"Downwind Four Green" - A Book Review

Reviewed by Jagan Pillarisetti

Book Downwind

Sometime ago, the Managing Editor of a National Newspaper lamented the dearth of well researched books  related to Indian Military History across all the three branches of the armed forces. The sad conclusion that was reached by this reviewer  was that the article was mostly right.  In recent years, the armed forces and some of the authors are more interested in bringing out glossy coffee table books than any works of good historical research.  This trend is more prevalent when you notice that various units, whether Army, Air Force or Navy, in trying to commemorate milestones like their Golden Jubilee  or Diamond Jubilee of their existence, have succumbed to the practice of bringing out 'Histories' that are actually smaller version of Coffee Table Books, thin on substance and on research.

Fortunately this practice is a little less prevalent in the field of  "Aircraft Histories". The aircraft histories tend to have a better foundation in terms of coverage of events, units and personnel. A beginning has been achieved with the publication of histories on the HAL Gnat and the HAL HF-24 Marut. Both the books had been commissioned by HAL as part of a broader event commemorating 50 years of induction and are replete with veteran stories, technical details and photographs.

However setting a high bar in this field in research, coverage and authority is a surprising history of a Naval Jet Fighter in the service of Indian Naval Aviation. This history, titled "Downwind Four Green"  by Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (Retd) covers the history of the Hawker Sea Hawk naval jet fighter in the service of the Indian Naval Air Arm. The book is a wonderful tribute to the aircraft, put together by a veteran pilot who not only had over a 1000 flying hours on the type, but also the distinction of commanding the very unit that operated this type.

The result of the effort is impressive. The book has first person contributions from dozens of Navy veterans who were associated with it. Through them you learn interesting stories involving the aircraft, like the case of a Naval Surgeon/Doctor who not only completed flying training but also became “Deck Landing Qualified” (DLQ) on the Sea Hawk, or that of the Naval rating who ‘stole’ a Sea Hawk for a joy ride!. Stories of the aircraft procurement, ferry flights, deployments and operations in the 1971 war sum up the entire career of this aircraft and the important personalities who flew, maintained and commanded them. An important chapter in this book relates to the part played by India’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant and by the Sea Hawk aircraft, during the formation of Bangla Desh in 1971. The details of their participation, with facts and reviews by those who were an integral part of this war, are of great historical value.  Rare photographs of the aircraft and aircrew, facsimiles of documents and records round up the detailed coverage.

Where the book departs from a ‘typical’ history book is the way it treats the individual aircraft.  Whereas in many histories, aircraft are treated as a nameless piece of equipment, the author had taken the pains of ‘identifying’ every aircraft and its career in the Indian Navy.  This is the first ever in the Indian market, that  individual airframes have had their stories told.  The appendices has a section in which every individual airframe’s potted history is provided.

The book chalks up another first when it documents all individual surviving airframes that are currently preserved around the country and in some cases sets the record straight on the misidentifying numbers that were painted on them. Add to this a roster list of all the Naval pilots who are qualified on the Sea Hawk as well as  a list of Sea Hawk Accidents and Incidents in service.

This level of detail was previously seen only in books bought out in the west, especially by authors in Great Britain. That an Indian Author had attempted this amount of detail is not only commendable but worth emulating over and over again.  If more Indian authors follow this example, then the British are going to have tough competition in their aircraft histories!.

At the risk of repeating myself, what was bowled me over is his treatment of individual airframes and tracing the history of each tail number. This is the type of history I love to read and this book does not disappoint.

The book does suffer a bit in its type setting and layout  - which appears a little out of style, compared to more slickly produced books from other publishers. However at best, this is a small distraction and should not take away anything from the overall quality of research.


Photographs  : 246

Maps/Diagrams/Sketches : 47

Tables giving important data about Seahawks (Not only Indian Navy Seahawks, but of all the navies which flew them) : 37

No of articles/inputs compiled from other Naviators : 57

An Appendix giving exhaustive data about Indian Navy Seahawks.

An Appendix explaining important naval/special terms and abbreviations.


Ordering Details :

Price : Rs 1300/-

(£ 25 / $40)

(Postage extra at actual)