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CLOSE CALLS

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.

CLOSE CALLS

…….and a little more


In my earlier blog titled “Life in Ruins’ you got a glimpse of my personal life as I was growing up. This is a small trailer of making me as a Person. The matter of Close Calls comes after I build for myself a platform to go through delicate moments that could end either this way or that, that is making of a Pilot in the Indian Air Force.

The time after Chinese aggression, Goa action and the gatherings of clouds of war that happened in 1965 had prompted many like me to join the Forces. In my case it was more of an escape from the mundane than the patriotic fervor; that built itself much later. I had passed the First Year of B.Sc. (Engineering) at Norwoseji Wadia College in Pune and was of the opinion that, Academics was not my cup of tea.

One fine day two others and I filed application to join the Air Force and none of us really knew what that would lead to. Soon a call came through to appear at Cotton Green, Bombay for a job interview. All three of us boarded the Deccan Queen and found ourselves face to face with grim looking Guys in Uniform. Impressed, really impressed. By evening the interviews were over and only I had passed this first stage. The other two continued with normal life. Two weeks later I got a call to appear for selection process at Mysore and that is when hell broke loose. If I can say Mother was upset, then Father was actually riding on the back of a tiger.

It ended up that since colleges were closed and Mysore trip was a paid trip, I might as well have a shot. Great, the shot hit target and from Mysore I was routed to Bangalore for medical fitness tests. What luck! those days we did not have mobiles and there was no family interference at all. Three days later I was told to go back and wait for instructions. I waited without letting the family on what could be expected. A month later I was on train to Madras and then to Coimbatore.

At Coimbatore Railway station I and several other youngsters were met by a Sergeant who had a Bulganin beard, pink complexion and a huge aura of Command. We all squirmed but followed him like little lambs to a Tractor with a long-low body that was used to pick up wreckage of Aircraft that crashed at remote sites. This 30- meter contraption was called Queen Mary. There were folks who loaded up our kits, each consisting of a steel box with specific dimensions and Hold all. That is all. Half an hour later we were entering the Gates of Air Force Administrative College.

As the vehicle came to a stop there were boys of our own age who wanted to welcome us. This was my first show with ragging. We all were asked to lift the box on our heads and do frog jumps till the allotted barrack. Then come back performing front rolls. Just for information, Frog jumps are jumps while squatting and front rolls are rolls with head on ground throwing the body around it , like a human wheel. Many of us, twenty years old, began to cry, but none revolted. The day ended for the reception party after some one senior, called, Orderly Officer quieted them down.

Next day, we lined up nude in a shower house that accommodated 12 of us at a time, then we were led for breakfast in a dining hall that could probably take in over a hundred of us hungry guys. Soon after breakfast those senior boys came again and got our heads shaved, our Sikh colleagues were the happiest.

The next day while we were taken to our classes, we were surprised to find the senior boys too were part of us. We identified them because they were the only ones without a bald head. This was a cause for their sadness for a week or so, till we all became friends.

In three months and a half, we had learned to salute, do parade, eat with knife and fork and got some insight to aviation studies. But something very important happened about which we acknowledge today- we became united as one known as the 96th Course, now nicknamed as Udaan Group. A die for each other spirit grew in each of us.

We moved to next stage in five different locations, I went to Nagpur for ab initio flying. I flew a light civil aircraft called L-5 and survived. Next, those of us who could pass this ordeal reported to Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad. Over the next five months we trained on HT-2. The training should have been over in three months, but the 1965 war had begun, and all instructors had reported to their respective flying Squadrons.

Next training pit was Air Force Flying College, Jodhpur. Here we polished our skills and many who did not make the grade left for home. I was lucky and made it by the skin of my luck. We also got graded to continue in Fighter, Transport or Helicopter streams. My final specialization was done on Dakota aircraft at Begumpet. We passed out at Begumpet, Hyderabad as Pilot Officers and was posted to the valley in 33 Squadron, then flying Caribou aircraft of Canadian make.

As I said, this is not a sequel to the article about my life growing up as a Boy, but a whole new event making of what I am today. Here are some snippets of some close calls that could have earned me the Happy ‘R I P’ before my name.

Encounter 1

My first close call came at Nagpur at the time I went for my first solo flying. Luckily, neither I nor my instructor understood what had happened. Captain Ramamurthy checked me for two circuits and then halted the plane just past mid-way marker on the Runway, then to my amazement he got out and asked me to do a circuit on my own, my first ever. He advised that I should not forget to pick him up and for that I should land well ahead of normal touchdown point. He said finally, ‘Go kill yourself’.

