Aircraft Resource Center


Indonesian Air Force – a brief history

by Alexander Sidharta, Iwan Winarta, Andre, Masato, Rahman and Erid


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Various Indonesian AF models gathered at the club’s display

The Indonesian Air Force, known as TNI-AU (Indonesian National Armed Forces – Air Force) or previously known as AURI (Republic of Indonesia Air Force) has a unique history as it has operated aircraft from different origins, comprising ex-Japanese, Eastern-block and Western aircraft. This unique and long history can be divided into several chapters: 

The Early Days (1945-1950) 

After the Japanese surrendered at the end of WW II, Indonesian nationalist leader Soekarno declared Indonesian Independence on August 17th, 1945. Several days later, a People Security Force was formed to undertake security duties. The Air Division of this force was also formed, using ex-Japanese planes scattered everywhere, especially in the island of Java. The most numerous of these airplanes were the Kawanishi K5Y1 Willow trainers, which were hastily used to train newly recruited cadets. At the time of the founding, there was only 1 Indonesian holding a multi-engine pilot licence from the pre-war Dutch Flying School (but never had any opportunity to fly during the 3.5-year Japanese occupation). He was assisted by a few Japanese pilots who decided to stay in the newly born country. The new roundel was created simply by painting white on the lower part of the Japanese Hinomaru, reflecting the red & white of Indonesian flag.  
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K5Y1 Willow (Churen), a mile stone of Indonesian AF history (by Iwan)

The People Security Force was then re-organized to form a formal armed force. This marked the birth of the Indonesian Air Force on April 9th, 1946. However, tensions rose as the Dutch tried to re-claim her former colony and launched an assault in July 21st, 1947, destroying most of the planes on the ground. Some planes survived though and were hidden in remote bases. 

July 29th, 1947 marked the first air operation by the newborn air force as 3 surviving aircrafts comprising 2 K5Y1 Willows and a Ki-51 Sonia (the fourth aircraft, a Hayabusha/ Ki-43 Oscar, should also be involved in the raid, but until the time the raid was launched, the aircraft never reached airworthy condition) conducted air raids at dawn on Dutch Army barracks in 3 cities of Semarang, Salatiga and Ambarawa, dropping incendiary bombs. Tactically, these raids did not have any effect on the Dutch positions, but psychologically it was a great success as it proved that the Indonesian Air Force still exists. The Dutch had previously claimed the destruction of Indonesian Air Force in their assault before and they never expected any attack from the sky. 

The Gathering of Strength (1950-1960) 

With the pressure from the United Nations, the Dutch finally agreed to acknowledge Indonesian independence and a peace treaty was signed in 1949, ending the confrontation. The Dutch armed forces left (except in Papua, where they stayed until 1963) and the airplanes were surrendered to the Indonesians. These comprised of, among others, P-51, B-25, C-47 and PBY Catalina, which served as the main forces of the Indonesian Air Force for the following decade. During this era, Indonesia received her first jet aircraft; de Havilland DH-115 Vampire. It was also during this era that the national roundels were changed to red & white pentagon.

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B-25 Mitchell saw much combat against rebellions and confrontations (by Rahman)  P-51D Mustang, the Cadillac of the sky, also served Indonesian AF (by Iwan)

The Golden Age (1960-1970) 

The rise of the communist party in Indonesia has drawn Indonesia closer to the Eastern Block. Several Soviet-built aircraft began to arrive in the early 60’s. Indonesia even became the first non-Soviet country to receive and operate the new Tu-16 Badger bombers. Up to 25 Tu-16 Badgers arrived and gave a great deterrent power when facing some rebellions and confrontations. Several kinds of MiG also arrived comprising MiG-15UTI, MiG-17F/PF, MiG-19S and MiG-21F-13, supported with Il-28, Mi-4, Mi-6 and An-12.  Some Tu-2 from China also arrived, intended to replace the B-25, but sadly they never reached operational status.  These aircraft served along with the remaining western aircraft such as B-25, A-26, C-47, and P-51. It was during this period that the Indonesian Air Force became the largest air force in the southern hemisphere. This era also marked the last confrontation with the Dutch in Papua, before the Dutch, again under pressure of the United Nations, finally left Indonesia in 1963.

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 MiG-17PF, radar version of this remarkable fighter (by Iwan) MiG-21F-13, the backbone of 70’s era of Indonesian AF (by Rahman & Alex) Tu-16 Badger B, Indonesia became the first non-Soviet country operator of this bomber (by Iwan)


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Tu-2, a lesser-known fighter bomber (by Iwan) B-26 Invader, served until 1976 in Indonesia (by Erid)

The Present Days (1970-present)

The revolution in 1965 changed everything and a new anti-communist regime took power. Ties with the Eastern block countries were cut, and thus support and spare parts for the planes became short. By the early 70’s most of the Eastern block planes are either grounded or scrapped. The largest air force in the southern hemisphere slowly but sure became one of the smallest one. 

The new government turned to the Western countries for support and “new” planes started to arrive comprising T-33 trainers from USA (which were later modified by Indonesian technicians to became AT-33 with internal canons and provisions to carry FFAR rockets) and Avon Sabres (ex-RAAF) from Australia.  These were later enhanced with OV-10F Broncos. The next batches came in the form of ex-Israeli A-4E Skyhawk, Bae Hawk Mk. 53, F-5E/F Tiger II (in 80’s era), followed by F-16A/B, and Hawk 109 & 209 (in 90’s era).

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Hawk Mk.53, Indonesia was the third country operated this great trainer aircraft (by Alex & Iwan) F-16B Fighting Falcon in former blue scheme (by Alex) F-5E Tiger II marked the second supersonic era of Indonesian AF (by Andre) OV-10F Bronco involved in many combat operations in Timor (by Erid)


Aerobatic Teams 

Aerobatic teams in the Indonesian Air Force were never formed as a special team, but the long historical journey of Indonesian Air Force did marked several aerobatic moments. Beginning in 1962, several MiG-17s demonstrated some aerobatic shows in front of the high level officials. (see MiG-17 photo further above in this article). Then in 1978, Spirit 78 using Avon Sabres was formed, followed by Spirit 85 (1985) using 5 Bae Hawk Mk.53. 

The tradition continued when the F-16s came to the force and “Elang Biru” was formed with the help of USAF’s Thunderbirds instructors. Elang Biru flew several tours and their last performance was in Indonesian Air Show 96. The lesser-known Jupiter Team was formed later, using Hawk Mk.53 and finally evolves into the current aerobatic team known as the Jupiter Blue, using F-16, Hawk 53 and Hawk 109.

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Hawk Mk.53 of Spirit 85 aerobatic team (by Alex)

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F-16 of Elang Biru, trained by the Thunderbirds’ instructor (by Masato Ota) F-16 of Jupiter Blue, Indonesian current aerobatic team (by Alex) Hawk Mk.53 of Jupiter Blue (by Rahman)

Indonesian Scale Model Society

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Thank-you to all modelers who had shared their AURI’s aircraft models to support this article : Andre, Masato, Rahman, & Erid

Alexander, Iwan, Andre, Masato, Rahman & Erid   

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Photos and text © by Alexander Sidharta & Iwan Winarta

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