known museums of Sri Lanka:
rich collection of artefacts
by ASIFF HUSSEIN - Sunday
Observer Dec 21 2003
The Sri Lanka Air Force is the youngest
of the three armed services and was established only in 1949 subsequent to the
Ceylon Army and the Royal Ceylon Navy though the exact date of its formation is
taken as 3rd March 1951 when Air Commodore G.C. Bladen of the Royal Air Force
was appointed its first Commander.
It was then known as the Royal Ceylon Air
Force and it was only on May 22, 1972 when Sri Lanka became a Republic that its
name was changed to Sri Lanka Air Force.
In spite of its short history the Air
Force has its own museum, the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum situated at the SLAF
Base, Ratmalana which houses one of the largest collection of military artefacts
anywhere in the country, if not for anything else the sheer bulk of its aircraft
which occupy a good part of the museum.
Many of these artefacts if we may so term
them were preserved at the Sri Lanka Air Force Base at Katunayake before the
idea of a museum was mooted by Air Vice Marshal W.D.H.S.W. Goonetileke, SLAF
Commander from 1976-1981.
The Air Force Museum is however a museum
with a difference. It is housed in four hangars including the main hangar which
contains some vintage aircraft as well as three others containing lighter
planes, helicopters, heavy vehicles, electronic equipment, firearms, bombs,
uniforms, badges, medals and a variety of other insignia and memorabilia.
Among the aircraft displayed in the main
hangar, one would find some particularly old aeroplanes including a rare De
Havilland 82 Tiger Moth which was one of the earliest aircraft to be flown in
It was initially owned by the Civil
Aviation Authority of Ceylon before being acquired in 1982 by the SLAF who
restored it and flew it in 1988 showing that some old aircraft are still
remarkably airworthy. Besides this is a fine Chipmunk TMK 10, a twin-seater
fully aerobatic aircraft manufactured in the UK in 1949.
A total of 12 such aircraft were
delivered to the Royal Ceylon Air Force in 1953 and many were used as trainer
craft before being withdrawn from service and displayed in the museum. Four more
such planes in mint condition are displayed in another hangar bearing testimony
to their hardy character.
Besides these one would find a Douglas DC
3 Dakota, a powerful workhorse of the Second World War which though originally
intended as a cargo and passenger plane was also used for military applications.
The aircraft on display was manufactured
in 1943 and was acquired by the SLAF from Air Ceylon in 1975 for the transport
of military personnel. It was used in the Eelam War before being retired from
service in 1986. Other notable aircraft include an MK 3A Hunting Percival Jet
manufactured in the UK which has the distinction of being the first jet aircraft
to enter service with the Royal Ceylon Air Force. It served from 1959 until 1979
and played a role during the 1971 JVP insurgency.
The same could be said of the Mikoyan
Gourevich MIG acquired by the Royal Ceylon Air Force from the USSR during the
1971 insurgency. Soviet-built militaryware saw service with Sri Lanka's armed
forces during the premiership of Sirimavo Dias Bandaranaike and the Mikoyan
Gourevich among other artefacts preserved in the museum bears testimony to this.
Also interesting though from a national
rather than a historical perspective is the Pazmany PL 2, the SLAF's very own
locally manufactured aircraft. The project began in earnest in 1977 with the
maiden test flight successfully taking place in April 1980.
The plane has since participated in a
number of air shows. Besides these one would find a few planes displayed in the
openair outside of the main hangar including another Dakota DC 3 and the
Italian-made Siamarchetti SL 260 and Warrior SF 260, not to mention the four
more Chipmunk TMK 10s displayed in Hangar Number One where one would also come
across a good collection of firearms including signal pistols, Sterling
sub-machine guns and Sten Carbine machine guns used by the SLAF.
A good collection of old helicopters
could be found in Hangar Number Two. These include a Westland Sikorsky S 51
Dragonfly developed in the UK for military observation and rescue missions.
It has the distinction of being the first
helicopter to enter service with the Royal Ceylon Air Force and was in use from
1956 to 1969. Besides this one would find a US-made Bell 47 G2 helicopter in
service with the Air Force from 1971-1981 and a Soviet-built KAMOV 26 helicopter
in service with the Air Force from 1971-1978 as a VIP transport craft. Its
unique feature was the presence of contra rotating rotors and the absence of the
tail rotor found in conventional helicopters. Its peculiar shape earned it the
nickname 'Ice Cream Van'.