I lined up and was airborne in a Jiffy. Ah! Yes, those aircraft had no radio and we followed signals of light from the Traffic control. As I aligned myself for the final touchdown there was a Red flare fired, meaning DO NOT LAND. I went round and came over head to see what the cause was, I found that the Runway had changed due to wind veering another way. This was indicated by a “T” that indicated which Runway was to be used. I set circuit and came for a landing on the new Runway. With around 100 feet height to go for the touch down, I realised I had to land much further ahead than what I had been planned to do. I opened some power and flattened the approach and the speed dropped dangerously. I opened more power, but speed kept dropping. I did not realise I was in a catch 22 of ‘High angle of attack and low speed’ stall. Then the aircraft dropped all the way some 30-40 feet with barely any worthwhile speed. I saw Ramamurthy running my way through grass and I stopped. He got in and thumped my back, ‘Good to see you again’.

Encounter 2

This was at Allahabad and on my Third solo. We had seen many guys swing after landing, and an odd guy even before take-off. We were generally scared of this strange design shortcoming of the HT-2 Trainer. This time I was to execute 3 circuits and landings and I had already made two. As I came in for the last landing all seemed so normal. Then after landing I was rolling down the Runway towards a taxi clearing when suddenly, Whooosh! I was in an uncontrolled left turn rapidly going in circles.

I had seen the instructor apply a burst of power in one case and thought I would do just that. I opened power, just a short burst, but it forgot to close throttle again. Soon the circles stopped but the aircraft began to race into the tall grass by the Runway sides. I heard someone calling on Radio, ‘Stick back, throttle back’. I complied and was amazed that I emerged on to the taxi track where I was to clear the Runway any way. I opened power and taxied back. Yes, you can call me lucky there, I did not get suspended.

Encounter 3

This time the Aircraft was Harvard at Flying College, Jodhpur. The 1965 war had just concluded, and instructors were returning from their Operational deployments. Their current instructors strength was woefully short. I had done one solo and there was no one to clear me for my second for almost 10 days. Luckily one instructor from another flight was to pick up his rank and was waiting for Station Commander to come back from a meeting somewhere and put his new Rank on his broad shoulders. While he was thus waiting, my Flight Commander roped him to take me up, and he obliged.

Since time was short the Instructor would take over controls each time after take-off and align to finals where he handed over controls to me and I would land. I took off for the third circuit when Instructor got in conversation with ATC who informed him Station Commander would be late. As usual he completed the circuit while still talking to the Tower and handed over controls to me. Around 300 feet height still to go for landing, suddenly there was a terrible sound of a horn and simultaneously the ATC lit up with Red flares. I was still wondering for whom such beautiful displays were going on when Controls were snatched out of my hands and as power built up, I realised that we were going around, again. Frankly I was expecting to get controls back for landing but there was just stony silence, we landed and halted back in Flight area.

Instructor got down and now he burst out in anger. He said,’ what do you have against my rank, you wanted me to be court martialed and miss my rank forever.” My flight Commander had been listening in too and he explained how I may not be responsible after all. Meanwhile someone informed them that Station Commander was ready to see my Instructor. The instructor rushed to go and ….Saala, bach gaya!

A few days later I was still 2-3 hours short of syllabus and last date was approaching. Either I get those hours or just GO HOME. My Flight Commander asked me to come to the Flights at 6 AM, and he had arranged an aircraft for me to do those 2-3 hours in one go. I took off for local flying area and was aimlessly doing steep turns, stalls, practice forced landings and so on. No solo aerobatics were permitted.

As I pulled out of a Practice Forced landings, another aircraft appeared on my right just a few odd feet away. Before I could react, I noticed both guys in that aircraft had helmets on. Those days instructors wore Fibre Helmets (Bone domes) and we as cadets wore cloth gear. Then I saw one guy asking me to join them for formation flying. I complied. Then there were some more turns and I was doing well. Suddenly we were descending, and the speed was going up. I stuck to my position. I did not realise we were doing a Loop while still in formation. Wow! After this that aircraft asked me peel off and return to base.

Later, I came to know that the Pilots in the other aircraft were the Station Commander and my Flight Commander. This sortie became my final test and I missed getting suspended by just a whisker.

