By – Ex-Sgt. Mandetria N.Subramani
VeKare Ex-Servicemen Trust (VKET), Mysore.

There was a big noise outside, which brought memories flooding back to my mind. My little eleven-year-old son, Sooraj, came darting into the house like a bullet all padded up and with a cricket bat in his hand! “Papa! What’s that big noise?” he shouted in a voice full of surprise. I comforted my son and told him not to worry, as it was only the sound made by some low-flying fighter jet aircraft and asked him to go back to playing his game of cricket as it was ‘Dry Runs’ for the ‘Air Show’ at Mysore scheduled to be held on 17th October 2004.

This must be to add grandeur to the Mysore Dasara festivity at hand, I thought in my mind. The idea of bringing in a helicopter to shower flower petals on a contingent of NCC cadets and school children was first mooted by me on the occasion of Independence celebrations on 15th August 2002 as the then President, Air Force Friends Association, Mysore (AFFAM)

The noise in my head didn’t go away. I had heard this noise time and time again, day in and day out, for nearly fifteen years of my stay in the Indian Air Force. I was part of the glorious IAF then. An active combatant member of a fighter squadron at Ambala Cantt. known as the famous “Triple Two Squadron”.

Memories keep flooding back………..

Once upon a time not so long ago, two brothers invented the flying machine.  They were the Wright brothers – Wilbur and Orville.  That was in 1903; ever since then the craze for flying has been going on.   Flying in an airplane as a passenger is one thing, but actually flying an aircraft is a different thrill altogether.  Even though I have flown in an aircraft umpteen number of times, I never had the good fortune of becoming a pilot.  That dream will forever be just a dream.  I used to derive vicarious pleasure whenever I saw the pilots of our Squadron walk to their aircraft to fly a sortie.

Talk about our Squadron; it was a fighter Squadron, one of the best in the Air Force, if not the best.  In my tenure in that Squadron I’ve seen many pilots come and go.  Some got transferred to other squadrons with similar aircraft, others were transferred to squadrons with more advanced aircraft and some who were very unlucky, did not make it back to the base after their routine sorties.  They had made their last fight into oblivion, never to come home again.

I had many an occasion to chat with the young pilots when they were newly posted to the Squadron.  As I was from the Accounts Branch  – ‘a Babuji’ and also dealing with the salaries and other payments of those working in the Squadron, many a time I was asked to prepare advance payments, loans, etc. for these guys.  They are of a different class altogether.  They have an aura about them wherever they are – be it in the cockpit or out of it – which cannot be easily imitated.  Their tall stature and graceful manners make them stand out in a crowd.  They make their presence felt be it on the parade ground or in the mess for the Squadron get-together.

On the tarmac it is a Vivian Richard-like swagger to their aircraft, with their helmets tucked under their armpits, their Anti G-suits donned loosely and the flying suits unzipped at the bottom just above their boots.  It reminded one of the olden day cowboy movies.  John Wayne with his leggings loosely strapped and his saddle over his shoulder.  But with all this casual look, their minds were elsewhere; namely, the mission at hand.  The success of the mission depended entirely on their alertness and quickness of mind.  One has to be really sharp-minded when flying a fighter aircraft.  Even a small mistake can lead to disaster.  The technicians, after “seeing off” an aircraft, pray for its safe return back to base – be it during war or peacetime.

That’s life in a fighting squadron.  Loss of a life is always sad, be it an airman’s or an officer’s.  It becomes sadder still when the lost one is someone you knew so well and his death very sudden and tragic.  Life can be extremely cruel at times.  There were instances where the pilot had to bail out for some reasons or the other.  Whenever he lost total control of the aircraft he was flying, whatever be the reason, technical or otherwise, the pilot, if possible, usually eject out.  This is done only when there is no other option left.  The aircraft is flown as far away as possible from a thickly populated area to a deserted or sparsely populated place before the pilot ejects out from the sick aircraft.

Very good pilots like Bhogal and Gehlot, (Flying Officers then, could be Air Commodores now), had to make such split-second decisions in order to save their lives and the lives of others.  The pilot’s life is much more valuable than the aircraft he flies in and totally irreplaceable.  The unlucky ones like Flg. Offr. Shankar and Flt.Lt. Varkey did not live to tell their tales.  They crashed with their aircraft.

