Making a welcome first appearance in Singapore skies, the Smokey Bandits display team is showcasing “Malaysia’s MiGs”–five MiG-29N fighters that are performing an eight-minute routine here at the show.
The team name is derived from the characteristic emissions from the Russian fighter’s two Klimov RD-33-3 engines when operating in full military thrust. Leading the team is 41-year-old Lt. Col. Mior Nor Badrishah (call sign: Smokey 1), who leads a group of experienced jet jockeys with more than 9,000 flying hours among them. They are all fully operational fighter pilots with No. 17 Squadron, Royal Malaysian Air Force. (RMAF), based at Kuantan on the east coast of the peninsula.
Mior was in one of the first groups of Malaysian pilots to convert to the MiG-29s when they were acquired in 1995. He told AIN that one of the biggest challenges was mastering the different instrumentation, compared to Western fighters. Another was tactics. Rather than adopting Russian operational doctrine, “we adopted Western methods,” he explained. Mior returned to Kuantan to command the squadron in July 2010, after taking a staff tour and a master’s degree at the Air University (at Maxwell Air Force Base in the U.S.).
Maj. Azri Hj Ahmad, 34, is the solo pilot. He has been flying the MiG-29 since 2006, and is now an instructor. “I’m the gap-filler for the crowd,” he explained, meaning that he must present his aircraft at show center whenever the other four aircraft are repositioning for another formation fly-past. This role involves some physically demanding flying, including his final maneuver, a 9-g level turn in afterburner. “We aim to show the roll rate, high speed and turning performance–that’s what the MiG-29 is all about,” Azri told AIN.
The other team pilots are Capt. Mohd Azizi (Smokey 2) on the right wing, Maj. Razali Ahmad (Smokey 3) on the left wing and Maj. Nasruddin Khalid (Smokey 4) in the slot. The fliers are backed up by six other officers and a 31-strong technical crew. The team has been performing at state occasions in Malaysia since 1997, and at the country’s biannual LIMA air show at Langkawi.
The RMAF originally received 18 MiG-29Ns. Two have crashed and another six are in storage. No. 17 Squadron does all the training as well as operational flying, 80 percent of which is in the air-to-air role. The MiGs could continue flying for some years, according to Nior, although the RMAF may opt to replace them with a new multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA).