The Indian Air Force in Iraq

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One of the lesser known episodes of the IAF’s involvement with foreign air forces was its role in training Iraqi Air Force pilots in the 70s and 80s. For the first time on record, Air Marshal Rajkumar writes about his two year Instructional stint in Iraq.

One of the lesser known episodes of the IAF’s involvement with foreign air forces was its role in training Iraqi Air Force pilots in the 70s and 80s. For the first time on record, Air Marshal Rajkumar writes about his two year Instructional stint in Iraq.

Map of Iraq and the airfields from which the author flew during his deputation from 1981 to 1983. The airfields (left to right) represented by the icons were H-3, H-2 and Tikrit View Larger Map

Geography and Population

Iraq, successor to ancient Mesopotamia, was carved out of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. To the West of the country is Jordan while Syria is to the Northwest. Turkey lies to the North and Iran to the East. To the South are the tiny state of Kuwait and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates flow from the Northwest to the Southeast of the country and drain into the Shatt al Arab waterway at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. The Northeast of the country is mountainous while the area to the West of the Euphrates is largely a desert. The capital, Baghdad, is located in the centre of the country, on the banks of the Tigris. Agriculture is practiced in the fertile region between the two rivers. The country is blessed with large reserves of over 100 billion barrels of oil. Two principal ethnic groups, Arabs and Kurds, formed the population of approx 12 million when I went there in 1981, with four million living in Baghdad alone. The main religion was Islam while three per cent of the population was Christian. The Muslims were divided into 35% minority Sunni and 60% majority Shia communities. It was a secular country with a low crime rate and very good law and order.

Recent History

When Iraq was formed in 1932, a Hashemite monarchy was established with King Faisal I as the head of government. Britain occupied Iraq in 1941 and handed over to King Faisal II in 1947. Iraq became a member state of the US supported Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) pact (also known as the Baghdad pact) which was formed in 1955 to contain the supposedly expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union. The monarchy was overthrown in a military coup led by Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qasim on July14, 1958. He withdrew Iraq from CENTO and almost immediately thereafter made it a non-aligned.nation. Qasim was overthrown by Colonel Aref in 1963 and the Baathist revolution took place in 1968. Sadaam Hussein became the President of Iraq in 1979. After Iraq became a member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), the Soviet Union became the principal supplier of military hardware for Iraq’s armed forces. MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets, Antonov and Ilyushin transports and Mil helicopters appeared in the skies over Iraq.

Involvement of the Indian Air Force

From 1958 to 1989 the Indian Air Force provided flying instructors to train Iraqi cadets at the flying academy at Tikrit and to conduct operational fighter, transport and helicopter conversion at other bases. In the beginning only Qualified Flying Instructors (QFI’s) were deputed to the Iraqi Air Force. In 1970, the Iraqis made a request for Pilot Attack Instructors (PAI’s) to be sent and a number of them went in the 70’s. By the late 70’s the IAF had trained Fighter Combat Leaders (FCL’s) and offered these officers to the Iraqis instead of PAI’s who were no longer available since the PAI school had closed down following the formation of the Tactics and Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) in the early ’70s. The period of deputation was two years during which they were paid by the Iraqi exchequer. The Iraqi dinar was a strong currency and in 1981, one Iraqi dinar was worth 3.3 USD. A deputation to Iraq was a much sought after posting as the officers could save much more during those two years than they could in a decade back home!

My Deputation

In 1978 I completed the FCL course at TACDE and assumed command of a Mikoyan and Gurevich, MiG-21M (Type 96) squadron towards the end of the year. I finished my command tenure in 1980 and in September 1981, found myself in a batch of eight FCL instructors bound for Iraq which flew from Delhi to Baghdad by an Iraqi Airways flight on October 3, 1981. The Iraqis had authorized first class travel and that was a ‘first’ for all of us and our families. We landed at the Sadaam Hussein International Airport (as it was then known) in the early hours of the next morning and were driven straight to the Tikrit base, 135 miles North of Baghdad, in a coach. We were posted to No 27 Squadron, Iraqi Air Force which was the MiG-21 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) located there. The unit was originally based at Rashid Air Base on the outskirts of Baghdad but had been moved north to Tikrit because of the Iran-Iraq war which was already a year old when we arrived. The war seemed far away because life went on normally and no one on the street appeared to be affected by it.

