63 Pilots Course

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Commencement : January 1953
Commissioned : 17th July 1954
Trained at : No.2 Air Force Academy, Jodhpur
Conversion Training Unit, Hakimpet (Fighters)
Conversion and Training Squadron, Agra (Transports)
Intake : Unknown
Output :
55  (33 to fighters, 22 to Transports)
Commission Numbers : 4707 GD(P) to 4761 GD(P)  (Listing)

No.2 Air Force Academy, Jodhpur

It was on a cold January day that we reached Jodhpur Railway station via Phulera Jn., where we had to wait a couple of hours to connect with the medium- gauge train. A Rajasthani meal at the station restaurant of spicy hot potato curry and hot chapatis costed only a rupee and a quarter. There were 16 of us, freshly graduated from the National Defense Academy at Clement Town, Dehradun. We had completed two years as the Air Force cadets of No.5 Course, NDA.

We formed the nucleus of the first experimental glider training course as the starting point of our ab-initio pilot’s training. I remember that all our instructors were kind and laid back types, quite a contrast to the very rigid army discipline that we were used to in NDA. Amongst the names that I can remember are Flt Lts Goodman, Ezekiel, Hemant Chitnis, Nirmal Singh, N S Bajwa , with Sqn. Ldr. Ronnie Engineer, DFC as CFI and Wg. Cdr. Massilamani as CI.

Pilot Officers of 63 Pilots Course who went for Fighter Conversion training at Conversion Training Unit, Hakimpet on 26th July 1954.

Top Row, Standing L to R (All ranks Pilot Officers): Jamdar SS, KP Singh, MM Lal, PK Dutta, AB Lamba, B Kalyan Ram, NM Puri, A Chatterji, PS Bajekal, NJ Balchandani, OP Mathur, A Sridharan, SP Khanna, RN Dogra, OP Gupta, SK Kaul, KC Khanna, MC Malhotra, R Gupta, RK Dhawan
Middle Row, Standing L to R  (All ranks Pilot Officers): RD Jayan, MS Bhatnagar, Batra, TPS Gill, AJ Sandhu, RD Pant, Tyagi, PK Banerjee , IS Bhasin, RP Singh, NC Chaudhuree, KB Manyam, AG Bhaskar, AK Rawlley, AK Sen, AA Bose, CK Bali
Bottom Row, Sitting L to R: F/L DL Chadhuri, F/L BK Kapur, F/L AJ Chacko, F/L I Ezekiel, F/L KN Jha, F/L OP Taneja, F/L Bharat Singh, F/L Sukhjinder Singh, Sqn Ldr PK Senapati (CFI) , W/C CG Devasher (CI) , S/L Kanvar Singh (OC Flying) , S/L Gian Singh (STO), F/L RD Law, F/L PM Wilson, F/L AR Anand, F/O JN Jatar, F/L Hassan, F/L WM Goodman, F/L LN Vaish

No.59 Pilot’s course was barely two weeks away from receiving their wings and their juniors, the No.61 Course did not give us a hard time. Within two months, we were joined by another 32 + direct-entry flight cadets and our basic flight training started on Percival Prentice aircraft.

l remember Rono Gupta (later AVM) and O.P.Mathur were ready to go solo after barely 3 hours of dual instruction and eventually flew solo after 4 hours or so. Maybe the training on the primary gliders were really effective or they were just natural-born flyers . O.P.Mathur had his brilliant career cut short when he died in a flying accident at Empire Test Pilot’s School in the UK.

Advanced Flight Training was on Harvard II B and it was not unusual to hear the ATC siren blaring at least once every week indicating some unfortunate cadet having swung off the runway on his landing run. It was a proud day on the 17th. July 1954 when Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee pinned our wings on our chests with the advice to remember the date as a special event.

Pilot Officers in civvies from July 1954.

Back Row L to R: Anindyo Chatterjee, Swaroop Kishen Kaul (Later Air Chief Marshal, MVC), OP Mathur, KC Khanna.

