Black Archers Command

Wing Commander (Retd) Charlie Fernandez , commissioned in the  51/52 GD(P) in April 50 , flew with Nos 4, 7 and No.47 Squadrons during his career. He has experience in  Spitfires, Tempests, Vampires and finally Toofanis. In this article, he writes about his tenure with the Black Archers - as its second commanding officer.

- Bagdogra, 1963. Sqn Ldr CD Fernandez, CO of No.47 Squadron - The Black Archers.

I was posted to No.4 Squadron at Poona initially from July 1950 to November 1950 to do a conversion on Tempest IIA fighters. When my Course (No.51/52) passed out in April 1950, there were too many pilots for the Conversion & Training Squadron at Ambala to cope with. Therefore I was selected among the first group of seven pilots to do a few hours flying on Spitfires and Tempests, and then we were posted to No.4 Squadron to complete our conversion on Tempest IIa. On completion of conversion we were posted to other Squadrons, three of us winding up in No.7 Squadron which had Spitfires and Vampires ( the first Squadron to have Vampires).

I joined No.7 Squadron in Dec.1950, with S "Sandy" Sanadi and OP "Omi" Taneja after we finished our Tempest conversion in No.4 Squadron. The book Battle Axes mentions that I joined the Squadron along with "Cobra" Tutu. "Cobra Tutu" refers to Fg Offr Mattru Raghava Rao. The Squadron Radio Callsign at the time was "Cobra", and Mattru was given the number "22", therefore his personal callsign was "Cobra 22". The way he used to pronounce it was a source of amusement to all of us and so he was nicknamed "Cobra Tutu".

Pilots of No.7 Squadron during the visit to the Armament Training Wing (ATW) in June 1952.  

La Fontaine, Bertie Weir, Charlie Fernandez, V K Sehgal, Yogi Barman, Sandi Sanadi, Kapil Bhargava standing behind while  O P Taneja, Rusty Palamkote, G K John (CO), Nobby Clark, K M Ram are seated

Pic Courtesy: Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava


While with No.4 Squadron, I served with Samir's father, PC Chopra in No.4 Squadron, at Palam from 22nd January 1959 to 8th October 1959. If I remember correctly, Chopi was a Pilot Officer at that time. Sqn Ldr Aubrey Michael was the CO. The Squadron had Toofani aircraft and two Vampire T11 dual aircraft. It was my return to Squadron service after having spent five years as a Flying Instructor at No.1 Air Force Academy & the Flying Instructors' School.

I was impressed to read the history of No.47 Squadron, and so I should be, because I was the second C.O. of the Squadron, which I was proud to command. As a Squadron Leader I took over command of 'Black Archers' from Sqn Ldr  Denis Lafontaine at Halwara on 16th Apr 1962. Incidentally, both Denis and I belonged to No.51/52 Pilots' Course. During the Indo-Chinese conflict, I moved the Squadron from Halwara to Kalaikunda on 23rd Oct 1962, not in 1961 as stated in the history.

While at Kalaikunda I was given the task of quickly setting up No.17 Wing, Gorakhpur , where it was intended to move the Squadron. I recall being flown to Gorakhpur in a C-119 Packet by Air Cdre  PS Gill (SASO, then EAC with HQ at Calcutta). He landed on the new runway which was incomplete, because the shoulders were not finished. After landing, he had me drive my Jeep out of the aircraft and then said, "Good Luck, you are now on your own!".

I was fortunate to be provided with a good team, and in a short time, starting from scratch, we set up the Wing and had it ready to receive the Squadron.

Our homing device was the weak link, because it was an ancient "Manual Homer" which had been lying in poor storage, and required to be stripped, water emptied from the tubes, dried, and reassembled with improvised seals. I don't know what the situation is like now, but in those days we had to make do with what was supplied to us. As can be imagined, the performance of the "Homer" was very poor.

I returned to Kalaikunda to take an initial detachment of four aircraft to Gorakhpur. For a few days our departure was delayed because of thick dust haze, and the unreliable "Homer". However, Command HQ seemed to have an urgent reason to get us to Gorakhpur, and regardless of the situation, ordered that we take off on 21st June 1963. They provided a Canberra to fly ahead at 20,000 feet to advise on the visibility, which was pointless. The dust-haze was thick and the ground could not be seen until we descended to five thousand feet. Needless to say, the "Homer" was useless !!!!

About six weeks after arrival in Gorakhpur, the entire Squadron was ordered to move to No.20 Wing, Bagdogra, where we arrived on 3rd Aug 1963.

Kalaikunda, 1963. No.47 Squadron.

Seated L to R: AP Shinde, .....?, S Srinivasan, CD Fernandez (CO), SD Mohan, S Subburamu, Mascarenhas.

Standing L to R: Vijay Mayadev, .......?, Potnis, Sanjeev Sahay, Ahuja (Eng Offr) and NL Gupta

- Kalaikunda, 1963. All the Officers and airmen of No.47 Squadron pose for this group shot.

I remember meeting PC Chopra again in October/November, 1963 at Hashimara where No.4 Squadron was stationed, with Toofani aircraft, and was commanded by Sqn Ldr MA Woodfall. At that time I was commanding No.47 Squadron at Bagdogra.  No.4 Squadron originally was stationed at Bagdogra at commencement of the Indo/Chinese war. When they moved to Hashimara, my Squadron (No.47 Squadron) replaced them at Bagdogra.

In January 1964 I led the Republic Day Tri Colour Loop, followed with a Prince of Wales Feathers peel-off, over Rajpath. The two other pilots with me were Flt Lt S Subburamu and Fg Offr NL Gupta. The detatchment of four aircraft went to Palam in January,1964 for this purpose

All Photographs are from Wg Cdr CD Fernandez' personal collection. The No.7 Squadron photograph is from Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava's personal collection.