Tikrit Air Base

Tikrit air base was primarily the home of the Iraqi Air Force Academy and boasted a 10000 feet runway, three hangars, a large dispersal and a number of dispersed hardened concrete shelters for fighter aircraft. Housing for about 200 officers and a large number of cadets and airmen was available. Basic flying training was being conducted on the Czechoslovak (it was one country then!) Aerovodochody L-29 and the cadets then did their advanced training on the L-39 made by the same company. After the L-39 stage the cadets received their commission, and those earmarked for fighters reported to the MiG-21 OCU.

We reached Tikrit at dawn, bleary eyed not having slept too well during the flight and coach ride. We were taken to fully furnished houses and left to fend for ourselves. Fortunately about 40 Indian Air Force officers, all QFIs, were already there and we were taken good care of by them till we settled down. We had hardly unpacked when Lt Col Riad, the squadron commander came over and requested us to report for flying duties the next day! He explained that a batch of 15 cadets had to complete their operational syllabus and graduate by October 25, 1981 as frontline squadrons wanted pilots badly because of the ongoing Iran-Iraq war. There had been a lull in their training after the last batch of Indian instructors had left the previous month.

Instructional Flying Begins

The IAF had insisted on a full medical examination in India before we left and the Iraqis did not put us through one of their own. We reported to the squadron the next day and were briefed about the aircraft operated by the squadron, the local flying area, emergency procedures and the training syllabus by Major Raad, the second in command. We met a Pakistan Air Force instructor who was on deputation to the Iraqi Air Force like us. He was Wing Commander Cecil Choudhary, a Christian officer, who was a decorated hero of the Indo-Pak wars of September 1965 and December 1971. The language of instruction was to be Englsh.

The squadron had about a dozen Type-69 trainers with a periscope for the instructor at the rear and powered by the R-11 F2S-300 engine. The dozen or so single seaters were MiG-21 PFM’s powered by the same engine. All aircraft were parked in hardened concrete shelters with huge steel doors and a small apron in front. We later learnt that these shelters had been built by a Spanish construction firm. Next we were issued with our flying kit consisting of a RAF flying overall and jacket, Russian ‘g’suit, French flying boots, gloves, Russian helmet with integral mask, and a Breitling pilot’s watch.

The following day I got airborne in a Type-69 with another Indian instructor and the two of us were struck by the starkness of the countryside in our local flying area to the West of the base. Miles and miles of open desert with the occasional blacktopped road cutting across the area was all that we could see. Slightly to the South there was the huge Tharthar lake which had been artificially created by diverting some of the waters of the Tigris into a natural depression in the desert. The Tigris flowed to the East of our area of operations and cultivation had created a green belt running Northwest to Southeast. With these two prominent features etched in our memory we returned to base and attended a briefing for the trainee officers on low level bombing attacks at 460 knots (850 kmph) at 500 feet (150 meters) Above Ground Level (AGL) for retarded bomb delivery. With this minimal preparation we were ready to start instructional flying with our students the following day!

My first trainee was Lt Ahmed and I briefed him for the bombing exercise. He nodded gravely and I had no idea how much he had understood. We went tearing across the countryside at 405 knots (750 kmph ) at 1000 feet (300 meters) AGL in a Type 69 to look for the bombing range on the West bank of the Tigris, about 20 miles East of our base. Why transit at 1000 feet AGL when a higher height of 5000 feet would have made life easier? “Because of the war” I was told! The range was only cleared for dropping 220 pound (100kg) practice bombs as it was in a populated area and did not seem to have the safety zones we were used to in India. We found the range without much difficulty, dropped two bombs in level passes and returned. My impression was that Lt Ahmed’s comprehension of instructions imparted in English was poor. All other trainees would have the same problem. The first lesson I learned was that I would have to spend a lot of time briefing and debriefing trainees on the ground if they were to derive any benefit from my teaching in the air.