Front Row L to R: Rono Gupta (later AVM), MM Lal, RN Dogra (later VrC), A Sridharan

Since that day, 51 years have passed and yet some memories are very fresh, even to this day.

Of those who were commissioned on that day, 55 were pilots while three were sent to the Navigation branch. 36 of the pilots went to Hakimpet for fighter training, three of them were sent back to Transport training (myself included!).

Plt Offr PS Bajekal, who was awarded the Majithia trophy earlier died in a flying accident at Hakimpet in 1954. Others to have lost their lives to flying accidents during service are : OP Malhotra, Dumbo Banerjee, OP Gupta, SK Chhabra, KP Singh, RK Chanda, Ajit Rawlley (in 1965 Ops), PM Takle and OP Mathur.  PM Takle lost his life over Gorakhpur when his aircraft collided with his wingman, thereby cutting short the life of one who always topped the list in any training course that he did  in his service career. At the time of his death he was commanding No.16 Squadron.

The fighter conversion was being done in two streams. Spitfire Mk XVIII and  DH Vampires. I was found slow on the uptake and joined the Transport stream without much loss in time.  A total of 20 pilots converted to the venerable C-47 Dakotas, including P M Takle who passed out with the Sword of Honour at Jodhpur. The batch included three pilots from the 64 PC.

My entire Transport flying was done with No.11 Squadron in Barrackpore. We had a detachment operating out of Jorhat in Assam, doing aerial Supply Dropping in Naga Hills and erstwhile NEFA(Now Arunachal Pradesh). Flying Canberra bombers was my life’s dream-come-true and prepared me for a long and accident-free career in aviation. I did a second tenure in the same sector as a Flight Commander in No.43 Squadron based at Jorhat in 1967/68 before joining Air-India in July, 1968.

Some of us who went to transport were to become pilots in Air India and flew Boeing 707s and Boeing 747-300s. They were  R Sharma, myself, KM Balasubramanian, K Natarajan, PK Kaul and PK Dutta. NJ Balchandani , though from the fighter stream,  flew B-707 with Air-India and B-747s with Singapore Airlines. I also served with Saudi Arabian Airlines for 5 years.

First Batch of 63rd Course Transport Pilots at the C&T Squadron, Agra.

All Pilot Officers, Back Row from Left : PK Kaul, NP Singh, PM Takle, MS Muthuswami, AS Mendanha. Seated from Left : KN Natarajan, C RamaRao, DA Mankikar, Chandrasekhar, PS Devgan.

Second Batch of 63rd Course and 64th Course Transport Pilots at the C&T Squadron, Agra.

All Pilot Officers, Back Row L to R : Dumbo Banerjee, Chhabra, MM Lal, R Sharma, Ramachandran, A.G.Bhasker

Front row L to R : AK Jain, MM Batra (both 64th course), MR Johar, A Chatterjee (The author) , Nagar, IR Sonpar (64 course).

Having trained during peace time to be prepared for war if the need arises, we were lucky to have participated in two shooting wars. I am proud that my course has the distinction of many gallantry award recipients (1 MVC and 5 VrC). Air Chief Marshal SK Kaul MVC was the Chief of Air Staff and General BC Joshi (deceased) was the Chief of Army Staff (5th Course, NDA Amongst my Army course mates there are 4 recipients of MVC and 5 VrCs.

The Grand Golden Jubilee Reunion of 5th Course, NDA and 14th Course Indian Military Academy was held over four days in late December, 2004 at the Alma Mater of the Army officers in IMA, DehraDun. I was the sole IAF representative, while Vice Admiral Koppikar and Cdre SR Varma  provided the Indian Navy presence. The tragic death of  Air Chief Marshal SK Kaul’s daughter, who was valiantly fighting cancer for several years prevented him to make the trip to DehraDun.

I may mention in passing that currently I lecture on Indian Temple Art and Sculpturs and cover Mythology and Philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Life has come full circle!!

Pilot Officer Swaroop Kishen Kaul in 1954. Later to be Air Chief Marshal.

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