By Augustine JohnSingh

After completing our 50 hours of training in July on Hunters at the then Operational Training Unit at Jamnagar, we 10 (Ajit Agtey, Raj Kumar Poonia, AK Tiwari, SS Hothi, RS Khangura, late TK Ramachandran, late AS Sidhu, HS Sondhi, DR Patankar, and self-AJ) course mates of 34 NDA/103 Pilots Course were posted to No.2 Squadron, Winged Arrows at Ambala on August 01, 1970. Another 4 (Sudhir Asthana, late Manor Kumar, MSBS Jauhar, and KB Singh) were posted to the sister Gnat Squadron, Eighteeen (Flying Bullets) located again at Ambala. A few of them were in holding pattern before proceeding to Migs and not really meant to fly the Gnat. However our CO, the legendary and fatherly Wing Commander Jonathan William Greene did let them fly the ‘Little Fighter’ as an experience which I am sure made them better pilots. Instead of the required 4 sorties on the Hunter trainer, and as we were current in flying and as the flying parameters for the Hunter on circuit were the same as the Gnat, WingCo Greene wisely wanted us to do only one dual check on the Hunter to be both current-current in flying and for the purpose of being demonstrated the flatter approach with 2 notches of flaps on the Hunter to simulate the Gnat with flaperons.

The Last Dog Fight Over Srinagar 16 December 1971 No 18 Sqn

By Wg Cdr GM David (Retd)

It had been a quiet day. The daily raid had not taken place and the sun was low on the horizon. A dusk scramble was ordered and Sqn Ldr VS Pathania VrC and Flt Lt BN Bopaiyya got airborne to set up a CAP over head. Since it continued to be quiet and the sun was setting they were ordered to burn fuel and land. At this point four Sabres were spotted high over the field rolling in for a steep glide attack along RW31. Pathania who was over RW13 Dumbell tightened his turn into the attackers and established contact with the Nos I and 2 who were established in the dive. The L60 Guns who were ‘Tied’, opened fire on their own at all dry and sundry. Bopaiyya who was over RW 31 Dumbell was ordered into a hard turn by Pathania to keep his tail clear and was told that he would be picking up Nos 3 and 4 sliding into the bombing run below him. Pathania and Bopaiyya establishing contact, dived thru the exploding anti aircraft shells and went for their respective targets. Pathania dived through the Flak and got on the tail of the No 2 midway down the RW who promptly threw a hard turn to the left and ducked into the valley SW of the RW to keep his energy levels high. In the turn after about 270 Deg and facing us at the 31 ORP Pathania got into position less than 200 yds behind and he gave a Quarter sec burst of 30mm cannon. We saw puffs of smoke from the Sabre who further tightened his turn, jettisoned his Drop Tanks and went into an impossibly tight turn. Pathania did a Yo Yo got into position a second time and gave a second short burst. His guns jammed. Throughout all this, the L60s were firing away merrily at Pathania, Bopaiyya and the Sabres. Bopaiyya in the meantime who latched onto the No 4 attacker had dived throught the L60 fire and was last seen pursuing him towards the SW. Pathania coolly began to give a running commentry on RT. He said that his guns had jammed and that he would not allow the target to have the fuel to make it back to his base. The Sabre who was by now trailing smoke rolled out towards Pir Panjal to get away. Pathania slipped out from his 6 O’clock postion and slid out to his right. The Sabre promptly on spotting him through a hard turn into Pathania to dislodge him from his tail and rolled out towards the West. Pathania kept him doing hard turns for sometime till be himself began to run low on fuel. when he broke off Pathania reported that Sabre smoking heavily and he unable to maintain speed. Bopaiyya who was unable catch up with the receding Sabres also returned overhead low on fuel. The Army subsequently reported an aircraft crossing Pir Panjal smoking heavily. We are certain he must have ejcted after crossing into Pakistan.