A week later we started night flying. I did a mutual sortie with an Indian colleague and then got airborne with Lt Akeel. Flying a MiG-21 on a moonless night was always a demanding task and with a trainee over featureless desert, more so. Spatial disorientation could easily set in with no clearly defined horizon visible over the dark desert and I was ever ready to take over controls and engage the auto-pilot in case my student showed any signs of abnormal behaviour. There was literally one bright side to the story. When the MiG-21s first arrived in India in the late1960’s we did approaches on runways lit only with kerosene flares called goose necks. There was no approach aid like the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) radar or Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) available and for some strange reason our seniors had briefed us not to use the landing lights for landing .We used to arrive over the concrete at a height of about 20 feet (6metres) at 180 knots (340 kmph) and flare for landing looking at only the flare path to judge height above the runway. This Eyeballs Mk1 only approach, flare out and touchdown required a great deal of skill and concentration. This was because of the high rate of descent on final approach of 2000 ft/min (8-10 mtrs/sec) and poor forward visibility from the cockpit. Here at Tikrit we could call for illumination of the touchdown zone by a very bright light called the ‘Projector’. This was a truck mounted searchlight parked slightly to the left of the runway, 1000 feet from the beginning. The light pointed away from the approach to avoid blinding the pilot. With the ground clearly visible to judge flare out height and touchdown much of the terror of a dark night landing disappeared! We were told that each student officer should fly four dual sorties but we did not have to send them solo in the fighter. After flying four duals with Lt Akeel I flew four more with Lt Mohamed. I managed to bring both trainees to the ready for solo stage by allowing them to fly the aircraft all the way down to just short of touchdown when I would take over and execute a go around.

The training progressed rapidly and soon we were flying four aircraft formations with one instructor in the lead, another instructor as deputy lead and two trainees as wingmen. I had the unusual experience of flying in four aircraft formations with the PAF pilot, Cecil Choudhary. After the tactical formation phase we started teaching air combat manoeuvres leading to 1vs1 dogfights. We used to start the engagement at 26500 feet (8km) altitude and break off at 6600 feet (2km) above the desert. Exactly 21 days after we started flying we completed the training syllabus for the 15 trainees and they left for operational squadrons. I had flown 54 sorties in three weeks which was a flying start to my stint in Iraq.

President Sadaam Hussein’s Visit

About a fortnight after our arrival in Tikrit, the base was visited by Sadaam Hussein, the President of Iraq. He came to our hangar (which we shared with the L-39 squadron) with his entourage. Iraqi Air Force officers, airmen, trainees and foreign instructors from both squadrons formed a circle around the President. He came around and shook hands with each foreign instructor. He then addressed the gathering in Arabic which we could not follow. His personal bodyguards stood inside the circle facing us with their AK-47’s at the ready. It was an intimidating sight to say the least! There were nearly 100 foreign instructors and technicians at the base. Indians and Russians formed the majority with a few Czechoslovaks, Jordanians, Egyptians and the lone Pakistani officer. After the President left we returned to the squadron to resume flying when we were told that the President had given a gift of 1000 Iraqi dinars (USD 3300/-or Rs 30000/-) and a gents and a ladies watch to each instructor and his wife. We were very happy to hear about this unexpected windfall! That evening we assembled in the auditorium of the Academy and the Mayor of Tikrit handed over the gifts to all the instructors and their wives. Alas, as IAF officers, we were not allowed to accept gifts, especially cash, from anyone and we dutifully reported the gifts received to our Air Attache in Baghdad. He in turn informed Air Hq in Delhi. After a while we were told to deposit the money received with the Indian Embassy and keep the two watches. The watches had the Iraqi state emblem and Sadaam Hussein’s signature on the dial and were ordered from Universal Geneve of Switzerland. I have attached a photo of my wife’s watch which she still has but for the life of me I cannot remember what I did with mine!

MiG-21 Snag Rectification

Over the next three months we hardly flew because there were no trainees to train! We air tested aircraft as they completed scheduled maintenance checks and did some mutual instructional training amongst ourselves. As I was a test pilot with over 1500 hours of MiG-21 experience the squadron commander asked me to help out with snag rectification. A particular trainer had a problem with fuel transfer from the wing tanks. The Iraqis had changed a number of components to no avail. I asked for a detailed description of the snag and then had a look at the fuel system diagram in the maintenance manual. Since both wing tanks were not transferring fuel it had to be a common point failure which affected both tanks. I identified a valve which accepted feed from both tanks and asked them to replace it. It was common sense and not rocket science! Presto! the snag disappeared and my stock rose in the squadron! For the rest of my stay the maintenance personnel regularly consulted me for snag rectifications and we became good friends.

