By Air Marshal PK (Babi) Dey

I was introduced to the Folland Gnat in early March, 1958. I had graduated from the Empire Test Pilots’ School, then in Farnborough, a few months earlier. This was followed by a few weeks of production testing of Hunters being produced for the IAF at Hawker aircraft at Dunsfold. I was then posted to Folland Aircraft with whom the Government of India had signed a contract for purchase and production of the Gnat MkI at Hindustan Aircraft Ltd in Bangalore. The Gnat was still in the prototype testing phase, and so it was encouraging for me to become involved in this work so soon after graduating from ETPS.

I had seen the Gnat for the first time during the Farnborough Air Show in 1957 where the late Gp Capt Suranjan Das thrilled spectators from all over the world with his brilliant low level aerobatic display. While the company offices and factory were at Hamble in Southampton, the World War II airfield at Chilbolton in Hampshire was leased to Follands for their Gnat programme. At Chilbolton I was met and warmly welcomed by the Gnat testing and development team – EA (Ted) Tennant – the Chief Test Pilot, Suranjan Das, Mike Oliver and Dick Whittington. The late Sudhakaran had left recently and I was his replacement. John and Robbie manned the ATC, and Derby the emergency services. We also had with us two IAF technical officers – Peter Albuquerque and ‘Frenchie’ Puranik. It was a close knit family who merged together as only a small group can – the wives of the married ones joining in with an almost natural bonding. Dasu, and I and our tech officers felt ourselves very personally involved with the Gnat and its development and this was, I like to believe, a reflection of the quality and character of the aircraft itself!! All aircraft( like ships) belong to the feminine gender and the Gnat was one hell of a special and unique lady! It may sound strange giving an aircraft a human face – but the very fact that now, fifty years later, there is so much enthusiasm within India for remembering this the world’s first lightweight fighter, proves it’s very human side!

Continue reading THE GNAT AND I

Another Narrow Escape

By Shyam Hattangdi

There was never a dull moment in Gnats that I had an opportunity to fly, off
and on, from 1965 to 1982 and I had my share of incidents in ample measure.
One particular incident is worth mentioning.

It was a routine air test on a bright clear day and as I was climbing
through about 22,000 feet, I felt a slight “click” on the control column and
the aircraft began to gently roll to one side. This was easily controllable
and there was no indication of any other problem and the hydraulic pressure
and cycling were within normal limits. However since the problem involved
flight controls I decided to discontinue the air test and return, informing
ATC accordingly. Passing about 20,000 feet I decided that it would be wise
to get the wheels down as soon as possible as it could be an impending
hydraulic failure and, informing ATC of my intentions, reduced speed and
selected the undercarriage down.
Continue reading Another Narrow Escape

GNAT – Indian Participation in Prototype Flight Development

By Air Marshal CS Naik (Retd)

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is celebrating 50th year of the GNAT’s arrival in India. My tales herein cover some aspects of the GNAT prior to the HAL-era.

Until the mid-1950s, we purchased combat aircraft from the U.K and France. The aircraft were fully developed abroad, for example, the Vampire, Ouragan (Hurricane in French, hence Toofani in IAF), Mystére (Mystery), Hunter and Canberra. The Gnat, on the other hand, was still under development, when our decision-makers boldly decided to go in for it. My story covers some anecdotes, both triumphant and tragic, mainly during the pre-HAL phase of the GNAT.

In Chilbolton

The Indian participation in the Gnat prototype flight development was done principally at Chilbolton, a pretty little place in Hampshire, UK. Concurrently, the tropical trials were to be undertaken by us, in conjunction with Follands, at Kanpur in the summer of 1958. Entirely new facilities were created at A&ATU, Kanpur, (now ASTE, Bangalore), for the purpose.

Whose name comes first to my mind? You guessed it. None other than Suranjan Das, whose memory we cherish to this day. He soon equalled the talents of the British Test Pilots, viz. Tennant, Whitaker and Oliver. Dasu’s transmissions over the Wire-Recorder (WireK) were always awe-inspiring and amusing. His ‘Ure-Dada’ during flame-outs and other emergencies came through calmly and clearly. The first to hear and interpret the WireK. was a lovely lady called Twinx, who probably inspired Dasu’s eloquence and humour.
Continue reading GNAT – Indian Participation in Prototype Flight Development

AJEET Development

By PM Velankar .”velu”

As Anandeep Pannu says it was excellent recap on Ajeet development by Wg Cdr J Thomas . Being a first hand account it is of immense value ! Even if it is , as he says ” involved only on the periphery. ”

I was lucky to have flown Gnat as well as Ajeet . Unfortunately all the 31 odd hours I flew on the Ajeet were Flight Test sorties . These 31 odd hours were spread over a period of almost 7 years between 1977 and 1984 . 19 odd hours in 1977 – 78 on post production aircraft at HAL and the remaining 12 odd hours between 1979 – 84 on storage aircraft at Sulur . The flying was very thinly spread out , about 4 odd hours in a year . As all sorties were Flight Test sorties , never did any tactical , formation , armament work, High or Low Level navs or any “squadron flying ” , I am therefore not in a position to comment on steinemenns remark that “the Ajeet range performance was disappointing” .

