The Floggers of Hasimara
by Rahul Devnath
Introduction to Hasimara -The State of West Bengal is host to some of the most important air bases of Indian Air Force. Hasimara, being one such. Surrounded by Bhutan and China in the north and Bangladesh in south, this base plays a major role in maintaining air superiority in the region. Apart from being home to Floggers, this place boasts off having a very cool climate, all throughout the year. Situated next to the hills of Bhutan, with a vast area of virgin forest and teeming wildlife, there could not have been a better heaven for a Pilot. Though most of the months, covered under heavy downpour, clear days, cannot be any better. On very such days, Both Pilot and Photographers can get ample time and oppurtunity to show off their skills.
Air Force Presence at Hasimara: - Air Force Station, Hasimara, 16 Wing comes under Eastern Air Command. And houses two Squadrons of Mig-27ML, Ground Attack Fighters, and some Mig-23UB trainers to compliment them. The two Squadrons, namely the No.22, “Swifts” and No.222 “Tigersharks” have a glorious past, and provided major contributions during 1965 and 1971 wars. With Both Squadrons being one the first to convert to current type ie:Mig-27ML, during 1985-90, this place since than have been groomed to facilitate, best possible training and flying operations, required particularly for the Mig-27s and their pilots, with facilities like a techflight and simulator.
Photographing at Hasimara: - For good album, comprising of all aspects of Flying, one need to spend at least more than 20 days, as getting good photographs, in this place requires not only sound skills but also luck. But, patience always pays off well, so one can expect to have varied climatic and lighting conditions making the colours as vivid as it can. Polarizing filters are recommended, with at least 380mm zoom, as almost infinite visibility and pollution free environment are other cons of this place, giving you minimal distortion.
No. 22 Squadron“Swifts” : The Squadron was formed on 15 Oct 1966 at Air Force Station Bareily as the eight Gnat Squadron of the Indian Air Force, aptly named ‘Hell’s Angels’.
Almost a year later, the Squadron shifted to AF Stn Kalaikunda and from there further onto Dum Dum for the 1971 Operations. It was here that we became the first Gnats to go into battle and attain glory by shooting down three F-86 Sabre Jets over Jessore on 22 Nov 1971. This day was a red-letter day for 22 Squadron, for on this very day the baby of the AF drew first blood and that too in a classic killer style. After 22 Nov 71 the Hell Angels found a special niche in the history of aerial combat an proved their mettle as the most successful and destructive fighter Squadron in the twenty two day war of 1971. For its daring and excellence, the Squadron was rechristened ‘Sabre Slayers’.
In Dec 73 the Squadron shifted to a new hunting ground at Hasimara. The Sabre Slayers moved to Bagdogra in Apr 78 where they converted to Ajeet MK I aircraft in Mar 82. In Dec 85, the Squadron was renamed ‘Swifts’. Swift is a Himalayan bird known for its speed and offensive nature. In Feb 90, the Squadron settled back in its present nest at Hasimara converting to Mig-27 ML aircraft.
No. 222 Squadron“Tigersharks” : 222 Sqn AF was raised on 16 Sep 1969 at Ambala and equipped with SU-7 aircraft. The Sqn was then called called “The Killers” The initial period saw the Sqn participating in many Army –Air exercises and perfecting armament delivery. These years were spent in getting comfortable with the Su-7 (S-22) and achieving Ops status for the pilots. In July 1971 the squadron moved to Halwara in preparation for operations that appeared imminent. The Squadron was tasked with Counter Air strikes against airfields, Interdiction and Close Air Support. When hostilities were declared in Dec 1971, the squadron launched successful attacks against PAF targets like Risalewala and Chander airfields. The Squadron carried out very effective Close Air Support missions in Dera Baba Nanak, Haveli (near Fazilka) and Ferozepur sectors in support of the Indian Army. The Sqn effort was highly appreciated, and for its role during the 1971 war it earned an MVC, three VrCs, three VM’s and two Mention in Despatches. The President also recognized this valuable contribution, and on 02 Dec 1994, the Squadron was awarded Battle Honours in the Indo-Pak Conflict 1971 (West Pakistan) for the Campaign: “Holding Battle in Firozpur-Fazilka”.
Post war the Squadron moved back to Halwara and then onto Hindan in May 1981. At Hindan, the Sqn took part in many exercises and was a regular feature in the flypast over Rajpath on the Republic Day. The Su-7 continued its venerable contribution till it was finally phased out in 1985.
The Sqn was then the first unit to induct the MiG-27, then the latest Strike aircraft of the IAF, in Dec 1985. The Squadron was commanded by Wg Cdr JS Ghumman. The induction ceremony was an event, with the Prime Minister , Rajiv Gandhi formally inducting it into the IAF. In Jan 1986 the Sqn was renamed as the TIGERSHARKS. In 1987, the Sqn proceeded to the snow clad environment of Avantipur to make its presence felt in “Exercise Brasstacks” which provided the unit and the IAF, many valuable lessons.
The Tigersharks moved to Hasimara in May 1989.
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