Kuwait and Domestic Chores

We went to Kuwait in January 1982 and bought ourselves new Japanese cars which were far cheaper there. This was a special privilege given to foreigners in the country and Iraqi citizens had to pay a high price in local currency. Iraqi customs procedures were cumbersome and we had to drive down to Baghdad a few times before we could get the cars registered and insured. As for the home front there was absolutely no help available and we had to chip in and help our wives with domestic chores. A few wives got together and ran a school for our children which followed the Indian syllabus. Social life was pretty hectic within the Indian community. Friday was the weekly holiday and every Thursday night there would be a social evening organized by one of the 45 Indians living on the base. We even had frequent visits from our helicopter friends at the K2 base, 50 km north of Tikrit and from the Sukhoi 7 instructors who lived in Baghdad. Cecil Chaudhary was a regular visitor to our homes. He was a confident, gregarious person who loved his whisky and cigarettes and had an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes about life in Pakistan to keep us engaged. Some of the Czechoslovak engineers and Russian instructors participated in these social gatherings. The Iraqi officers never interacted with us socially. I was not able to find out whether they were ordered not to or it was because they followed conservative Islamic customs which forbade them from mixing with the Indian ladies.

The Second Batch

At the end of January 82 we were told that a big batch of trainees would be arriving shortly. 25 eager, fresh faced youths reported on February 01, 1982 and I was given charge of two of them to send solo in the MiG-21. My students were Lts Salaam and Hussain. After flying nine duals with each of them I sent them solo but I had to sweat a lot, briefing and debriefing them on the ground. This was mainly because of their poor knowledge of English. I learnt the Arabic equivalents for commonly used aviation terms like height, speed, direction, engine temperature, undercarriage and flaps. This did help a bit till I discovered a better solution. Nearly half the batch of trainees had done their basic flying training in France and had spent two full years there. Their French was far better than their English! As I was a graduate of the French Ecole du Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Reception (EPNER) as the test pilots school was called, my French was passable and whenever I flew with a French trained officer I instructed him in French with very good results. So here was an Indian instructor teaching an Iraqi student in French to fly a Russian aircraft! That was globalization long before the word became fashionable! Training flying continued at a rapid pace and three sorties per day by each instructor was the norm. After all the trainees went solo we taught them aerobatics, close formation, medium level and high level navigation, tactical formation at both low and high level and radar handling. Sortie durations were short- typically 35-40 minutes. The trainees were quite happy with our teaching style and as their English improved their assimilation became better.

MiG-21 F-13

One day in March 1982, the squadron commander called me and said the squadron had received six MiG-21F-13’s (Type-74s) after being overhauled in the Soviet Union. No Pilots Manual in English was available. He did not want the trainees to fly these aircraft and as I was a test pilot he wanted me to fly the first sortie on that type and then brief the other instructors. I had never flown the F-13s in India and was happy to get an opportunity to fly this early model MiG-21. I went and had a look at the cockpit and the ejection seat. After familiarizing myself with the layout, I asked for a power cart and a hydraulic truck called an ‘Opega’ to be connected. I wanted to ensure that the switch which controlled emergency closure of the afterburner nozzle functioned in the same manner as it did in the Type-69 and PFM versions. It did and I started up, crept out of the pen slowly to get used to the feel of the brakes, reached the runway and took off. The aircraft handled superbly and its performance was livelier than that of the PFM. The approach and landing did not pose any problems. I briefed the other Indian instructors and all of them felt that as far as control forces and harmony between the stabilator and ailerons were concerned it was the best version they had flown. As long as we were in the squadron we never saw an Iraqi pilot flying them. I experienced only one emergency on this type. During a sortie when I lowered flaps on base leg for landing, the aircraft rolled viciously to the left. I immediately raised the flaps and carried out a flapless landing which meant coming in over the beginning of the runway at 195 knots (360 kmph) instead of the usual 180 knots (340kmph). Tikrit had a long runway and I had no problem stopping the aircraft. The tail numbers of the six aircraft I flew were 526, 527, 531, 533, 536 and 537. I flew 71 sorties on this beautiful product from the MiG stable between March 22, 1982 and August 24, 1983.