Encounter 4

Flying in the Valley (then NEFA) in Arunachal was always a challenge, and a supply drop at Taksing was perhaps the most challenging and most satisfying. The grace point was that I was flying De Havilland Caribou aircraft. I had been cleared to drop stuff and this was my second sortie there. All was going well, and I had unlashed the load in preparation of the drop. The final was steady with promise of a successful drop. At the correct moment I pulled up the nose sharply to permit gravity to take care of the load and slammed power to full, up from almost idling. Both engines roared, but suddenly the right engine spluttered. My speed was low, and acceleration became almost zero. I held on to everything, low speed, spluttering engine and resulting yaw, while the load kept rolling out slowly. The stall warning stick shakers came on and just then the Engineer called ‘Load Out”. I put the aircraft in to a spiraling dive, knowing things will be OK because the mountain top was behind us now and we were descending into the valley. The hills in this area were quite high and the aircraft kept descending at a steady 300-400 feet per minute. All of us were tensed but quite and hoped to God we would clear the hills without hitting one of them. The engine had to be shut down and after an extended time due to lesser speed we finally got out of the valley- still flying.

Encounter 5

This happened again at the same Dropping Zone-Taksing. By now I was quite seasoned and had a very senior person on the right seat. We reached the Dropping Zone and prepared the aircraft for a final run-in and drop. Power adjusted, flaps 15 degrees, Cargo door open, ramp door lowered, and cargo unlashed. All good to go. Then as we were at release point, I opened full power and put the aircraft in a steep climb. Then the worst happened. The final cargo strap had opened on one side but the other side remained hinged. The load rolled initially and then the first pack toppled with all the other packs huddled over it. I don’t know what prompted me and I kicked the rudders around and suddenly everything went clean out of the aircrft, we were still flying but completely shaken. In the process I do not know who had put the flaps up, it could have been me, too. But no one had noticed and I decided to go back to see how badly the cargo lay scattered on the ground. We set up circuit again assuming flaps were still 15 degrees, but, actually, they were fully retracted. The aircraft was flying precariously close to a stall and we found some buffeting at down-wind but mindlessly dismissed the warning. In this configuration we did a complete procedure and were unaware how close we were to a stall with only 300 feet above terrain. Once satisfied I applied power and asked the senior copilot to put flaps up. To his horror and later to mine too the flaps were already up. Damn lucky we survived all this.

Encounter 6

Once again, the aircraft was a Caribou. But since it had been lying unused at our detachment location due to some vital parts not being available it almost looked like junk. The ground Engineers would remove serviceable parts and fit the in other flying aircraft. The bad parts went to this aircraft and its condition became worse than before. After almost a year of this the long list of components were procured and the aircraft was made serviceable enough to undertake one sortie and be flown to base. I do not know how I was selected to fly it out.

Since its wheels would not retract, I chose to fly it at 3000 feet height. Half an hour out of Detachment-base the right engine temperatures began to rise uncontrollably, I throttled back, and this went on till there was hardly any power on it, I decided to feather it and go on single engine. But, then we started losing height, so I started it again and hoped for the best. We arrived at our base and landed without further eventuality. The squadron Commander, Flight Commanders and so many people came to receive us, since, without our knowledge they all heard so much backfiring from the engine while the aircraft had flown over-head that they had expected the worst would happen….. Phir se bach gaya Sala.

Encounter 7

This one also happened while flying the Caribou aircraft, and I have purposely scheduled this at number 7, I sure needed all the luck.

I had just been catagorised C-White and was detailed to ferry a Caribou aircraft to Bangalore. At that time I was headed to land at Vizag for refueling and then on to Bangalore. South of Calcutta the flight path was overland but close to the coast. Weather was typical pre-monsoon with embedded Cumulous clouds in broken Altostratus here and there, but, very manageable. We had no weather radar and eyes were the only substitute. We were flying around 5000 feet.

At one point while flying through stratiform clouds it appeared to get darker and darker, and that sounded a bell. Suddenly, the aircraft was buffeted severely and I wished to get out soonest. It came to my mind that going left towards the sea would be the best option. We turned and started to lose altitude to escape the growing darkness and possibility of entering a thunder cloud. It began to rain heavily, and I could see gallons of water falling from above, every one was tensed and we kept descending.

