Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Briefing Room

From L to R: Shivadas, P Singh , Velankar(dad) ,Dhillon & Shankar.
Cir:1967 , 101 Squadron

This is a great picture. Not only does it capture a part of their daily work life, but also pictures like these actually show that the usual snaps that we see of the planes making a loop in the sky are a result of (hopefully) hours of planing and dedication.

Dad was in the 101 fighter squadron from the 24th Dec 1966 to 31st May 1968. So this picture has probably been taken in 1967 in the briefing room. The nickname of 101 Sqn was "Falcon" and the Motto was "Anwishyawedhi" which means "Search and destroy".The Sqn was raised on 1st May 1949 and had spitfires in it. But by the time dad made his way out there, they were operating Vampires. Today 101 has Mig 21's as their mounts.

During the early years of the IAF, Photo-recce (PR) was an urgent need and the originl spitfires of the 101 sqn were used for this purpose, but later on the the Vampires in 101 were used for the the same purpose. This article on the Bharatrakshak website gives an excellent recounting of the history of PR in the IAF, but it concentrates more on the Canberras. As per the article,

" ... There were some attempts to give PR capability a boost beyond the piston engine Spitfires, and HAL converted at least 5 Vampire T.55s with cameras in the nose, dubbing them Vampire PR 55s. These Vampires operated with 101 Sqn (which was raised from 1 PR Flight) and 108 Sqn. The Vampires did give a limited PR capability but obviously something better was required..."

There is a great deal of material available on the net about the Vampires. The vampire was an astonishingly popular plane and the first choice of replacement for spitfires all over the world. As a result about fifty airforces around the world used these planes to great effect. Of all these airforces, the story of the Vampires in the Rodhesian Airforce is very interesting and worth a read. You can find it here.

That apart, the picture itself does provide us some interesting information. On the right background, you see the VINTEN F95 poster. These were the make of the camera that were fitted in the Vampires. I could not find a website for these camera, but there is mention of Vinten Camera's being fitted on the the planes like Hawk as recently as the mid 1980's.

On the Blackboard, you can spot the two formation color for that day: The Ivory, and the two planes that would be flying, Nos 416, & 315, sadly the bit of glare is spoiling the name of the pilots that would be lflying that day, but those guys surely seem to be in the spirit of that days mission. : PHOTO

Friday, September 29, 2006

Training days

L-R : Flt Cadet sharma , Dad , suraj kumar .
Details: NagpurFlying club, Ci 1963

This is a nice picture of dad at the Nagpur Flying club. If you go back a few posts to the Flying club, you'll see that the plane in the background is the L-5.

I tried to dig up more info on the other people with dad in the picture. Most of the digging I did was on the Bharatrakshak website. It is a site maintained by truly dedicated bunch of people.

This is Suraj Kumars page in the site. It doesn't mention much other then that he was a fighter pilot and was a Fl Lt.

Also on this webpage there is mention of him and on that page there is also an picture of him standing in the group picture. Apparently he went to flying hunters and in the 1971 conflict, he was posted with the 20 Sqn at Pathankot. His mention goes as follows:

"...Four Hunters flown by Fg. Offs. DeMonte, Suraj Kumar, "Bond" Heble and Kailey flew a sortie to Lahore and Walton in search of opportunity targets. They found and attacked some railway installations and a train somewhere near Walton. They came back without damage."

Sadly I couldn't find much about Sharma. The Air Force seems to be blessed with too many from the Sharma Family.

But without disputing the beauty of the picture, I did find the positioning to be a bit strange. After all mostly anyone would take the picture with the front end of the picture. Am not really sure what was going on in the minds of these chaps so many years back. I think cadets have always been the same over the years!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Commissioned into the Airforce by Gen J Choudhuri
Details: Circa 13th March 1966,

Dad got his commission on the 13th of March 1966. The person giving him the commission (I'm not sure if that is the right term to be used.) was the then Army Chief General J Choudhuri. I was a bit confused as to why an army officer was commissioning Airforce pilots, but apparently it is a common occurance to invite the Chief Guests from the other wings of the Armed Forces.