Besides these one would find the parts of
a crashed WW II aircraft recovered from a paddy field at Hingurakgoda, bearing
testimony to the days when Sri Lanka was a British colony and earned the wrath
of the Japanese Imperial Forces culminating in an aerial bombing campaign at the
hight of the war in 1942. The parts recovered from the wreckage include a
helmet, radio set, control cable, switch panel, assembly unit, electric motor,
blower fan motor and air bottle.
However it is the rich collection of
artefacts associated with the Air Force since its early beginnings that makes
the museum particularly interesting. Take for instance the SLAF's first
telephone exchange panel, a PABX System used at China Bay SLAF Base.
Besides this one would come across two
antiquated non-dialing telephones, a NIV 15 radio set used in Royal Ceylon Air
Force messes in 1963 and a variety of outdated electronic equipment including
radio receivers and radar display units, a radio transmitter, a Collins
transceiver and VF telegraph.
Other noteworthy memorabilia include a
collection of old clocks used by the Air Force from 1949 to 1957 including a
Smiths Astral clock used by the RAF in 1949. Also interesting is a Christmas Day
1952 Dinner Card Menu of the Royal Air Force, Negombo. The menu offers roast
turkey and chippolatas, fried fillet of seer with mushroom and butter sauce,
minced pies and Christmas pudding.
We next come to uniforms and insignia and
here one would find the ceremonial dress of the first Commander of the SLAF Air
Vice Marshal E.R. Amarasekara with a variety of medals including the George VI
GBR OMN REX ET INDIA and the Coronation Medal of Queen Elizabeth II.
One would also find a variety of SLAF
rank badges including a badge depicting a lion, eagle and Dharmachakra worn on
the peak cap of the Air Force Commander and flying badges depicting wings and
Dharmachakra worn by SLAF pilots. Also on display are a variety of medals
including the Rana Shura Padakkama and the Rana Vikrama Padakkama awarded to
SLAF men who have displayed extraordinary bravery in the performance of their
Also particularly interesting is the fine
collection of Air Force uniforms donned by manikins. These show the evolution of
the dress code of officers and airmen from the early days of the Air Force. Here
one would come across some beige RAF uniforms including Regimental Ceremonial
Tunic and Senior Non-Commissioned Officer's attire worn in 1947 besides an
Airman's Mess Kit of 1951 with white shirt, grey trouser and black peak cap, a
Regimental Tunic of 1971 and a camoflaged Commando Kit with metal helmet of
We proceed next to Hangar Number Three
and here we would come across a variety of heavy vehicles used by the SLAF.
Among the old trucks, one would find a
Mobile Electric Power Unit, Aircraft Hydraulic Test Unit, an Oxigen Charging
Mounting and a High Pressure Dry Air Storage Truck, all manufactured in the USSR
and used by the Air Force from 1971 to 1990.
Besides these one would find an Austin
Fire Fighting Vehicle manufactured in Britain which was used by the Air Force
from 1956-83 and a Shortland Armoured Patrol Car of Irish origin also used by
the Air Force.
We next come to the arms and bombs
attached to warplanes and beholding these weapons of destruction one cannot help
but shudder at the thought of war and the death and destruction it brings in its
wake. Here indeed lies the manifestly ugly side of war.
Take for instance the GR 1000 bomb
manufactured at the General Engineering Wing, Katunayake. This massive bomb with
an explosive content of gelignite and PE 3 weighs a total of 1000 pounds.
A similar weapon, the GR 500 also
manufactured at Katunayake weighs a full 500 pounds. There is also a GR 75, a
rather crude bomb comprising of a huge barrel containing gelignite with metal
wings to facilitate movement through the air when dropped from a warplane. Also
on display is a BABA Mortar used by LTTE personnel for ground operations in
This tadpole-like weapon recovered by the
SLAF is over three feet in length and comprises of a head filled with TNT and a
fan to propel it to its target. Besides these one would find a variety of
machine guns that could be attached to aircraft for purposes of air offensive.
These include a 37 mm machine gun manufactured in Soviet Russia which could be
installed in MIG jets and a M3 machine gun of Belgian manufacture which could be
installed on a Bell 206 helicopter.