Aeroclub 1/72 Folland Gnat
Early on the morning of 14 Dec 71, just three days before Pakistan surrendered to Indian forces, six Sabres of 26 sqn PAF set out from Peshawar for the Indian airfield of Srinagar in the picturesque valley of Kashmir. Four aircraft carried two 500 lbs Mk 84 bombs each and two aircraft acted as escorts with only cannon ammunition. Whilst all carried 200 gal tanks. The formation was lead by the CO, Wg Cdr SA Changezi, and the escort pair consisted of Flt Lts Salim Baig and A. Rahim Yousefzai.
At Srinagar two Folland Gnats of 18 sqn 'the Flying Bullets' sat at the Operational Readiness Platform (ORP). The peculiar location of the airfield in the Srinagar bowl prevented adequate radar warning and the only warning available was from observation posts situated on the mountain tops. Two pilots waited at the ORP, one was Sqn Ldr AS Ghuman and the other - young Fg Offr Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon.
The Sabres flew south east of the airfield and pulled up to roll in to the dive along runway 31, while the escort pair set up a CAP pattern overhead. On the ground, with last minute warnings from the OPs the two Gnats scrambled from their pens (a Gnat could start up and be airborne in 45 secs) but were held up as the ATC could not see the runway traffic crossing point in the poor visibility. Peculiarly at Srinagar, take offs were not permitted until the vehicular traffic (if any) had crossed at the runway crossing and not the reverse.
As the two Gnats came out into the open (Sekhon in E-257), one Sabre had already released its bombs overhead. Not being able to wait anymore, the Gnats took off through the debris and smoke into 800m visibility. The two Gnats were ordered to exit the area as it was too late to intercept the enemy overhead and to allow the ack-ack to engage the Sabres. Even as Ghuman ducked to low level and exited south, Sekhon turned behind a Sabre(No 2 of the Sabre formation) just pulling out from his dive. Closing in rapidly he started firing out of range. The Sabre leader saw this danger and ordered his No 2 to break left, whilst the No 3 (Flt Lt Amjad Endrabi) maneuvered behind Sekhon. Fortunately for Sekhon, The No 4 didn't make contact with the mêlée and was ordered to get away to the west.
As the three aircraft turned behind each other at 200 ft, with Sekhon firing at Sabre No 2 and Sabre No 3 and 1 firing at him, the No 3 ran out of ammo. Sensing a reduction in the danger, Sekhon got a brief respite to roll out, jettison his tanks and build up some badly needed energy. With renewed effort he closed into the Sabre behind him and began to fire.
At this moment the Sabre leader realized the great danger that he was in and desperately asked the escort overhead to intervene. Flt Lt Salim Baig already maneuvering to position above Sekhon, dived down unbeknownst to Sekhon and within secs had achieved hits on the Gnat. Sekhon called out that he was hit, and was called overhead by the CAP controller so as to at last allow the ack-ack to take on the Sabres.
But Sekhon's time was up. Salim Baig remembers seeing the canopy of Sekhon's aircraft flying off and the aircraft rolling over and diving into the ground less than 100 ft below. For choosing to get airborne even as the airfield was under attack and refusing to exit the battle even when ordered to, and then taking on six Sabres (although he must have only known there were four) Sekhon was awarded the country's highest honour, the 'Param Vir Chakra' (bravest of the brave) equivalent to the American Medal of Honour. He thus became the only air force officer to be so honored.
No wonder then that I decided to build the now elusive Aeroclub 1/72 Folland Gnat in the markings of Sekhon's mount on that fateful day. The development history of the Gnat is quite well known. Springing from the same drawing board that drew the Canberra and the Lightning at the hands of Teddy Petter, the Gnat was rejected by the RAF and only flew with the Finns, Yugoslavs (very few) and the Indians. Over two hundred were built in India and a much modified version, the Ajeet (unconquerable) served till 1992. Direct supply British built Gnats were numbered E---, while Indian built ones were numbered IE----.
The kit is also well known, and comes in two colours with five parts and well sculpted white metal undercarriage and seat with a vacu formed canopy that needs some pruning and dexterity to make it fit. Gnats were painted silver and not in the BMF scheme, so it was a simple finish to achieve. IAF decals from Bright Spark and serials from Tally Ho completed the finish. The black anti glare panel and antenna covering were hand painted acrylic while the silver was Testors chrome mixed with a drop of Humbrol matt white. The pitot and antennae were stretched sprue. White lines were painted on the wheel and hubs to assess wheel creep. All in all a simple straight forward build.
Size: 4 items