Iskras In The IAF Service

Introduction

A special ceremonial occasion on December 16, 2004, was held at the Indian Air Force Station, Hakimpet, to mark the phasing out of the PZL/WSL TS-11 Iskra tandem seat trainer from the Indian Air Force (IAF) Service. The ceremony marked 29 years of service for the Iskra, which is one of the longest stints for a Jet Trainer in the IAF. The Iskra along with the Kiran Mk II formed the backbone of applied training (Stage IIA) for the fledgling pilots of the IAF.

A Brief History of Hakimpet

Hakimpet is about 20 km north of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, and has been one of the oldest Airfields in India, with a history dating back to the Second World War. Used as a staging airfield by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War, Hakimpet was taken over by the Nizam of Hyderabad on Independence. After the accession of Hyderabad with the Indian Union, Hakimpet fell into disuse and was revived as a Training airfield in the Autumn of 1951 with the establishment of the Conversion Training Unit (CTU). TheAFS-Hakimpet.jpg (26311 bytes) CTU operated Spitfire T Mk IX s , Spitfire XVIIIs and Tempest IIs to impart fighter conversion training to newly commissioned pilots of the IAF (Starting with the 55th Pilots Course (PC)). CTU was re-designated as Jet Training Wing (JTW) in 1958 with the phasing out of all Piston engine fighters in the IAF. A second JTW was set up in Bidar after the Indo-China border conflict and both JTWs at Hakimpet and Bidar were redesignated as No.1 JTW and No.2 JTW respectively. But by June 64, Jet training was again bought under the sole purview of Hakimpet and both JTWs were merged together to form the 'Fighter Training Wing' (FTW). In 1983, FTW Hakimpet was redesignated as a full fledged station and renamed Air Force Station Hakimpet (AFS Hakimpet) to be commanded by an Air Commodore.

Induction of the Iskra

The induction of the Iskras was necessitated by the sudden deterioration in the condition of the De Havilland Vampires being used by the FTW for Advanced and Applied stages of Jet training. The Vampires were phased out in December 1974 and were slated to be replaced by HAL Kirans.

The production rate of the Kirans was not sufficient to meet the IAF's requirement in advanced and applied training and an urgent need for a Jet trainer to fulfil the training requirements was very apparent. In September 1974, the Ministry of Defence approved the interim solution of importing 50 PZL TS-11 Iskra jet trainers from Poland.

The first Iskras were airlifted to India in An-12s, the four arriving in October 1975 (W-1741, 1742 1743 and 1744), with final deliveries of the batch of 50 made in May 1976.

Ground crew undertaking maintainence on Iskra W-1759 at Hakimpet

To support the Iskra operations, No.36 Equipment Depot (ED) and an Iskra Maintenance and Conversion Flight (MCF) were established in Hakimpet. Later 36ED would be replaced by No.26 ED , which inturn was replaced by No.43 ED at present.

Iskra Service

The second 1975 course, No 116 PC, after six months on the Kiran at the AFA, completed the balance of its training on the Iskra at the FTW but from mid-1976 the pattern has somewhat stabilised in that batches of trainees from the Elementary Flying School have been alternately streamed to the AFA for two terms (or 180 flying hours) of training on the Kiran or to the FTW for a: similar period on the Iskra. In other words, until sufficient Kiran Mk lIs are available and/or the Iskras are phased out, the Iskras of FTW functioned in parallel with the Kirans of AFA, with an exactly similar syllabus.

W-1758, undergoing checks in this photograph is now currently with the Indian Air Force Museum at Palam

The Iskras, while being a reasonable training aircraft and good for armament practice, had some limitations in spinning demonstrations. This became apparent with the first Iskra accident in June 1976, when a senior instructor testing an aircraft had to eject after the aircraft failed to recover from a spin. After the accident, spinning in the aircraft was limited to one turn. Since this put a limitation on the training syllabus at the Advanced level, IAF instructors were unanimous in their preference for the HAL Kiran as a training type over the Iskra at the advanced jet training stage. However even though the Kiran is a forgiving aircraft, the Iskra is better suited for the Applied stage.

From January 1981 onwards, the Iskras were pulled out of the Advanced Training regime, now solely undertaken by the Kirans and they were used only during the Applied stage of training. From the 134PC onwards, the training was streamlined in such the Iskras only did the Applied stage of the flying training.

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During the course of the Iskra's career with the IAF, they have accumulated over 190,000 Hours of flying. 1,500 trainee pilots from 54 Pilot Course batches were trained over the years and the attrition rate had been quite low. Six aircraft are known to be completely written off in various accidents over the years, two of these were in the hands of Polish pilots doing air tests from Hakimpet. Another nine airframes may have been damaged or written off in Cat E accidents or cannibalised for spares , while atleast one airframe (W-1786) has been relegated to gate guardian duties at the Officers Mess in Hakimpet. The Indian Air Force has been very satisfied with the flight safety record of the Iskra in its current role.