Here is what one calls luck! I abruptly became aware that water was now coming at us from below as well! This was the sea foam being thrown at us by a very angry sea below us. Intuitively, I reacted by opening full power and saw the altimeter- Nicely hanging near ZERO. Good Luck never comes alone, we broke clouds and it was bright sunshine once more. All of were congratulating each other, Pilot, co-pilot, Navigator and Flight Engineer, no one except me had noticed the zero on the altimeter or the sea swells that we just missed and I kept it to myself- well, till now.

Encounter 8

Talking about keeping to myself, here is one incident when the whole crew, ground and air, kept this to themselves. The Detachment Commander was the only one who was trying to get to the root of the incident and to find the culprit.

I had just been declared Fully Operational to fly in the Hills and we were returning from a morning sortie. It had rained and there was lot of greenery around the civil Runway of Mohanbari, Assam. My co-pilot was a senior guy with tons of flying experience, and he challenged me to land and clear runway it first taxi track. To me it was impossible, and I had never seen anyone do that. I took the challenge and did the most accurate and strictest short-field approach. When we were at round-off height, we were also some 25 feet short of Runway. The aircraft was empty so without warning to anyone I cut power in the hope that we would float the 25 feet and touch down at the beginning of the runway. But the aircraft just sunk, and I had a neat run of some 15 feet short of the Runway, in the grass. This caused deep tyre marks in the soft ground and these were visible to all from the air.

Back at the parking bay ground crew removed all the mud and grass from the undercarriage and the rest of the days flying happened as normal. The officiating detachment Commander was the co-pilot himself, so no one talked about it. The next day the regular Detachment Commander flew in and his first question was ‘who-done-it’. No one spoke and while this was happening, I had gone for another sortie and flying away from base. On my return the co-pilot told me stay shut as he had handled the issue by telling the regular Commander that it was possibly a Fokker-Friendship aircraft, then being operated by Indian Airlines. I carried this guilt with me all along as a secret not so much of luck or stupid flying as that of love of my Squadron mates. Each one had stood by me. Well, now, I hope both the regular Commander and people involved read this and have a smile, that I missed on this account so far.

Encounter 9

My flying of the Caribou ended soon after that and I switched to Avro’s. All this flying was spotless, except for my last two sorties, back to back.

The last but one sortie was to Goa, Bombay and return to Gwalior. The AOC was on board as a passenger all through and a Senior Naval officer had to be conveyed from Goa to Bombay. We were informed that runway repairs were in progress at Goa and only part of it was available. I checked my flight manual and found it to be just adequate for normal short take off. But, my mind had gone back to Caribou flying and I decide to follow that pattern of taking off at short runways- of course it was not recommended for Avro aircraft. I got off and nearly missed rubbing the tail on the runway.

Same flight nearing Bombay we had visibility nearly zero due to haze and I had a total failure of VOR and both Radio Compass. Normally, they would have locked hard with robust equipment at Bombay Airport. Bad luck too never comes alone! Bombay Radar was not working either. I contacted Bombay and they too were trying to help bring us to land. There was a lot of chatter on the Radio and lot of International aircraft in a hurry to land. Bombay had made it a mission to retrieve us and put all other aircraft in Hold. I was 1500 feet when very abruptly, I saw the runway straight ahead and very close. There was a lot of urgency to land and I cut full power, gears down and flaps full extended and we were sinking at over 1000 feet per minute. Yes, it was a feat for me, but the Naval officer was fuming in the cabin. We landed and somehow our AOC sorted the mess in the Cabin. Many other Airline captains too must have been happy that a lost aircraft was safely landed.

Last Encounter

My last sortie was to Delhi from Gwalior, perhaps as a farewell gift from Air Force for my retirement. Eventless, all the way to Delhi and Navigator was handling all the Radio calls till then as per Standard Operating Procedures. Then while on short finals to land I took over the radio for final clearance. At this time, the Navigator got busy shutting down his navigation aids. He accidentally made the volume of one of his aids full and there was deafening white noise on my earphones and instinctively I opened full power and went around. The Flying Control assumed I had landed, But I was in air and in pain, not knowing which way to go. In a minute I was working on my own volume switches and got matters under control. When I looked outside again I saw another Avro heading straight towards us some 200 feet above me and luckily to my right. Near Miss!

Good that I flew no more after that. But frankly even though I flew a lot It was by and by very professional and safe. I now share these weak-spots. Maybe it will do good to someone for his analysis.


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