A TRIBUTE TO IAF
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.