In the late 80s, 24 Iskras were overhauled by Poland. Towards the Mid-90s, The IAF had dispatched as many as 14 Iskra airframes that have completed their total technical life to Poland. These were replaced by freshly overhauled and refurbished aircraft that carried the same serial numbers and were transported back to India. These 'replacement' airframes are the only aircraft to have used a previously used serial number in the IAF's history and were the cause for much confusion to aircraft spotters.

The Last days of the Iskra

In July 96, from the 157 PC onwards, the 'Stage IIA' was implemented. The Stage IIa was introduced to bridge the gap between trainees passing out of the applied stage and joining an Operational Conversion Unit. Newly commissioned pilots were to undertake 94 hours of flying on the Iskra at this stage where they were trained in tactical manoeuvres and applied training that would make the transition to Operational flying easier. In a reversal of opinions about the aircraft, the pilots and technical staff now felt that the Iskra was better suited for the Stage IIa training than the HAL built Kiran. Not only was the cockpit instrumentation bear a resemblance to the MiG-21FL, but the Tandem seating arrangement was useful in preparing the pilots for their future career as fighter pilots. Everyone the correspondent spoke with was unanimous about the Iskra's suitability for the role and the safety and reliability of its engine.

Sqn Ldr Tyagi, an instructor on the Iskra along with an undertrainee Pilot Officer from the 173 Pilot's Course

Following the footsteps of its predecessor, the Vampire, the Iskras were operationally deployed during the Kargil fighting. Aircraft equipped with the front gun and 57mm rockets flew to Srinagar to carry out Anti-UAV missions wherever required. The Iskra was the only armed aircraft that could operate at slow speeds in the constraints of the forward areas. The Kiran MkII with its 7.62mm Machine guns was deemed to be too lightly armed for the role.

The current and last batch that trained with the Iskras was the 173 Pilots Course. 51 Pilots from the course were earmarked for fighter training and commenced their stage IIA training at Hakimpet towards the end of July 04. Of these 36 were allocated to Kiran Mk IIs and 15 were sent to the Iskra stream. In the next 22 weeks that lasted till December 16, 2004, the young Flying Officers, guided by seven Iskra Qualified Flying Instructors (QFIs), logged nearly 1480 hours to complete their syllabus. The Pilots who went to the Kiran stream logged 3475 hours, guided by 14 QFIs.

Sqn Ldr Tyagi,  with the under trainee Fg Offrs of 173 Pilots Course.
Pilot Officer S Singh of 173 PC was one of the last trainees to fly the Iskra during the Phasing out ceremony.

The Chief Instructor on the Iskras is Wing Commander S K Dabral, with about 3215 hours under his belt. Wg Cdr Dabral is a Cat A2 QFI with nearly 1000 hours on the Iskras. The Other QFIs under him have varied flying experience, ranging from 250 to 600 hours on the type and averaging between 1300 to 2300 hours of flying in total.

As the 173 PC began completing its syllabus, it became clear that the days of the Iskras were ending. The engines were nearing their fourth overhaul and frequent checks have thrown up deterioration from within. Even though aircraft airframes had hours available, a decision was taken to withdraw the aircraft as getting the requisite spare engines was deemed to be difficult.


 

 

The Last of the Iskras

By the time the Iskra's were being phased out, there were still 34 Iskras in service. Only about 10 to 12 were in serviceable enough to be flown around, with the rest AOG.

 
W-1791 and W-1772 are the oldest and the newest operative Iskras in the IAF inventory.  While 91 was procured in 1993, "72" arrived in 2000. W-1748 and W-1757 parked in the Hangar.  
W-1744 and W-1792  
W-1755  
W-1759 arrived in February 2000 as a replacement for an earlier aircraft.  
W-1758 seen behind W-1759 has been flown to the IAF Museum in Palam.  
W-1741, W-1759, W1758 and W-1760 lined up at Hakimpet  
Head on view of W-1741  
W-1741 was a replacement for the first Iskra in IAF Service. This aircraft 3H-0903 arrived on 28th October 1996  
W-1760 was another aircraft that took part in the last day flypast as well as at the Passing out parade at Dundigal two days later.  
Ghosts of the Past:  These aircraft have been withdrawn from use, and stored out on the katcha ground.  
More Iskras parked behind the main hangars.  
A wider shot reveals a total of nine unidentified Iskras mothballed and lying behind the main tarmac area. Another eight or so aircraft are stored away at a different place.  

Atleast 27 of the 34 Iskra airframes have been allocated either for preservation or for Ground Instructional duties at various institutions in Training Command. Apart from the aircraft given to the AFA Dundigal, Iskras earmarked for preservations are slated to be sent to the IAF Museum, Palam, HQ Training Command in Bangalore, Station Museum Hakimpet and Flying Instructor School at Tambaram.


The Phase out ceremony

The aircraft was officially phased out on December 16, 2004 at Hakimpet at a solemn ceremony conducted in the afternoon. The Air Officer Commanding, AFS Hakimpet, Air Commodore Rakesh Kacker VM received the Chief Guest for the event, Air Marshal B N Gokhale AVSM VM, Senior Air Staff Officer, Training Command.

