is the spell that Sherdils cast upon others, which makes it all happen so flawlessly without much effort? That’s where the tenacious Sherdils’ training comes in.

 

Becoming a Sherdils’ member is no easy task. In simple words, it’s not a territory meant for the faint-hearted. It requires what Sherdils’ crew room saying quotes: “Wits of a Warrior and Guts of a Gladiator”. Sherdils are selected fighter pilots from various PAF operational fighter backgrounds, having an experience of atleast a thousand hours on various fast jets. They meet stringent criteria to qualify for Sherdils’ team before the commencement of formal Sherdils’ training spanning over several months. The training goes by a step-up approach where basic level of two-ship formation is achieved for the sequence.

 

The intermediate level includes four-ship and six-ship training. All this is well-practiced at higher altitudes. As the proficiency of under training member increases, the altitude is lowered, finally down to the deck of 500 feet above ground level. An under training Sherdils’ member, Squadron Leader Usama narrates his experience in the following words:

 

“With more than 500 hours experience on K-8P, I assumed I had mastered this machine. My delusion was fractured on the very first training sortie of Sherdils. I realized that despite immense experience on K-8P, my acumen to sit in a real Sherdils’ sequence, if gauged on a scale of 1 to 10, was not even 1.”

 

Within Pakistan, Sherdils have become a symbol of national pride and cohesion. They wear their laurels well and display their proud tradition across the skies of the world. Sherdils are playing a role of ambassadors, not only of PAF, but of Pakistan itself.

 

The Sherdils’ Sequence
Sherdils’ sequence comprises basic maneuvers that every Fighter Pilot learns during his training. Performing these maneuvers as a singleton is challenging, but performing in a tight formation is a much daunting task.


The sequence begins with an initial run-in of entire 9-ship formation at over 600 kph maintaining an altitude of 500 feet AGL. As they reach the show center, on the pull-up call of leader front 6-ship pulls up for a loop whereas the rear 3-ship (Sherdil 7, 8 & 9) perform a lateral bomb burst.


As the 6-ship finish the loop and adjust for a wing over towards left side, Sherdil 8 & 9 appear at high speed charging in towards the venue at combined speed of 1000 kph. They criss-cross each other, head-on and perform a high-g turn known as carousel. After 8 & 9 clear off, 6-ship performs a parallel loop over the show center.


As the main complement exits the venue established into a steep turn to right side, Sherdil 7 makes a sneaky entry from behind the show center at 600 kph and performs a dare-devil maneuver called the tail-slide.


As Sherdil 7 finishes, the 6-ship again runs in for a barrel roll (perhaps the most difficult maneuver to perform in a formation).


As the barrel finishes, Sherdil 8 & 9 are seen dashing in towards the show center at 600 kph and 500 feet. They perform a ‘Shaheen-Break’ right overhead the show center.


This is followed by the 6-ship running in towards the show center and performing the last and arguably the most spectacular Sherdil maneuver, the Bomb Burst Loop.

 

International Appearance and Acclamation
Within Pakistan, Sherdils have become a symbol of national pride and cohesion. They wear their laurels well and display their proud tradition across the skies of the world. Sherdils are playing a role of ambassadors, not only of PAF, but of Pakistan itself.


Their yeoman service has won millions of hearts across the region. They have performed in Dubai Air Show in UAE, Zhuhai Air-Show China and Exercise ‘North Thunder’ in Saudi-Arabia.


Under the command of present Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman NI(M), PAF is expanding its international ties, Sherdils are expected to perform at well-lauded international exhibitions in 2017 as well.

Sherdils’ Team for the Year 2017

wingcomnakhalid.jpgWing Commander Matin hails from the city of Lahore. He completed his schooling from Beaconhouse Public School before joining the Government FC College Lahore. He was commissioned in the GD(P) Branch of PAF in May 1998. He is an experienced fighter pilot with over 3400 hours on various combat and combat training aircraft.