One funny bit through all this was the No 4 Sabre who probably had his armament switch selection wrong dropped his Tanks instead of his Bombs. Realising his error on pull out he dropped his bombs in level flight. It was an amazing site as the bombs struck the RW too shallow and skipped. Having the same velocity as the mother aircraft we saw it lazily rise and begin to catch up with it. It curved up to about a 100 feet below the mother aircraft before starting a lazy descent. It lobbed outside the Aifield boundary and exploded. We dont think that guy ever realised how close his own bombs had come to him.

Now came the Mother of all recoveries. The two Gnats had to be recovered and the RW had been hit. Wg Cdr Raina our CO, cool as ever, inspected the RW, plotted the craters. He instructed the aircraft to land on the left lane, shift to the right lane 1200 yds up the RW and then Shift back to the left lane after 2000yds. It was dusk by now. There were no time to lay the goose necks. He just parked his jeep abeam the first crater and to indicate the begining the of the clear patch for touch down. He talked them down coolly on the mobile RT set to a safe touch down. Pathania and Bopaiyya both switched lanes as briefed and landed safely on a cratered RW in semi darkness without landing lights or RW lighting.

Hows That to bring the curtains down on the Srinagar Gnat Operations?

Pesonal Account of the Final Battle by Fg Offr NS Sekhon PVC

By Wg Cdr GM David (Retd)

A lot has been said about the Gnat Mk 1. But little has been said about the only Param Vir Chakra which was awarded to Fg Offr NS Sekhon flying a Gnat in Srinagar on 14 Dec 1971.

I was in Srinagar posted to No 18 Sqn and we were on detachment to Srinagar during the 1971 War with Pakistan (OP Cactus Lily). On that cold winter morning I was on Duty with Fg Offr Y Singh on CAP Duty at the underground Base Ops. The following are the sequents of events that took place on 14 Dec 1971 at dawn.

The pilots on Two Minutes readiness or Stdby 2 as it is known in Air Def parlance were Flt Lt GS Ghumman (G Man) and Fg Offr NS Sekhon (Brother). The air raid took place at dawn. There was no warning of the impending attack. The first warning of the attack came from the OPs posted in the near vicinity of the airfield. It was the OPs in Awantipura Airfield who warned of the attack. The attackers came in from the South East doing a run in towards Wular Lake along RW31, with the escape route towards Baramula with a 30 Deg left course correction.

