Air Cmde Chibbar’s tribute to K J S Goli Gill – who pushed his pilots to their limits in training.
I hadn’t seen the inside of a fighter aircraft ever since I had left the Hawks at Hasimara in Aug 1974. In May 1974 Wing Commander Indru Shahani, our Commanding Officer, was posted to Air Headquarters in the Personnel Directorate. Within a few days of his assuming his new appointment, the Hawks received a signal message vide which I had been posted from the Gnat squadron to the Eighth Pursoots, a MiG 21 FL Squadron at Poona (now Pune). I was thrilled. Not only was I going to be flying the Type 77 aircraft but Poona was my hometown too! Amidst this excitement, I arrived at Poona in August 1975. The Squadron was Commanded by Wing Commander AT “Chimpy” Thakur.
I was sent to Chandigarh for a short course on the theoretical aspects of the Type 77 which included a study of the systems, engine, instruments and avionics of the delta wing aircraft. On completion of the theory, I was detailed to undergo simulator training on the Type Simulator located at Chandigarh itself. On completion I returned to Poona, raring to get airborne in the MiG 21 aircraft. My excitement was short-lived since the squadron’s trainer aircraft (Type 66) was unserviceable. This meant that my conversion training would be delayed. However, Air Headquarters was keeping a tab and, in April 1975, attached me to a Type 77 squadron at Bareilly for the conversion. Thus, I landed up at the Flying Daggers squadron and reported to the Flight Commander, Squadron Leader VM “Roundy” Raina. He was expecting my arrival. He called for Squadron Leader KJS “Goli” Gill and gave him the responsibility of completing my conversion at the earliest.
Squadron Leader Gill gave me a “Gen Test” which had questions on aircraft systems and emergency procedures. Having passed the test, he took me to the trainer aircraft for a “blindfold” test. This entailed being blindfolded and pointing out instruments and levers in the cockpit on his command. This test too was successfully cleared. Now I was ready to be taken up for the dual checks. The conversion syllabus comprised eleven sorties of which the first four were dual sorties in a Type 66 aircraft. I was detailed to fly the pre-solo dual checks with the Flight Commander, who was a Qualified Flying Instructor. Over the next three days, I flew with Squadron Leader “Roundy” Raina, who demonstrated all the nuances of a delta wing aircraft. Each sortie culminated with circuits and approaches and a landing. Satisfied with my performance, he informed the Commanding Officer (CO), Wing Commander Mazumdar, that he would be flying a solo check sortie with me.
Next morning, I was all ready and a bit nervous to be flying with the CO. However, all my apprehensions were put to rest by the gentle manner in which Muzzy Sir, as he was fondly referred to in the squadron, briefed me for the sortie. The sortie was uneventful and the CO, satisfied with my performance, cleared me to fly solo in the Type 77 aircraft. So now I was back with Squadron Leader Goli Gill. Again, a series of tests of checks and procedures, and, emergency actions were conducted. Another blindfold test in the fighter aircraft and I was ready to go.
Donning the anti-g suit and carrying the helmet, I signed the flight authorization book and strode towards the aircraft. After the preliminaries, I started the aircraft, taxied out and proceeded towards the runway. Quick check of all pre-takeoff actions, I lined up on clearance from the Air Traffic Controller and was soon airborne. The sortie was uneventful. Over the next 3-4 days I flew the Type 77 and familiarized myself with the handling characteristics of the aircraft. The last two sorties of the conversion syllabus were IFSS (Instrument Flying Sheep Shepherd). This meant that I would be flying a Type 77 as the sheep and another pilot in a Type 77 would be the shepherd i.e. I would fly on instruments while the shepherd would look out for any obstructions or aircraft in my path. The first of the sorties was flown without any issues. The next day was to be the final sortie of my conversion syllabus. In anticipation, I had reserved a berth on the train to Poona, which departed Bareilly in the evening.
Next morning, when I woke up, I was in for a shock. The weather had deteriorated overnight. The airfield had poor visibility and low clouds. The Met Officer predicted that such conditions would prevail for almost the full day. I was crestfallen but had no choice. The Flight Commander came to the crew room and informed me that there would be some delay. It was then that Squadron Leader Goli Gill got and spoke with Roundy Raina that as soon as the visibility improved, I could be cleared for the sortie. Roundy turned towards him and gave a look that said “are you crazy?” Continuing his arguments, Goli followed Roundy to the latter’s office. Goli Gill knew that I was planning to leave for Poona in the evening. I quickly slipped out and followed them but stopped short of entering the office. I overheard the following conversation:
Goli Gill (GG): Roundy, I will be the shepherd, let the sortie go.
Roundy Raina (RR): No Goli, he is unrated and the weather conditions are for Master Green.
GG: I will be responsible. I will bring him back, I promise you.
RR: No way. It’s not safe.
GG: Roundy, trust me. I will ensure that there is no problem. I WILL BRING HIM BACK!
Some discussion took place between the two which I could not hear. Suddenly, Goli Gill emerged from the office and seeing me said “We are on. Let’s go!”
Soon he briefed me for the sortie and we signed the flight authorization book. I noticed that Goli Gill had signed in the column “Flight Commander Authorizing the Flight”. Soon we were airborne. At about 500 metres we entered clouds and broke out at two kilometres altitude. Goli Gill was in close formation with me! The exercise was uneventful till we rejoined circuit. The clouds were still low and so was the visibility. Flying the circuit at 500 metres, Goli Gill remained in close formation and kept on passing instructions to me to “commence turn on to downwind; lower undercarriage; turn to base leg; lower flaps; turn on to finals”. On final approach, he asked me if I could see the runway. My response was “Negative” since I could not see it. He asked me to reduce power and descend at 10 metres per second on the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI). He kept asking me at every 100 metres of descent if I could see the runway. I finally spotted the runway, 12 0’clock to me at about 150 metres. “Go ahead and land,” Goli Gill said as he overshot me. My landing was uneventful.
After completing my post-landing checks at the dispersal, I waited for Goli Gill to come and switch off. Both of us reached the flight office to see Roundy Raina standing in the verandah with a big grin. “I told you I will bring him back, and here he is”, Goli Gill said pointing towards me.
Both Roundy Raina and Goli Gill signed my log book as having completed the conversion training, and I returned to Poona by the evening train.
P.S. On that eventful day, the CO was out of the station. Therefore, Squadron Leader Raina was the Officiating CO with Squadron Leader Gill as the officiating Flight Commander.
Air Commodore Ashok Dharam Chhibar (12118) F (P) was commissioned on 30 Aug 69 in the Flying Branch of the IAF. Throughout his distinguished service, he has held a variety of Staff and Command appointments. These include command of a fighter squadron, which was declared best in the IAF, and an operational air base. He served on the directing staff at the College of Air Warfare and as Chief Instructor at the Air Force Academy. As Air-1 of South Western Air Command, credit goes to him for smooth conduct of the highly acclaimed Fire Power demonstration at Pokhran range in 1998 & 1999. He is a Qualified Flying Instructor and a graduate of Defence Services Staff College and has flown over 4500 hours on various aircraft. He was commended by the Chief of the Air Staff in 1986 and by the Air Officers Commanding-in-Chief of Central and Training Commands.