Thailand traces its aviation history all the way back to 1912 when three of its military officers—Maj. Luang Sakdi Sanlayawut, Capt. Luang Arwut Likitkam, and Capt. Tip Ketuthat—earned their wings after successfully completing flight training in France. Their achievements made Thailand—then called Siam—the first country in Southeast Asia with a military flying unit.
One hundred years later, the Royal Thai Air Force, or RTAF, celebrated its centennial by establishing a special flight demonstration team in 2012. Centennial Falcon, as the team is called, commemorated the anniversary with two F-16s painted in unique schemes.
The paint scheme is the work of Sukasom Hiranphan, a civilian who is credited with the designs of several RTAF aircraft special markings and squadron patches. He created several initial designs for the Centennial Falcon for RTAF officials to consider before the current design was chosen.
“The chosen design combines the power and speed of lightning with the three colors of the Thai national flag that represent the three institutions of Thailand—nation, religion, and monarchy,” Hiranphan explained. “Lightning also happens to be the insignia of 103 Squadron, the first Royal Thai Air Force F-16 unit and the home unit of the two demonstration aircraft.”
To signify the origins of flight in Thailand, the undersides of the aircraft feature a drawing of a Nieuport II—the first RTAF fighter aircraft. In this location, the underside faces the crowd when the demonstration pilot makes several low-level, knife-edge passes during aerial performances.
The aerial routine also underscores the excellent handling and thrust-to-weight characteristics of the F-16 with high-g turns, rapid rolls, and vertical climbs. Sidewinder missile-shaped smoke generators (known as Smokewinders) on the wingtips emphasize these maneuvers.
Two pilots were chosen to fly the demonstration flights for Centennial Falcon. Both were from 103 Squadron from Wing 1 from Korat AB in the northeast section of Thailand. The first pilot selected was Grp. Capt. Rawin Thanomsingha, a veteran F-16 pilot who has logged more than 3,000 hours. The second pilot selected was Sqd. Ldr. Pasin Sombattawee. The team also included three ground maintenance personnel from 103 Squadron.
The 2012 show season consisted of performances at three locations, including Royal Thai Air Force Flying School at Nakhon Pathom RTAFB, Wing 41 at Chiang Mai, and Wing 23 at Udon Thani.
The main centennial celebration was held at the historic base of Wing 6, Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok in June 2012. The show was attended by the Prime Minister of Thailand, Mrs. Yingluck Shinawatra. Commanders from various branches of the Thai Armed Forces, VIP guests, international visitors, and the general public also attended.
The celebration at Don Mueang was such a success that RTAF officials decided to extend the Centennial Falcon team for 2013. Grp. Capt. Polawat Intrawiseth, the deputy commander of Wing 1, assumed the responsibilities for the demonstration pilots. The team will continue to fly at special events in Thailand in 2013 and beyond to honor people who contributed to Thai aviation and to inspire new generations to pick up this mission and carry Thai aviation into the future.
Aanlayo Korsakul is a freelance writer based in Thailand.