Down Memory Lane With the IAF –– 

An IDC Report


New Delhi, 10 November 2003

An old file picture of the IAF's Tempest Squadron

The Internet and E-mail have revolutionised fast and accurate communications. The computing power of today’s computers and availability of broad band to transmit pictures and messages to a large audience from one’s own home have removed the barrier of distance and inability to converse directly with one’s audience! Those with little resources but passion, are able to contribute economically to any endeavour by sending the written word and pictures from all over the world.

India is now very computer literate, kids and grandmothers included and we need to thank Rajiv Gandhi, a pilot himself, for ushering in the computer revolution. The barriers to security are also breaking down and many truths get unearthed aka Tehelka. We are therefore thrilled to report that the IAF History Group has been doing path-breaking work by networking on email many interested and dedicated IAF and other personnel to share history with each other. Their work is monumental.

Today even we, as part of the group are better educated on the glorious history, daredevilry and unselfish acts of the pilots of the Indian Air Force, which remained unsung because MOD still did not feel inclined to release for research historical documents of the war or times gone by. So this piece comes soon after we reported and analysed on our site how Martin Baker Safety Seats saved 174 Indian pilot lives. Many congratulated us and sent in stories, hence this piece in that vein to glorify the IAF.

The IAF Chief ACM S Krishnaswamy, a test pilot also comes out as a strong visionary. The Chief stated he will take the IAF from the present 39½ squadrons to 45 squadrons by 2010 and then to 60 squadrons. With the way India’s economy is going we can achieve this and he is posing faith in the LCA by providing funds and support. The experience of the SU 30 MKI gives him the courage. If the LCA clicks, and it can if the DRDO/HAL/ADA collaborate with a large experienced military aircraft manufacturer, then the Air Chiefs and IAF’s dream will be reralised sooner than he thinks.

But history and pride are the backbones of any fighting service, and history must be preserved. The Army has regiments where loyalty is endemic and they have charted their histories painstakingly. The IAF has squadrons and so they are doing it in that fashion, squadron wise as they fly the same category of planes and face risks together. The Navy unfortunately has no continuity and low risk (except pilots) in peace and loyalty to a ship remains only till you command or serve in it. Then loyalty changes to the next ship and the earlier one could well be your competitor.

We reproduce an article received from a veteran pilot on ‘low flying’, which was the credo years ago just as ‘good ship handling’ was in the Navy. Now it is ruled out to ensure least risks to man and equipment.

As Received From A Veteran

"The lowest low flying I have ever seen from the ground was when I was a cadet, by Lalkaka in a Texan T6G –– he weaved in and out between the hangars! The next was by late Bundle Tyagi (the original) who was my instructor and after a Nav Test showed his approval by taking over controls and beating up Udaipur town. In Srinagar, I once witnessed a low pass by late Sandhu (Black Leader as he was known) when he was to ferry a Gnat to Ambala, which was so low that it shook the tents on the ORP with the blast.

Before that were two occasions in the flying club by an air force guy called GD Singh (who later I believe joined Air India). He and Duggie Sargon and Eric Allen were posted in NCC Bangalore (probably as a result of some inappropriate activity) and they played havoc at the flying club. Once GD Singh and Eric Allen came over the Jakkur club in some Vampires that they had managed to get hold of at HAL and beat up the place. I was told of an incident by a club member (who later joined and retired from Indian Airlines) and was watching from an airborne aircraft about GD Singh in a Tiger Moth doing aerobatics that appeared so low from the air that they were terribly scared he would crash –– finally his engine stalled when he was inverted and I believe he did not bother to restart but continued descending inverted and just flipped over at almost round out height and landed.

GD Singh used to do crazy things like seeing how many continuous loops one could do in a glider after launch. Jakkur those days just had a grass field with a fence on one side separating it from the highway. Once when some people in a car had parked next to the fence to watch the gliding and GD Singh had gone to the fence between launches to spring a leak, told them to park across the road as he liked to come in low over the fence for landings –– they told him that it was a public road and they would park anywhere they wanted. On the very next launch, he came low and deliberately bumped his skid on the car roof and then went and landed. The car roof caved in and he profusely apologised and told the guys to come to the NCC HQ to claim compensation the next day. The next day they got together with Duggie Sargon in the NCC office, had a big laugh and waited for the guys to turn up. When they did, Duggie piled into them and blamed them for everything and threatened them with dire consequences and chased them away. Boy, were those the days when one could get away with anything!

Jakkur those days, was not fenced in and cattle used to graze there! The CFI was a grisly old ex-RIAF guy called Mathai. His first job for the day was to get airborne before flying started and chase all the cattle out of the field with the Tiger Moth! He used to be so low that his wheels would just be off the ground and he had to climb to avoid hitting the cattle as they ran for their lives. Incidentally, there was no R/T fitted on the aircraft those days and on the first solo, Mathai used to stand near the touch down and frantically wave at you to go around if he felt the round off was not right!

Late test pilot Suranjan Das used to do some incredible low flying at heights that appeared as low or lower than in the photos you've sent –– except that he used to be inverted! He used to fly along the dip/hump in the runway at Bangalore at a constant height inverted in a Gnat and when asked why he did that said that he could not judge his height if he did not keep all the slabs the same size!!"

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