Shanks, as Shankar was fondly called, for he was a favourite among all the guys in the Squadron, could not make it back due to no fault of his.  It was a mid-air collision.  He probably would not have known what hit him. It was a range sortie and he had come out of the dive after dropping his bombs bang on target.  He was making a circuit of the range before heading for home.  The aircraft that came next made its dive and on pulling up the pilot saw to his chagrin Shanks aircraft dead ahead of him.  A collision was imminent and could not be avoided at any cost.  And so he took the only possible way out.  He bailed out and his aircraft hit Shank’s with such force that there was hardly anything left of both the aircraft after they hit the ground.  The pilot who bailed out escaped with minor injuries.  The salvaging team had a tough time searching for the bits and pieces scattered all over the place for miles around.

All said and done a fighter pilot’s life is still the greatest.  It beats bungee jumping, hang-gliding or even skydiving for that matter.  All these activities involve free fall, but the gravitational forces acting on the person is much less than those experienced by a fighter pilot.  The fighter pilot has to wear an Anti-G suit over his flying suit.  The Anti-G suit that he wears get inflated or deflated automatically, varying as per the G-forces acting on him.  The pressurized cockpit and his Anti-G suit ensure that the pilot has a reasonably comfortable flight.

So much for the technical data.  I am sure every cadet who joins the NDA aspires to become a fighter pilot.  The fighter pilots are the cream of the Armed Forces.  Only the best get selected as pilots and only the very best among them get to become fighter pilots.  Their story is a story of guts and glory.  It is these guys, who later on become Air Chief Marshals.  But, it is the survival of the fittest in the true sense of the word.  Not every body gets to become Chief of the Air Force.



  1. Yes, fighter pilots are dashing young men and often the cream of the officers lot, they are daring, courageous and looked up to both in service uniforms , as well as in civvies. My salute to the daring young men in their flying machines.I am an Ex NDA too.


  3. An excellent article penned by Sgt Subramani, accounting / checking claims-loans applications & putting up for approval is his forte – with a hidden talent of of story telling. Keep it up.

  4. My compliments to an “accounts babu” of our elite IAF. You have very aptly summed up the spirit of these fighter pilots.I BEING A PONGO (ARMY GUY)had a great fortune to be closely associated with FIGHTER PILOTS from my NDA cadets days through Instructor NDA,TRI-SERVICES HQs (two tenures)….these officers’ guys are sharp,happy-go-luck,witty,quick-decision-makers;and large-hearted guys….approachable,recognize real talent vis-a-vis boot-lickers. THEY JUST CANNOT SIT IN THEIR OFFICE CHAIR….its a punishment for them to be on a staff job..pushing files. Subbi,without fighter pilots per se….we can never win any conventional/unconventional war….no matter how advanced UAV etc may be….I SALUTE THEM……and recall the CATCH-22 classic novel’s protagonist charm and qualities.

  5. I have been ,all through my tech. career, been posted to operational squadrons of bombers and fighters other than command and Hq posting. I would love to be part of daredevil pilots’s team always even now.

  6. kudos to the Of the IA F. I was just commissioned in the IAF and had the privilege of facing the 1971 war while I was on duty at a strategic Fighter Air base in the State of Punjab. Witnessed the heroics and valour of our fighter pilots and got mesmerised with their handling skills of those planes and their armour.
    They are, no doubt, the CREAM of this fighting force. Long live the IAF. Amen!

  7. My first posting after commissioning in March 1963, was to 12 Wg Chandigarh,one of the few stations to host transport ,fighter and helicopter squadrons.I was a navigator in No 44 Sqn. flying AN 12 transport aircraft.Also on the station was the first MIG 21 Sqn commanded by (late) Wg Cdr Dilbagh Singh.
    There was no real infrastructure at the time.The Station Commander’s office was a small room in the ATC block.The airmen lived in tents pitched behind the ATC tower and the officers were housed in 5 or 6 rented houses in Chandigarh town (it was not yet a city).