The final flypast by three Iskras escorted by two Kiran Mk IIs
As the Iskras approached the dias, the Kirans pulled up and away as the Iskras carried on.

There were five Iskras put up as a static display at the venue. Three Iskras were earmarked for a flypast and two more were on standby. A simple flypast of three Iskras escorted by two Kiran Mk IIs was done after which, the Iskras carried out a head on 'Trishul' (Trident) pass over the dais.

The Iskras pulled away seperately and then approached the saluting stand in a Head on  "Trishul" pass  followed by a peel off. They then finally came in to land.

The Iskras were flown by the three senior most instructors, led by the Chief Instructor (Iskras) Wg Cdr Dabral. Also flying with the three instructors were three Flying Officers of the 173 Pilots Course, which is the last Iskra batch to finish training. After the flypast, all the aircraft landed back and the three aircraft taxied right upto the dais. The Instructors and the pupils got out of the aircraft and then were inspected by the Air Marshal Gokhale. Thus ended the last official 'training' sorties in which Instructors and Pupils flew together in the Iskras.

TS-11 Iskra W-1760 flown by Wg Cdr SK Dabral, Chief Instructor (Iskras) and a Trainee pilot taxies in before the Dias. The crew members then got out for the inspection of the aircraft by the Chief Guest.

Present during the occasion were many ex-Station Commanders who had worked with the Iskra. As the strains of 'Abide by me' were played out by the Army band in the sunset, there were many who felt emotional at the end of an era for the Iskra.

All the future training requirements at Stage IIa will now be done on the Kiran Mk1A aircraft, a predecessor of the Mk II, but flying with a Viper Turbojet engine instead of the Orpheus in the Mk II. All the Iskra QFIs were slated to be either posted out, or due to get converted on the Kiran. All this is an interim measure. The arrival of the Bae Systems Hawk trainer in a few years will set the stage for the Stage IIa training, while the HAL built HJT-36 is all slated to take over the Advanced Flying training at Stage II at Dundigal and Bidar.

Iskra W-1741 is one of the three in the flypast. This aircraft stopped by the left of W-1760 for inspection by the Chief guest.

At the time of this correspondents visit to Hakimpet, atleast 20 of the Iskras were in storage, having been withdrawn from use. Another 14 of the Iskras were deemed operational, even though only ten had the engine hours to fly. For the whole fleet, it was estimated there was only about 30 hours left to utilise. And within this 30 hours, the demands of the rest of the course syllabi, the requirement to do a dress rehearsal for the phasing out ceremony as well as the Combined Graduation Day Parade at neighbouring Dundigal two days later had to be met.

Air Marshal BN Gokhale AVSM VM, SASO Training Command, escorted by Wg Cdr Dabral inspects the parade.
Air Marshal Gokhale and Air Commodore Rakesh Kacker, AOC AFS Hakimpet field answers to reporters questions after the inspection and final phasing out.
One for Posterity: Trainee pilots of 173 Pilots Course who finished their curriculum on the Iskras along with their instructors, AOC and the Chief Guest.

While these were certainly the last 'Instructor-Pupil' training sorties, The Iskras still had some more flying to do. For the Combined Graduation Parade (CGP) at Dundigal which took place two days later on December 18, 2004, , three Iskras led by Wg Cdr Dabral carried out a flypast with split precision, an one of the three Iskras peeled off and landed at Dundigal at the end of the parade, to be permanently consigned for display at the Academy. (The aircraft is W-1741, a 1996 replacement airframe from Poland).

The Iskras followed up with another flypast on two days later on December 18th at the Air Force Academy, Dundigal.

Atleast 27 of the 34 Iskra airframes have been allocated either for preservation or for Ground Instructional duties at various institutions in Training Command. Apart from the aircraft given to the AFA Dundigal, Iskras earmarked for preservations are slated to be sent to the IAF Museum, Palam, HQ Training Command in Bangalore, Station Museum Hakimpet and Flying Instructor School at Tambaram . The last remaining airworthy Iskras would be flown to their final destinations - the serviceable ones going for a Instructional Air Frame duty, the others to be road shipped. Where possible after the Iskras are flown out, a maintenance team will retrieve the engines back to Hakimpet where they shall be re-installed into other serviceable airframes to enable them to do their final flights.


 

Hakimpet - 16th December 2004 - Spotters Report

Final Flypast
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1741  
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1764  
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1760  
HAL Kiran II U-2468  
HAL Kiran II U-2465  
    
Static Display
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1748  
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1744  
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1758  
PZL TS-11 Iskra ??  
PZL TS-11 Iskra ??  
   
Flypast Standby Aircraft
HAL Kiran II U-2487  
HAL Kiran II U-2481  
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1772  
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1792  
PZL TS-11 Iskra W-1767  
  
Other aircraft
HAL Chetak Z-1006 Flying around
HAL Chetak Z-1394 Flying around
HAL Kiran IA U-697  
HAL Kiran IA U-735  
HAL Kiran IA 83  
HAL Kiran IA 73  
HAL Kiran IA 76  
HAL Kiran IA 41  
     
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