De Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou
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De Havilland Canada DHC4 Caribou
Number Procured: 26
....................... 33 Squadron "Caribous" (1963-1986)
The DHC-4 Caribou was inducted in the immediate aftermath of the 1962 India-China War. As part of the emergency aid that the United States and Canada diverted to India to help shore the effort against the chinese, two Caribous from the USAF were delivered to India, both aircraft arriving on 8 January 1963 at Palam. (Air Marshal Aspy Engineer, the CAS was at hand to receive the crews and the aircraft). The very next day, No.33 Squadron was raised on these two aircraft (BM768 and BM769). Quite soon after their arrival the two Caribous were used in POW evacuation missions from Walong and other forward locations in March 1963.
Type: Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) Transport aircraft
Country of Origin: Canada
Accommodation: Two Pilots, One Navigator, One Flight Engineer
Engine(s): Two Pratt & Whitney R2000 Twin Wasp Piston engines
Fuel Capacity: ?????
Service Ceiling: 24,800 feet
Range: Maximum - 1280 miles
Further orders were placed with De Havilland Canada for sixteen new production aircraft - enough to equip the newly raised unit. The Squadron was initially based in Gauhati. The first four pilots were trained in the US, including the CO, Wg Cdr J C Plomer, Sqn Ldr M M Arora, Flt Lt S S Sane and Flt Lt M L Sharma. At the completion of training the pilots were actively involved in ferrying the newly built Caribous across the Atlantic and all the way to India . A total of 16 new Caribous were flown to India starting September 1963 till July 1964. These aircraft were numbered BM770 to BM785.
Stationed at Gauhati, the aircraft was extensively used in the North East by 33 Squadron, along with its predecessor the DHC-3 Otter in the tactical support role. Its ability to operate from short and unprepared runways and landing grounds cut from forests and mountain sides while carrying a three ton load was unparalleled.
The sorties were not without incidents. A Caribou (BM772) crash landed at Hyuliang Landing ground due to a down draught just before landing. That aircraft was then cannibalized on-site and components re-used in other aircraft.
A second Caribou was extensively damaged in another crash landing at Hyuliang in early 1965. It took months of planning to airlift spare parts and repair teams to Hyuliang. It was only on 8th September 1965 that the partially repaired and barely airworthy Caribou was flown out of Hyuliang by Sqn Ldr S S Sane.
In June 1968, four additional Caribous were procured to beef up the existing fleet. These four aircraft (M932-935) sported a bare metal finish instead of the Olive Green scheme of the earlier batch.
During the 1971 war with Pakistan, the Caribous of the Squadron in addition to its regular transport duties, operated in a night bomber role as well. The objective was to use them to harrass the Pakistani Army and repair teams over the Tezgaon airfield by sporadic night attacks. Tezgaon airfield was bombed on three nights, and the Pakistani brigade at Brahmanbaria was bombed on two nights. Additionally the aircraft took part in the Tangail air drop, where they dropped the decoy parachutes away from the dropzone to distract Pakistani troops on the ground. Once the airdrops were completed, the Caribous used their STOL capabilities to land at Tangail to supply the Paratroopers on the subsequent days. One Caribou (BM770) was badly shot up and damaged on December 10th, but was recovered to Kumbhirgram. It was subsequently repaired and flown back. After the surrender of the Pakistani Army in Dacca, the Caribous were the first fixed wing aircraft of the IAF to land at the Tezgaon airfield. The runway at Tezgaon so badly damaged that only Caribous could land there safely.
The aircraft and crews had the distinction of flying in the Bangladesh interim cabinet into Dacca. The aircraft was also used in transporting of VVIPs into and out of Dacca. Among them the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Sam Manekshaw, and the VIP POWs of the Pakistan Armed Forces - Lt Gen Niazi and his General and Brigade level officers.
After the war, 33 Squadron and the Caribou continued operations in the North East. Four more Caribous were procured as attrition replacements in 1981. The four (M2166-2169) refurbished examples formerly operated by the Ghana Air Force were delivered before end of the year.
The era of the Caribou was nearing its end in the mid 80s. 33 Squadron prepared to re-equip with the newly acquired An-32 twin turbo-prop aircraft. One aircraft (BM769) crash landed at Walong ALG on 30th July 1985 and was left there for years. Another Caribou (M933) was burned down in a crash landing in a paddy field in Medak district in June 1983. The last Caribou sorties were almost certainly done in March 1987, and with their withdrawal there were no other fixed wing aircraft that continued the civilian maintenance role to tricky airfields like Walong.
The fate of all the Caribous is not known, but in 1996 eight remaining airframes (BM771, BM776, BM778, BM780, BM782, M935, M2166 and M2168) were auctioned off. These were procured by Penn Turbo Inc, a company based in the USA. Penn Turbo got the airframes dismantled and the fuselages cut up just ahead of the tail section. The fuselages and wings were transported by sea to Cape May Airport in New Jersey where they can still be seen today.
For a while there were no Caribous that were preserved in India. In 2004, Eastern Air Command located two airframe lying derelict in its area of responsibility - one in Jorhat, and the other crashed airframe at Walong. Both the aircraft were then partially restored for visual completion. BM774 (ex-Jorhat) now resides in Palam with the IAF Museum, while BM769 from Walong was shipped by road to Shillong and resides outside the Eastern Air Command HQ in their museum.
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