    The MIG pilots were fairly elderly (as viewed from my Pilot Officer eyes).They were all Flt Lt or Sqn Ldr rank .They were without exception,reserved,and quiet and there was no “Show Off”attitude at all ,even though they were among the very few pilots in the world, of aircraft capable of flying at twice the speed of sound.

    Most of them went on to Air Officer rank and three became CAS (Dilbagh Tipnis and Mehra). Patney became VCAS and was fully expected to go on to CAS but was pipped at the post.
    Most kept themselves fit by playing squash or by swimming at the Chandigarh Club.I remember once Patney took a bet with Ashok Mishra ,also a very good player that he would leave him at love in one game out of three .He did it too and won himself a bottle of scotch whisky.Despite this free scotch they were all very spare drinkers,one chhota peg would last an entire evening.
    After this posting there was no other time when I was on the same station as a fighter squadron.

    I have a great admiration for their flying capabilities as I will try to illustrate:- The AN 12 needs 2 pilots,1 navigator,1 flight signaller,1 flight engineer and 1 flight gunner in order to operate, each crew member doing his separate job.The MIG 21 was flown by one single pilot doing all these jobs on his own.
    Three cheers for our fighter fleet and the men who fly them.
    Deryck Fernandes.

  8. A very well written article which should inspire many youngsters to become fighter pilots. Congratulations to Ex-Sgt. Mandetria N.Subramani.

  9. I had the unique privilege of being a founding member of the squadron mentioned in the article by Sgt. Subramani (222 Sqn) when we were re-equipped with Sukhoi 7s and during the 1971 war. I had ejected due to an engine failure following a bird hit while in the squadron and sustained spinal fractures and spent over a month in a cast from my hips to my neck in Ambala MH. Fortunately I did get back to fighter flying. The article brings back nostalgic memories.

  10. Great article. Sgt Subramani has, very ably, put across the sterling characteristics of the magnificent men who fly our fighter jets in the IAF.

  11. I was a youngster, my role hero during my college days was Subramani, hence I joined IAF, had a brief stint with Air warriors…as missile fitter….pioneered as SAM 2 and subsequently as SAM 3 at Barrackpore and Russia….I gave a shot to become fighter pilot….cleared the SSB but I was negated for having leg length lesser than 99.5 cm..never lost heart…I took up CDSE , cleared SSB and joined the Army…commissioned in EME, opted for Para Commando, became a trooper officer, to be in air….I cherish my days with Jaunty Air Warriors and my heart still stays with them……
    Col Lavakumar MC (Veteran)

  12. I was also in 16 Wg in the early eighties – a fighter base with a HU. I enjoyed being ferried to HQ EAC in choppers on official duty, viewed the majestic meander of the Brahmaputra from the air.

  13. Veteran Subramani has nicely penned his thoughts.That shows the one-ness of the force, whichever branch or trade you belong to. That is camaraderie. That is what binds the lot who wear their uniform with pride. Anything that you dare is mesmerising and draws the inner courage to do the best in you. In life of all aviators, you will find such instances in plenty. The fighter is the main striking arm. The Armoured heptr has its own thrill. the huge birds with spans larger than the air strip (in some places), that fly to small narrow strips in the far east and the North have their own stories. The precise drop of commando troops or a battalion in unknown territory with dangerously close formation at night with few or no lights is their speciality. The fighting soldier, sailor and an Air warrior has his own thrills too. Ask any one of his days and he will rattle out many such incidents that give us goose pimples while hearing the daunting incidents and the bravery of every one involved.
    Every one who dons the white, blue and OG have a great story to tell, because they live their job. does any one say “he is on a weekly off and he will not report for work when called”. Not one will do such a thing. that is his / her training. The moto whether you carry on your emblem on the shoulder like the army or in their mind like the airforce and the Navy is all that matters to those brave soldiers of the three services. May their tribe grow and induce the same spirit in other fields of life too. The country will prosper and shine.

  14. The author nicely narrated the article. Hearty congratulations to Veteran Sgt Subramani. As LAC when he was at 222 Sqn I was serving with 32 sqn. Then our AOC was Air Cmde Raghavendran. Every Monday station ceremonial parade use to be biggest fear. In spite of hectic working life enjoyed lot. Unforgettable tenure can’t forget lifelong. Thanks Sgt Subramani for taking us back.

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