The early 1980's in the SLAF seemed no different to the era just gone by. Life went on with no turbulence yet this was in hindsight a largely deceptive scenario had appeared on the horizon and was moving slowly but inexorably to form the darkest hours.

On 1st May 1981 Air Vice Marshal Dick Cuthbert Perera succeeded Air Vice Marshal Harry Goonetileke as Commander of the Air Force.AVM Perera continued where AVM Goonetilleke left off, in reclaiming disused airfields and runways, across the country.

The Commander began by establishing SLAF units at Batticaloa, Anuradhapura, Koggala and Sigiriya. The records show that these disused airfields were vested under the control of the SLAF on the directive of His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka, during the year 1982.

In general, these airfields were re-activated for the first time after World War II, to provide security to all visiting aircraft, and for the maintenance of the airfields for safe operation of aircraft to and from them. All these new airfields came directly under the purview of the Directorate of Ground Operations, at the time.

Of these, perhaps the one with the richest heritage in aviation terms would be Koggala. The RAF came to Koggala in 1938 and built the camp and airfield. Koggala was in many ways an ideal base for the amphibious sea planes of the RAF, as there was plenty of water surrounding the airfield shrouded in vegetation, providing ideal camouflage conditions. The reopening of these airfields, must go down in history, as Air Vice Marshal Dick Perera's most singular contribution to the country as Commander of the Air Force.

Technical Excellence

The years 1981/82 yielded some milestones in the history of aircraft engineering in the SLAF. Five Bell Jet Ranger helicopters were converted from their C18A versions to C20B models. The enterprising CO of the AEW, Jim Gunaratnam personally headed this project. The conversion process involved the modification of the frame, mainly the engine compartment and tail rotor area to accommodate the installation of an Allison 250-C20B engine, which significantly enhanced the range of the aircraft. Fuel tank capacity was also enhanced from 76 US gallons to 96 US gallons.

In 1982, the AEW also undertook Bottom Shell replacement on the Bell Jet Ranger (206), which consisted of replacing the existing bottom shells with new ones turned out with the aid of locally fabricated fuselage jigs; an exercise that saved the SLAF some millions in Sri Lanka rupees, which they would have spent if these had to be imported. Also in the 80s, the AEW carried out Tail Boom/Gear Box modification on the Bell JR 206 helicopters, using locally made tail boom jigs. This modification was required to enable the installation of stainless steel tail rotor blades, after the aircraft s conversion to C20B version.

Fleet Enhancements and Other Developments

Acquisitions to the fleet of the Air Force began to show the ominous blip on the horizon growing larger with the passing years.From the period 1983 to 1985, the Air Force acquired 11 Bell 212 helicopters, 4 Bell 412 helicopters, 3 Siai Marchetti SF 260s, 2 Cessna 337s, 1 AVRO HS748 and 1 Beech King. The new aircraft assisted the younger pilots to acquire their flying experience in a much shorter period than their predecessors. Prior to 1985 the SLAF possessed a rapidly ageing fleet. The DC3 (built in WWII era), the Riley Herons and the Doves were the oldest. Several jets viz. the Jet Provosts and the MIG15 and MIG17 were in storage. In 1984, 2 Bell Jet Rangers and 2 Bell 212 helicopters were acquired. The 212s came in response to the need of the Air Force, for a helicopter with a greater payload capability. The 212 with its twin- engines filled the need, to some extent By 1985, 9 more Bell 212s were added to the fleet, along with 4 Bell 412s. The 412s along with 3 Siai Marchetti SF 260 fixed-wing turbo prop aircraft advanced the attack capabilities of SLAF. Incidentally the Siai Marchetti was ordered in 2 models, viz. the SF260W a piston engined, single seater trainer and the SF260 TP a turbo propeller driven, light ground attack aircraft, also capable of armed reconnaissance. The SF260W being a pure trainer joined No.1 FTS whilst the SF260TP joined No. 2 Squadron. Due to the urgency of making pilots proficient on these machines and their requirement in service to fulfil roles in the North/Eastern theatre of conflict, the SLAF obtained two of these aircraft types on lease. The No. 2 Squadron was given the task of completing 300 hours of pilot conversions and weapons training flying within a period of 3 months, in order that the pilots would be ready to operate when the acquired aircraft reached Sri Lanka. This project added a new capability to the role of the Air Force that of Close Air Support. Incidentally, the SLAF's brilliant work horse trainer aircraft, the Chipmunk T10 was finally phased out of service, in 1985. The Chipmunk's service spanned at least two generations.

No. 2 Squadron finds a new home

In 1985, with the planned expansion of the Katunayake International Airport the SLAF lost a large extent of land from its base, including the area used by No. 2 Squadron. Thus No. 2 Squadron moved to Ratmalana. The first Officer Commanding was Sqn Ldr J.Weerakkody.

Taking over the hangar belonging to the defunct Air Ceylon, building work began, to raise the required structures to support flying operations. At the same time equipment and spares necessary for maintenance of aircraft were also shifted to Ratmalana. The Ratmalana Air Force Camp was ceremonially declared opened by the then Minister of National Security, the Hon Lalith Athulathmudali on 23rd April 1985 on the invitation of the Commander of the Air Force, AVM Dick Perera.


The opening of new units and the operational situation opening up in the North and East, as the blip of Northern bred terrorism erupted in 1983, forced the Air Force cadres to grow just as they did in 1971 to counter the insurgency. The cadre increased from 2, 602 to 3,306 whilst the number of officers too increased to 274. (By 1985, the cadre of Other Ranks increased to 5,000, whilst the cadre of Officers increased to 480.)

A Shuffle at Headquarters

Air Force Headquarters lost its Officers Mess, Sergeants Mess and Airmen Mess to the Urban Development Authority, in the early 80s, to permit the construction of the Ramada Renaissance Hotel (now known as Trans Asia Hotel). A new building was set up to house these units, the cost of which was met by the Prime Minister. The Officers Mess temporarily moved to the BMICH.

In 1984 the new Officers Mess was opened at Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo. The land adjoining the Criminal Justice Commission (formerly Queen's Club) was acquired and converted to a first class sports complex. Buildings belonging to the CJC were also handed over to the SLAF in 1985 for future expansion.

AVM Perera saw the blip of terrorism appear on the screen and grow larger, over time. He attempted to alert his superiors to the needs of the Air Force, in terms of acquiring modern aircraft to replace the ageing fleet. He had to expand and to some extent he succeeded in terms of manpower, and most importantly, establishing the network of airfields around the country a factor that was going to play a vital role in the years to come.

However, the role envisaged for the Sri Lanka Air Force was still one of transport and reconnaissance only. No one dreamt of a punitive role for the SLAF, as yet. Air Vice Marshal Dick Perera relinquished Command of the SLAF on 30th April 1985.