Iraqi-F-13-800.jpg (19336 bytes)

Color profile of a  MiG-21 F-13 (Type-74) in Iraqi Air Force colors – This illlusration is by Victor Klimov from the Aerofax book MiG-21 by Bill Gunston and Yefim Gordon. Image Courtesy : MiG-21 by Yefim Gordon and Bill Gunston

Graduation Function

In May and June 1982 we did air combat training which consisted of tail chase, .I vs I dogfights and 2 vs 2 pair engagements with the trainees flying as wingmen. We did K-13 air to air live missile firing in the trainer aircraft and taught our pupils the importance of putting the relight switch ‘on’ before firing as the R-11 engine was prone to surge and flame out due to missile plume ingestion. Air to ground armament training consisting of bombing, live firing of 2 ¼ inch (57mm) unguided rockets and strafing exercises with the pod mounted 0.5 inch (12.7mm )gun was the final phase which we completed by the end of June. There was a graduation function at the Rashid Air Base in Baghdad at which the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohmmad Jesam Hinnish presented certificates to the graduating students. President Sadaam Hussein had decided that the Iraqi State would gift each graduating officer a brand new Toyota Camry car. No such luck for the instructors! I drew satisfaction from the fact that I had flown 286 sorties in a period of five months.

On the whole the trainees achieved an average standard of tactical flying skills. Some of them who came from a rural background took longer to grasp the finer points of flying which was compounded by their poor knowledge of English. Basic flying skills they certainly had but I was not too sure how much of tactics and strategy they understood. If they were properly motivated and led they had the potential to acquit themselves creditably in operations.

The Third Batch

After a fortnight’s break the next batch of 12 trainees reported to the unit in mid July 1982. I was assigned a shy young trainee Lt Raad Ali. He was soft spoken, polite and his English was reasonable. Unfortunately he was diffident in the air and lacked that element of verve and élan which are the hallmarks of a good fighter pilot. After some difficulty I sent him solo in the fighter but I was uneasy. I discussed his case with the new squadron commander, Lt Col Abbas, and told him that in my considered opinion Lt Raad Ali’s training should be terminated and he should be sent to fly either transport aircraft or helicopters. He did not agree saying that fighter pilots were badly needed in the squadrons and we should continue with his training. Unfortunately my worst fears for Raad Ali’s safety were realized when he crashed during a general handling sortie a fortnight later and was killed. I was saddened to lose a pupil and upset because the squadron commander had not heeded my sincere advice to stop his training. The remaining 11 trainees completed their training in November 1982 and we had some much needed respite in December. In nine and a half months in 1982 I flew 460 sorties with 30 Iraqi trainees.

Throttle Stuck in the Air

In early January 1983 a batch of 15 trainees reported to the squadron. My students this time were Lts Hisham and Amer. By now we were veterans and had learnt quite a bit of Arabic to supplement our instructional patter in the air. We were also familiar with the local flying area and radio procedures. Overconfidence was creeping in and I discussed this tendency with the other instructors and we decided to be extra cautious and guard against any tendency to become complacent. I was rudely shaken out of this frame of mind when I took off with Lt Husam (not Hisham) for a close formation sortie with another trainer aircraft on February15,1983. After a normal stream take off behind the lead aircraft when it was time to bring the throttle out of the afterburner gate my student said he was unable to bring the throttle back! We overshot the lead aircraft like a bat out of hell because the other aircraft had switched off the afterburner at the pre-briefed speed of 325 knots (600 kmph). I immediately took over controls and found the throttle absolutely stuck. It was not possible to move it even a millimeter backward. I declared an emergency, switched off the afterburner by turning off the main circuit breaker in the cockpit, climbed to 23000 feet (7km) altitude in full dry power, popped the airbrakes out, leveled out and started orbiting in a 60 degree banked turn The speed stabilized at 405 knots (750 kmph).When I took off bank the aircraft accelerated and I started to drift away from the base. A tight orbit was the only choice. After every minute or so I reversed the direction of the turn to avoid becoming dizzy and kept track of my ground position. I assessed that at the current rate of fuel consumption I had about 20 minutes available before I would have to make an ejection decision. Once we started orbiting I told Husam to tug the throttle with all his might. I did the same from the rear and after about 10 minutes of combined effort we managed to create a wee bit of play in the throttle lever. We next proceeded to rock the lever forward and backward and after a further 10 minutes of incessant effort the throttle suddenly moved back to 85% dry power and got stuck again.