 

From 2008 till 2011, he served as Instructor Pilot and Flight Commander (Operations) at Advanced Jet Training Squadron. As Sherdils converted from T-37 to K-8P aircraft in 2009, he was selected as the pioneer ‘slot’ member of first-ever K-8P four-ship Sherdils’ team. In 2010, the then Squadron Leader Matin became the Leader of 9-ship Sherdils’ team which he continued to lead till end of his tenure in 2011. Besides leading Sherdils’ on various national events, he led the team on Sherdils’ first-ever international debut, Zhuhai Air-Show China in 2010. Wing Commander Matin is now the Commanding Officer of Advanced Jet Training Squadron with a unique and prestigious opportunity to lead Sherdils’ team for the second time.

 
sqleadermali.jpgSquadron Leader Muhammad Ali Ghous belongs to Layyah, a city in Southern Punjab. He got his education from PAF College Lower Topa. He was commissioned in PAF in November 2007. Before joining the ranks of Sherdils’ he has flown FT-6, A-5 and Mirage fighter aircraft. He is a qualified flying instructor with more than 500 hours on K-8 aircraft.
 
qlleadermaqeel.jpgSquadron Leader Mirza Aqeel is from Lahore. He received his education from Fazaia Inter College Minhas Kamra. He was commissioned in PAF on March 2008. Before joining the Sherdils he has flown F-7P and F7-PG fighter aircraft. He is a qualified flying instructor with more than 700 hours on K-8 aircraft.
 
waheedzafar.jpgSquadron Leader Waheed Zaffar belongs to Peshawar. He got his initial education from FG Public School Peshawar and PAF College Sargodha. He was commissioned in PAF in March 2006, he has flown F-16 and F-7P aircraft, apart from K-8 and Super Mushshak. He is a qualified flying instructor with 600 hours on K-8P aircraft.
 
shoaibahsan.jpgSquadron Leader Shoaib Ahsan Babri belongs to the historic city of Lahore. He got his initial education from Lahore and PAF College Lower Topa. He was commissioned in PAF in March 2007. Before joining the Sherdils he had a fighter flying experience of over 550 hours on F-7P and Mirage aircraft. He is a qualified flying instructor with more than 1200 hours of experience on K-8 aircraft.
 
sqsyedfahad.jpgSquadron Leader Syed Fahad Babar Gillani belongs to Lahore. He got his education from St. Anthony’s High School and Government College Lahore. He was commissioned in PAF in September 2006. Before joining the Sherdils he has flown F-7P and Mirage fighter aircraft. He is a qualified flying instructor with more than 680 hours on K-8 aircraft.
 
sqtaimurnawaz.jpgSquadron Leader Taimur Nawaz Khan hails from Mardan. He got his education at Army Public Schools and Colleges. He was commissioned in 2006 and has over 900 hours on F-7P. He was an instructor at an F-7P OCU. At present he is a qualified flying instructor with 750 hours on K-8 aircraft. He is with the team since 2015 and has flown Sherdils’ as No. 4 and 7. He was Sherdils’ team leader in exercise ‘Northern Thunder’ 2016 in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan Day Parade 2016. At present he is one of the solo display pilots and the deputy leader for the team.
 
squsman.jpgSquadron Leader Usman Taufiq belongs to Lahore. He got his education from Government College Lahore. He was commissioned in PAF on September 2006. Before joining the Sherdils he has flown F-7P fighter aircraft. He is a qualified flying instructor with more than 500 hours on K-8 aircraft.
 
sqfarhan.jpgSquadron Leader Farhan Rana belongs to Mansehra. He got his education from PAF College Sargodha. He was commissioned in 2005 and has flown F-7P, FT-6 and A-5 fighter aircraft for 1000 hours. He has been an instructor at F-7P Operational Conversion Unit. He is a qualified flying instructor with 500 hours of experience on K-8 aircraft. At present he is one of the solo display pilots.
 

Millions of people have witnessed the Sherdils’ demonstrations and they’ve seen the pride, professionalism and dedication of this selected group of pilots and maintenance team serving Pakistan Air Force. Sherdils’ are a manifestation of the fine qualities that a fighter pilot possesses: crisp handling, perfect timing, audacity, team work and leadership.

 

People may differ in their views or pre-supposition about what they thought Sherdils are about, before they had witnessed them. However, once they see them perform, they leave impressed and unanimous on one fact, From the first call of ‘Pull-up’ to ‘Bomb-Burst’, the Sherdils’ Ride is jaw-dropping. It leaves the viewers enthralled and for those few minutes, no witnessing eye can afford to blink lest it misses out even an iota of the splendid color-filled Sherdils’ sequence. Witnessing Sherdils’ is enchanting and incredible. It has a magical charm that throws men into a state of boyish excitement and they yearn to see it all over again, one more time.

 
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