If you notice the picture, the Peak-cap of the cadet on the further side of Dad has a white strip on it. What is not visible out there is the fact that even his stripes are covered with a white cloth. As the General goes down the line of Pertified boys ( assumption!) the job of the person behind dad (I think a Sqn Ldr by his stripes) was to remove the cloth over the stripes and the Peak Cap. Then the General would pin on your Wings and Walla! You were an officer!

The person on dad's right is Pilot Officer Sawminathan. After commissioning, in March 1966 both dad and Swaminathan were posted in Tejpur. Dad was on Vampires and Swaminathan on Hunters. Swaminathan died in Jan 1967 when the Hunter he was taking off with had a flameout. A "Flameout" is the phenomenon when the jet engine that is propelling the plane gets extinguished, thereby handing over the plane to the forces of gravity. I asked dad why he didn't eject? Dad was reticient. "They found that something was wrong with the hydraulics and a lot of other things... You know, I was on vacation when it happened..."

I let it drop. I guess somethings don't need to be put in words.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Bina Topi Ka Photo

Passing out picture of the 9th Entry batch, 1964, AFAC
Details: Circa : May 1964, Location: AFAC Coimbatore

This is an favorite old picture isn't it? A snap of passing out that is taken officially at the end of the course that is then handed out to you before you pass out. I remember that I always had to pay for a picture of myself, be it a class picture or a batch passing out picture at TS Chanakya.

For some reason these pictures always last the test of time and the faces of the people, look back at you with regimented attention over the years. While the other pictures, those taken by themselves, under the wings of the planes, in grassy meadow, or at a banks edge, never last. I find that tragic. And it is those pictures that I want to put here eventually.

Dad had joined the 9th Entry batch and did his AFAC (Air Force Administrative College) , Coimbatore from 9th Dec 1963 to 9th of June 1964. So I guess this picture must have been shot sometime in May 1964. If I was under the impression that the Administrative college was focused in teaching the budding cadets war manouvers and the administration of great nations, I was soon disabused of those notions. As per dad, the only thing he remembers from the AFAC was the parading and the PT's!

It really isn't very hard to find dad out here. He is the only one in the picture without a cap! As I had first seen the picture, trying to scan it to spot dad, my reactions were like ,
" Hey look! there's a person there without a cap!"
"... Isn't that you dad?"

Dad has no convincing explaination. He sheepishly tries to put it off as a one time lapse of uniformity! :)

But the two of us shall always refer to this as dad's "Bina Topi ka photo."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Havard IV's

A line up of Havard Mk IV's
Details: Place-Jodhpur , Ci- 1965

This is a great picture. Imagine a young flight cadet with a few hours of flying coming over to a lineup of planes like this and think, "Now We're talkin!"

These planes are the Harvard IV D ac. That is what Dad's log book mentions them to be. I could not find out much about the plane, but

Dad attended the AFFC (Air Force Flying College) at Jodhpur from 17th Mar 1965 to 04th Sep 1965. So the picture seems to have been taken some time in the middle of 1965. Out there he did a total of 74 hours of flying, 42 day and 3.30 night dual and 28 day and 2.30 night solo.

This site does tell us a bit more of the Havard and a few new snaps.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Hindustan Trainer - 2 (HT-2)

Details: Ci-1965, PTE Allahbad

This is the HT2. The HT2 was one of the first planes to roll out of the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautical Limited) production lines and was called the Hindustan Trainer 2. But of course everyone had to refer to it as the HT2. The HT2 was a trainer and dad graduated on to the planes after his 25 hours of his flying on the L-5 at the Nagpur flying club.

Dad's log book states that he was at the Pilot Training Acadamy from the 22nd of Nov 1964 to 16th March 1965. So in all probablity, this picture has been taken sometime around the end of 1964 or the begining of 1965. All the flight cadets were required to do another about 25 hours of flight training (this time under Airforce supervision!). Dad ended up doing a total of 28 hours of flying. Out of the 28, 5 hours were solo flying.