We were able to fly straight and level again and it was a relief because we had completed nearly 15 orbits by then. From trials done in India I knew it was possible to land with this power setting and stop the aircraft. I, therefore, elected to attempt a landing. Before I took that decision every two minutes or so Husam would ask me whether he should eject! I told him not to touch the ejection handle until I ordered him to! When the fuel had come down to 90 gallons (400 litres or 15 minutes reserve) I lowered the wheels and flaps and did a long straight in approach for landing from the rear seat using the periscope. The crash services had been alerted and I briefed Lt Col Abbas who had reached the runway controller’s hut that I would stream the tailchute and apply maximum braking to stop the aircraft but chocks would have to be placed in front of all three wheels immediately after the aircraft came to a standstill as the overheated brakes would not hold forever. I touched down right at the beginning of the 10000 feet runway and through the corner of my eyes saw the crash tenders racing alongside. I briefed Husam that when I yelled ‘Pull” he should tug the throttle with both hands with all his might. I lowered the nose wheel, commenced braking and yelled ‘Pull” and both of us tugged. Mercifully the throttle came back to the blown flap gate which was close to the idle rating. The aircraft came to a stop and the ground crew placed the chocks but it was not possible to shut down the engine from the cockpit! After 15 minutes the engine fitters were able to disconnect the main fuel line and the engine wound down. Though it was only 11am on a winter morning my flying overall was soaking wet when I exited the cockpit! In the hangar we found a loose rivet stuck between the throttle control rod and the fuselage. A month or so later I was summoned to Baghdad by the Iraqi CAS, Air Marshal Hinnish. Lt Col Abbas accompanied me. The CAS gave us nice Turkish coffee and thanked me for saving an aircraft of the Iraqi Air Force. Lt Col Abbas was unhappy with only a verbal acknowledgement of my good deed and said he would ensure that a written letter of commendation was sent to me by the CAS. He kept his word and I received the letter in November 1983 after I had returned to India. I have attached the letter to this article.

Saad Air Base

The batch graduated in early May 1983 and we were told that the squadron was moving to another base. This base was called the Saad Air Force Base and was located about 400 km West of Baghdad. The British had laid an oil pipe line from the Kirkuk oilfields in Northeast Iraq to Haifa in present day Israel. Pumping stations were built along this pipeline and airstrips were built alongside. These stations were called H1, H2, H3 in Iraq. Saad was at the H2 airstrip but a new 9000 feet concrete runway had been laid. At the end of the month we started ferrying our trainer aircraft to the new location. On May 20,21 23,1983 I ferried three trainers from Tikrit to Saad. After each ferry we would jump into an AN-26 transport aircraft to return to Tikrit. We were told that our families could continue to stay at Tikrit but we would have to spend at least 20 days a month flying at Saad. Our deputation was to end in September1983 and we did not mind this arrangement for three months. At the end of June 1983 we reported to the squadron at Saad. A batch of 12 trainees was waiting for us. Saad was a newly commissioned base with brand new pre fabricated accommodation for all personnel. There was nothing but desert all around and we wondered how we would spend our spare time! The solution we found was to go for a six and a quarter mile (10 km) walk along the base perimeter in the evenings, have a couple of beers, dinner and then hit the sack!

Chinese Chengdu Aircraft Corporation F-7B’s.

