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Wing Commander Vonthibettu Prabhakara Hegde

Service No 3080 Branch GD(P)
Date of Birth: 24 Aug 1925
Date Commissioned 24 Feb 1945 Course 30 Course
Service End Retired on 01 Mar 1968 / Died on 07 Sep 2011
Remarks :
Promotions Gazetted
Flt Lt : 26 Feb 1950Wg Cdr : 01 Apr 1964
Google the Bharat Rakshak Website for : "V P Hegde"
Notes: 1) Ranks shown are substantive ranks at retirement. 2)Branch is at retirement and may not match with branch at Commission 3)Notional seniority is reflected in dates of substantive rank.

Appointments, Postings & Other Service Particulars

DatesRankUnitLocationAppointmentPhoto
01 Aug 1946 - 31 Aug 1946Fg OffrNo.9 Squadron, RIAF To 12Sqn
15 Aug 1946 - 23 May 1947Fg OffrNo.12 Squadron, RIAFBhopal 
01 Jun 1947 - 09 Aug 1947Fg OffrNo.6 Squadron, RIAFMauripur 
31 Jan 1957 - 30 Sep 1958Sqn LdrNo.102 SquadronAgra Commanding Officer
02 Oct 1962 - 31 Oct 1965Wg CdrNo.6 SquadronPune Commanding Officer
 
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Awards and Decorations


Number of Awards: 1
 
Vir Chakra
Flt LtVonthibettu Prabhakara Hegde3080 GD(P)Award Date 15 Feb 1949Announced 26 Jan 1950
Details :

Flight Lieutenant (Now Squadron Leader) Vonthibettu Prabhakara Hegde (3080) put up consistent efforts from the day of the Kashmir Operations till “Cease fire.” He was in the thick of it right through and at all times showed the greatest determination and perseverance in carrying our arduous and difficult flights in providing transport support for POONCH, MENDHAR, URI, TITHWAL, KARGIL, DRAS and last, but not the least, to LEH. Both at Tithwal and at Uri, his aircraft was repeatedly hit and damaged. Considering the treacherous nature of the country and the frequent occasions when most of his transport flights had to be carried out under adverse weather conditions, it required great powers of endurance and skill on the part of this pilot. In carrying out his duties well, the officer set a fine example to others in his Flight to follow.

For the outstanding services rendered by him during the Kashmir Operations, he has been awarded the Vir Chakra.

Unit : 12 Sqn
Reference : Gazette of India , Extraordinary, No. 2-Pres., dated 26th January, 1950

Additional Notes

Remarks: Obituary Notice (via Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava) Note added: 2011-09-12

It is with a deep sense of loss that we have to report the passing away on September, 7, 2011 of 3080 GD(P) Wg Cdr Vonthibettu Prabhakara Hegde, (hereafter often referred to as VPH). He was born on 24 Aug 25 and was commissioned in IAF on 24 Feb 45. World War II ended just under six months later.

As a Pilot Officer and Flying Officer VPH flew Hurricanes, Spitfires and Mosquitos. He also flew transports and bombers including the Lancaster and the B-24 Liberator resurrected for IAF by HAL. His final tally was 23 different types of aircraft. But he became a legend with his highly skilled handling of the DC-3 Dakota. Apart from other fame, word was going round in IAF that his stall turns in the Dakota were a fabulous show of skill and courage. It was no wonder that as a Flight Lieutenant he took very active part in the Kashmir War.

Kashmir operations were always laced with danger. Flying close to the border, he  was aware of the lurking challenges. But one sortie left him precariously close to death. “I was flying a Dakota DC-3 down the Banihal pass, close to the Peer Punjab pass. We were briefed that it was under our control.” VPH soon realised that it was a  miscalculation, as the aircraft came under intense machine gunfire. The skilled aviator ducked and escaped with only six bullet hits. “One bullet was right under my seat.” Sqn Ldr Hegde was awarded the Vir Chakra for gallantry. 

It was no surprise that he became the favourite pilot for Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru. The Prime Minister specially chose VHP to fly him to Mangalore during his campaign for free India's first elections. On Christmas day, December 25, 1951, Sqn Ldr VPH landed the aircraft at the 1800 ft long Bajpe airstrip which was just a bit of cleared dirt track on the tabletop hillock. It was the very first landing near Mangalore. Most of Mangalore's citizens had never even seen an aircraft before VPH's Dakota arrived with the PM on board to their astonishment and awe. But now the tarred runway, Air Traffic Control, terminal and associated buildings go by the grand name of Mangalore International Airport. Its reputation has been seriously tarnished by the crash of Air India Express Boeing 737 which killed 158 people, including the crew, on 22 May 2010.

About two years ago Wing Commander VP Hegde VrC (Retd) spoke about this unforgettable event: -

"When I landed for the first time at Bajpe, they were just digging and levelling the hill to build the runway. So it was just a non-tarmac, level ground, there was no airport as such. But the DC-3 is a small aircraft and it was easy for me to land it."

On being asked Nehru's observation or if he commented on the airport or the landing, he said,  "He would not comment on the technicalities of the flight or landing because he knew we were experienced. He just shook hands and thanked us after the landing." Apparently, a bystander remembers that Pt Nehru stepped out, waved to the excited crowd, turned back and addressed his pilot. “Its very good landing here in very difficult terrain. I must congratulate you,”

He adds, "Nehru came to campaign for India's first democratic elections. There was hardly any equipment at the airport to help during the landing. It was not difficult for me to land on a table-top 'runway' because I was experienced in flying to Kashmir, which had a similar airport.”

It was 1963, and Hegde was beside a test pilot, a Scotsman, flying a Scottish aircraft, the “Twin Pioneer.” Taking off from an airstrip in Jorhat, Assam, the aircraft’s engine was switched off to test its manoeuvrability. “But the plane couldn’t gain height. Engine restart failed. The aircraft eventually hit a hillock and exploded. The test pilot and two IAF pilots were killed,” recalls Hegde, who was thrown out of the plane, but landed miraculously without injury.

Wing Commander VP Hegde VrC retired from IAF in 1968 and lived for 43 years in Bangalore. May he Rest in Peace and his family find solace, bolstered by his remarkable deeds in the service of the nation. 

In Grief,