The HT-2 was already well in service by the time dad actually got to fly them. The August 9 1951 edition of The Hindu proudly proclaimed the self sufficiency of India in training their own pilots. A certain Captain Munshi is reported as follows,
"Captain Munshi, Chief Test Pilot, told TheHindu that it was easily manoeuverable and responded quickly and effectively to controls. "

But I doubt that anything can be as cut and dried. A report of the flight of the HT-2 retrived from the Bharat-Rakshak vaults warns the HAL of the follows,

The steering seemed a shade more sensitive than the other controls (which are themselves quitesensitive) and may lend itself to coarse use in the hands of, or rather under the feet ofpupil pilots It Is understandable that an aircraft stressed as highly as the H.T.2 will have sensitive controls, but a comment at this stage may not be entirely out of place, The H,T.2 controls are much lighter than any trainer in use, and it would be Interesting to see the reactions of the instructors and the pupils to this difference."

I am not sure if a 25 hour old flight cadet also would find the sensitive controls as "interesting"! Must get a clarification form dad on that the next time I speak to him.

A most excellent write up on this beautiful plane can be found here on the BR website. It would be a shame to not go on that webpage.

The HT-2 no longer serves the Indian Airforce, but HAL did provide another plane for the Indian airforce aleed the HPT-32. If I am not mistaken, flight cadets still start flying on this plane in India. As far as the HT-2 is concerned, it still plays a very important role in many parts of India. Giving someting to fit in front of ugly building to divert attention from it.

Nagpur Flying club

Training staffL-R: Capt Tharegaonkar(in white shirt) , Capt Ramamurthy(Standing centre) , Capt kanga (With shades), Flt Cdt VP Roy (without cap)
Details: Circa 1965, Nagpur flying club

These are the pictures of dad's training at Nagpur flying club. I was wondering why airforce cadets were undergoing training in civilian facilities and by civilians. It seems that during the emergency of, Airforce had given five flying clubs the contract to give basic flying taining to its cadets. This included a total of 25 hours of flying. Five of these hours had to be solo.

L-R : Dad, Capt Kanga, V.P.Roy

The imposing trainer was Capt Kanga. I wonder how he could have fit in most of the cockpits of that time. If you notice in the second picture, dad actually had to stand on top of the planes wheel and the other cadet on the chock to even reach his shoulders!

Monday, August 28, 2006

The First Flight

The L-5 aircraft

Details : -Circa: 1964, Nagpur EFTU (Elemantary Flight Training unit)

This was the plane that dad first learnt flying on. This was a two seater plane that could run for up to a couple of hours though I'm not sure how much distance it would have covered in that much time.

The plane belonged to the Nagpur flying club which is where dad's Elementary Flying Unit was based. It does seem a bit of a plum that I find myself in the same place so many years later.
I found this website that does tell us a bit about this plane. But I think dad's old picture looks better!

The Jawa Gang

The bikers: (L-R) : S "Su" Soares , A.K "Babu" Shyam , Dad , A.V "Bhaggu" Bhagwat, V "Pashu" Pashupathi

Details : -Circa: 1970, 22 Sqn, Kalaikonda

Now we are talking! These were the days when having a Jawa was the thing that cool dudes did. ...Actually I think those days are still going on, but regardless.
Apparently in those days the only bikes available were the Royal Enfeild, Rajdoot and Jawa. The Royal Enfield with its high pricing was something a young Pilot Officer could never afford. The Rajdoot was dismissed as Flimsy due to its construction. The only scooter around was Vespa and a fighter pilot would of course never be spotted dead on one of those. The bike of choice was the Jawa. We see them in all their spendour out here. I wonder if we could figure out if these bikes are still around?

Please note the overalls with the Gnat symbols. :)

Dad with a Gnat MK1

Details : -Circa: 1969, 22 Sqn, Kalaikonda

Tell me life got any better then this!