On July 02, 1983, I was called by the base commander for a special task. He had come to know that I was a test pilot and wanted me to test fly some Chinese F-7Bs which were being assembled in the hangar by a team of Chinese technicians. He drove me to the hangar and showed me a line of big crates made of woven bamboo and waterproofed with a black substance which looked like bitumen to me. Chinese technicians were walking around in the hangar. One aircraft had been assembled and cleared for flying. It was manufactured by the Chengdu Aicraft Corporation (CAC). I did a walk around inspection and immediately noticed some differences from the F-13. The pitot boom was on top of the intake with an angle of attack sensor vane on the left. The tail chute was in bullet shaped housing below the fin like in the PFM. The aircraft had a beige and chocolate camouflage scheme with two internally mounted 30mm cannon on the underside of the front fuselage. The canopy was hinged at the back and opened rearwards. I got into the cockpit and found the layout to be identical to the F-13 cockpit with which we Indian instructors had become very familiar by now. All inscriptions were in the Chinese script including those on the warning light panels. As the Flying Manual was also in Chinese I had no choice but to assume that the functionality of all the switches in the cockpit would be the same as in the F-13. The zero height / 90 knots ejection seat was made by Martin Baker. This was a much needed improvement over the Type 77 and F-13 (Type74) seats which had a minimum ejection height of 350 feet (110meters).

I did the usual check out of the switches with a battery and hydraulic power connected and found that my guess about the functionality of the switches being the same as in the F-13 was correct. I then took a good look at the Engine Manual of the WP-7B Chinese engine which was also in Chinese but it was possible to make out the figures indicating rpm, temperatures and pressure. With some questioning of the technicians through an interpreter I found out the operating limits of the engine. They were the same as for the R-11-F2S-300 engine except that the thrust with maximum dry power was 9240 pounds (4200kg) as against 8580 pounds (3900 kg) for the Russian engine. The Time Between Overhaul (TBO) for the engine was only 200 hrs. After spending an hour familiarizing myself with the aircraft (6516) and finding out the limitations of the ejection seat I was ready to go. Start up and taxiing posed no problem. I got airborne and went to the local flying area which was over featureless desert. Since I was in an unfamiliar aircraft at an unfamiliar base I took care not to stray too far! There was no GPS then! I went through the standard F-13 air test profile and all parameters were normal. The rate of climb at maximum dry rating was better than that of the F-13. In terms of handling qualities the aircraft flew much like the F-13 except that the control forces were a little heavier. I used the tail chute on landing. The other instructors were eagerly awaiting my return to the crew room. I gave them a detailed briefing about the aircraft and its characteristics. I tested three more F7-Bs after assembly and then everyone, Indians and Iraqis got into the act! In all I flew only seven sorties on the F7-B and the last three sorties were ferry flights from Saad to Walid air base. I have tail numbers ranging from 6505 to 6518 in my log book. There were probably 14 F7-Bs from 6505 to 6518. I was very impressed by the ability of the Chinese aviation industry to reverse engineer a Russian aircraft to such impeccable detail. It was a once in a lifetime experience to fly this Chinese aircraft.


The Chengdu Aircraft Corporation’s F-7 was an improved version of the Type 74.  The author test flew several examples of the aircraft that were inducted into the Iraqi Air Force.  Photo Courtesy :

The runway at Saad had been badly made with a lot of undulations. On the takeoff and landing roll I always got the feeling the nose wheel would break. After about a month one of the Indian instructors had a landing accident in which the aircraft’s nose wheel broke. Whether it was due to a bad landing or the bad runway we did not care. We refused to fly at Saad anymore till the runway was smoothened out or remade.

Walid Air Base

In the third week of August 1983 we were ordered to move to Walid Air Base near the Jordanian border. It was the airfield at the old H3 oil pumping station close to the town of Rutbah. Indian instructors were already there training the Iraqis on the Sukhoi-7. I flew only 12 sorties at Walid because we stopped flying in early September 1983 as we had asked for a month’s time to pack up and leave after selling our cars. Our deputation formally ended on October 03, 1983. I flew 729 sorties during my two year deputation to the Iraqi Air Force. At the rate of one sortie per day of my stay in Iraq I think I earned my pay!

Return to India

We returned to India via Kuwait. The stop at Kuwait was necessary because we had to hand over our containers with household luggage to a shipping agent after a last round of shopping! All of us and our families thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Iraq and are today greatly saddened by the events that have overtaken a beautiful country and its once vibrant people.

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