My first sortie on Ajeet was a post production Flight Test sortie in HAL . I will not go in to the details of changes in various test parameters , between the Gnat & the Ajeet . I will rather give couple of things which made lasting impression on me during that first sortie .
Continue reading AJEET Development


Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd)

I joined the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1962 and flew de Havilland Vampires, French Ouragans, Mystere IV A’s and Russian Mig-21’s for the first nine years accumulating 1600 hours in my log book. In 1972 I graduated as a test pilot from the French Test Pilots School (Ecole du Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Reception or EPNER) at Istres, France and was posted to the IAF’s Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) which is their flight test centre at Bangalore. ASTE was located at Bangalore airfield because India’s only aircraft company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) owned the airfield and had its design bureau there. In 1975 I was assigned to be the project pilot for a flight trial in a Gnat fighter to prove some electronic warfare equipment developed in India. The trial was to take place at a base near New Delhi in north India and I had to ferry the aircraft there.



    By Wg Cdr Prakash S Sanadi (Retd)

    Breakfast was served to all aircrew on a lawn situated adjacent to the 2 Squadron, crew-room, in Ambala. A large old tree stood tall & stately at one end of the lawn. One day I saw a squirrel sitting on a branch of the tree, watching the pilots having their breakfast. Soon it started to call “CHEEP CHEEP” maybe saying “How about some breakfast for me?” So I took a few crumbs of the toast and threw it close to the tree. The squirrel watched the pieces for some time and gingerly came down picked up one piece and ran back to its designated place on the branch to eat it. This exercise continued on a daily basis. On some days the squirrel was not there so I used to call it by saying CHEEP-CHEEP and the next minute it was there. Soon I started to get it closer and closer to me and it would now pick up the bread crumb and eat it there itself and not run up the tree. Wg Cdr Greene one day asked me what I was doing. So I told him I was trying to get the squirrel to eat from my hand. He laughed and said “You are asking for the impossible” So I took a bet with him saying within the next few days watch what happens. Lo & Behold, the next day it came and picked up the bread piece dipped in jam from my hand, ran away, sat at a distance and ate up the bread piece in next to no time. The following day it came and sat on my hand and ate the bread piece. I won the bet & the proof is right here. Sadly a day came when CHEEP-CHEEP disappeared never to come back.

The Fit Gang

By Wg Cdr Prakash S Sanadi (Retd)

26 April 1971 to 31 May 1971, a period 36 days of armament training was planned and executed at Air Force Station, Jamnagar. Prior to departure of the squadron, W/C JW Greene, OC 2 Sqn., ordered all officers proceeding on detachment to carry their PT kits. He stressed, everyone to carry PT shoes!! All the officers thought that he meant, PT dress would be worn at work in the afternoon & evenings!! Sqn Ldr K De laughed it off and made sure he would carry only his flying boots as he did not possess PT shoes. On landing in Jamnagar, we went to the Officers Mess to settle into our designated rooms. We were about to disperse, when the CO told everyone to fall in – in PT kit at 6pm in front of the Officers Mess!! Everyone was stumped as to what was to follow.

At 6pm the fall in took place. Crow De in his PT kit wearing flying boots! Leading the pack Johnny Greene started to jog towards the airfield, with all the officers following. We entered the airfield area, turned round and headed back to the mess. On reaching the mess we found Crow De walking back, way behind. When he reached the Officers Mess, Johnny Greene asked him what had happened. Sheepishly, Crow said he didn’t have PT shoes and by running with the flying boots on, he had blisters on his feet. Promptly Crow then went to a shoe shop in the market and bought himself a pair of running shoes realising Johnny Green meant business. There after every evening the squadron officers led by the Boss went for a nonstop run and each day he kept increasing the distance. Lights out was 10pm for one & all. In the morning at work, all the pilots were on their toes, eager to get airborne and prove their worth. Afternoons were spent harmonizing the gun sights with Boss explaining how to do it, as he was an expert in this area. Sadly, soon, the detachment was coming to an end, even then none of us realised what was the Boss’s ultimate plan. Till, the day before the departure all the officers led again by Wg Cdr JW Greene ran the complete distance starting from the officers mess to the beginning of the runway via the taxi track, down this runway, along the taxi track to the cross runway. Down the cross runway, back along the taxi track and the road to the Officers Mess – ALL NON-STOP- At a rough guess the total distance covered non stop on that day must have been close to 12 to 14 Kms! The detachment went off without a hitch, no hic-ups at all. Crow De (Late) included. May his Soul Rest in Peace. I think this record run has never been achieved by any squadron in the IAF till today.

That’s WG CDR JW GREENE to all of us who served under him (Retired as Air Marshal & settled in Colaba, Mumbai, Tel No 022-22875324)

Two strange incidents

By Shyam Hattangadi

These, among many others, occurred while I was on Gnats.

The first was where an aircraft was started and the engine went to full power, the aircraft jumped the chocks and crashed through the wall of the Flight Commander’s office – Jit Dhawan – whose utter shock of suddenly finding a Gnat nose next to his chair, can only be imagined. Apparently, a techie on an earlier shift had disconnected the throttle connection next to the engine, which, being spring loaded to full open position, stayed there. In the next shift, without knowing the situation the aircraft was started up for a ground run leading to the consequences. I only heard about this incident and someone who was present there may be able to elaborate on it.

In the second incident, I was involved. I started an aircraft for an air test when suddenly the RPM began to increase rapidly. Throttling back had no effect nor was putting the HP cock off. The RPM kept rising and I fully expected the aircraft to jump the chocks when after a few hair-raising moments, it began to reduce and finally the engine shut itself off. In the meantime there were frantic gestures from outside to switch off the aircraft little knowing my predicament.

What had happened was that when the engine was started, the fuel cap on the spine not having been closed properly had popped open and fuel had begun to gush out. This fuel flowed down on to the upper surface of the wing and began to get sucked into the intake, setting up a perpetual cycle with no way of interrupting it even with the HP cock off. Fortunately, a little later, the wind shifted enough to cut the supply to the intake off and the incident did not result in a catastrophe as in the earlier case.


By Gp Capt Manna Murdeshwar (Retd)

On 4th Sept, 65 we were gung-ho! Our months of training had been tested and now we had faced our first air battle. Not only had we come out of it unscathed but we had a War Hero amongst us, to boot!

Pathankot was agog with excitement and we knew we had all hopes and eyes riveted on us as we taxi-ed out for yet another foray. The Gnat had proven its mettle and within just a day we’d began to acquire ‘an iconic status’. Enough indeed, to put the swagger into us!!

Our 23 Sqn. detachment of seven aircraft and seven pilots (the eighth was still ‘missing’!) were ordered to patrol the area and counter any enemy aircraft threatening our objectives.

Our leader was Johnny Greene. I was his No. 2, AJS No. 3 and Pat No. 4. We set course for the Chhaamb Jaurian Sector in a loose, low level tactical formation, which Johnny led, barely skimming the tree tops.

Mid-way to the battle area, while we were still trailing ‘clouds of glory’. I spotted Sabres on our left diabolically attacking our troops with devilish precision. They attacked singly, forming a left hand circuit pattern similar to the ones we adopted during practice at the firing ranges. They rained down fire and smoke on our tenuously entrenched troops and spotting their gleeful sport I conveyed their presence to Johnny on the R/t.

Since AJS and Pat were on our right and in a better position to get behind the Sabres, upon instructions they just rolled over us and trailed the malignant Sabre jets. Johnny and I followed suit. From my position, I could see that each of us was behind a Sabre! I had a position of vantage since I had done a high wing-over and rolled behind the Sabre that had just pulled up from a dastardly attack. My descending speed helped me to get within 400 yds of its tail. With my gun sight ‘ON’ and the ‘diamonds pipped’ I pulled the trigger!! “This was for real, Man!” This was no practice sortie!

Imagine my incredulous frustration when, after firing just one bullet, my gun ‘stopped’. “C’mon! C’mon baby, don’t give up on me now!” I coaxed. But it had done just that – it had ‘given up’.

Cursing my luck and scanning the sky for stray Sabres and vainglorious Gnats, I peeled off to base – valiant, vitiated, vulnerable, but not vanquished!

Once on ground, and subsequent to our debrief, I learnt that although Johnny and AJS had got behind their respective Sabres, their film revealed a high angle of attack which had afforded the Sabres a chance to escape!! Pat was the only one who had been fortunate enough to ‘get it Pat’, shoot down his targeted Sabre and win himself a VrC! My film was labeled ‘exemplary’ and I was told to ‘claim the kill’ since the Army had certified they had found a wreckage. “A kill, with only one bullet fired?” It seemed too preposterous even in these permissive booty-bestowing times and I reluctantly let my conscience forgo this ‘skull’ which I could have added to my belt. The imponderable gun stoppage had seemed, as if ordained by the Sabre pilot’s Fate and I was thwarted from an indiscreet chase that could have nailed this trophy on my wall.

Although the Gnat continued to prove to be redoubtable, ‘my Sabre’ had, inevitably and irrevocably got away!!