We were in the Station Base Ops dug out when the warning came. The Station Commander Gp Capt Sanadi, the OC Flying Wg Cdr Oberoi and we were present along with the rest of the complement when the attack took place. The scramble was ordered and we rushed out from the underground to the CAP Control which was right above the dug out. The Ops ATC was a few paces ahead. As Yogi (Fg Offr Y Singh) and I got into position in the CAP control all hell had broken loose. The L60 Ack Ack batteries had opened fire in an Easterly direction. The L60 Regiment No 2 i/c was with us. We could hear the sound of the Gnats on ORP starting up. We yelled to have the scramble cancelled since we had spotted the attckers in Line Astern formation aligning themselves with RW31 to do a Medium glide bombing attack from about 10000 feet above. We tried to have the scramble cancelled but due to communication failure, it was not possible. The scrambling Gnats were on ATC frequency and, the CAP Control was on Air Force Guard Frequency. The Duty ATC Offr had not reached his position and there was no way to cancel the scramble even though it had been ordered by the Staion Commander. Fg Offr Y Singh tried to get to the ATC (which was in front) to cancel the Scramble. The G Man and Sekhon had started up, carried out their RT checks, moved out of the blast pens and were ready to roll. They could not be contacted since they were on the Air Force Guard and Y Singh had not yet managed to get into the Ops ATC. and grab the microphone. Precious seconds were ticking by. The Attckers were now identified as four F86 Sabres and the Nos 1 and 2 were beginning to roll into the dive with Nos 3 and 4 in trail all spaced about 2000 yards behind each other. We could only watch this as spectators. G Man after calling the ATC a few times decided to roll. The scamble was on. The Sabres were in the dive. Brother began his roll 20 seconds behind as per the procedure. The No1 Sabre was close to his bomb release point. Sekhon was 1000 yards down the RW when the leaders bombs struck the RW just ahead of the ORP. Sekhon was still on ground on his take off run in line with us 2000 yards up when the second set of bombs from the No2 Sabre impacted 1000 yards behind him on the RW. At this time the No1 had flown over Sekhon as he was unsticking and hitting his gear up. G Man in the mean time as per the procedure had unstuck, done a hard turn left and ducked into the valley immediately south of the airfield to gain speed and pull up to get into opposite circles to Sekhon to set up CAP as quickly as possible. The visibility was very poor and less than 1000 metres in shallow fog and haze and turning into the sun did not help G Man any. By This time Sekhon was airborne and with the gear going up when the No2 Sabre whizzed over his head. Sekhon was 3000yards up the RW and accelerating when the No3’s bombs hit 100yards behind him. His RT call at this time was,”I have Two B******s ahead of me I will not let them go” He gave Chase to these two Sabres. G Man in the mean time had changed over to the CAP frequency and was on the East end of the field. The Nos 3 and 4 attackers were in the get away mode past the other end of the RW and fast receding at max get away speed. There was no way G Man could have established visual contact. In fact by this time the Nos 1 and 2 Sabres on realising that they had a Gnat on their tails had gone into a hard right turn about 10 nms NE of the field with Sekhon Holding the Turn. The Crew on the late shift of 8am were on their way to the Airfield when they saw the three aircraft milling around. The bus stopped on the roadside and Flt Lt Manchi Captain who was on that bus saw two Sabres in a hard right turn with one Gnat holding the turn, all 200yards behind each other. There was a burst of 30mm cannon fire and he saw the trailing Sabre jettison its tanks and go into a last ditch kind of manoeuvre. They disappeared behind the treeline. Back at CAP control G Man was sent in the last seen direction of the combat. From the CAP control all we could see was the occassional glint of aircraft manoeuvreing in the distance. The poor visibiltiy prevented G Man from acquiring visual contact with the aircraft in combat. In the mean time No3 and 4 Sabres had done a get away toward the Southwest ranges of Pir Panjal. From the CAP control we heard a high speed whine. It were the Escorts who had not been spotted by us. Sekhon made his next transmission, ” I have one guy in front of me, there is someone getting behind me.” We heard one more burst of 30mm Cannon fire followed by a long three to four seconds of 0.5mm machine gun fire. This was followed by Sekhons last transmission, “I think I am hit. G Man come.” Sekhon’s Gnat had been hit and he ejected at low altitude. The Parachute opened but had not fully deployed due to the low altitude. His rear fuselage and stabiliser had 37, 0.5mm bullet
holes in it.

Two things stand out about he man. He was not one given to drinking. But every night he would have one large Brandy at the bar and panic that the war was getting over and the enemy never seemed to be around when he was airborne. The second was that the war would be over before he could shoot one of the raiders. His faith in the Gnat was Supreme and he firmly believed that it had the manoeuvre capability to get him out of any situation.

Sekhon's Gnat - Model by Polly Singh
Sekhon's Gnat - Model by Polly Singh

Reliving the days of Gnat’s glory

November 19, 2008

Bangalore: The Gnat jet fighter, which earned its name as ‘Sabre Slayer’ in the two India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, will be honoured in its golden jubilee celebration on November 21. The Canadair Sabre was a jet fighter built by Pakistan under licence from the US.

Around 200 pilots, engineers and flight-testers of yesteryear and their families from India and abroad will come to Bangalore for the event, which is being jointly organized by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the former’s Ghatge Convention Centre on Old Airport Road.

Some famous pilots of the previous generation have already arrived in Bangalore.
Air chief marshal, F H Major, will be the chief guest. A film on Gnat made by renowned aviation film-maker Kunal Verma will be screened at the event. A book on the old fighter jet edited by Pushpinder Singh will also be released, plus a photo exhibition will be held.

“The event holds significance as never before because we have not seen the coming together of so many experts associated with Gnat under one roof. IAF and HAL are proud to be associated with this event as it will help next generation aviators and engineers rub shoulders with some of the jewels of the past,” said chairman of the organizing team, Sanjeev Sahi.

HAL was the licensed producer of the Gnat; it made nearly 200 of them for the IAF. Apart from the IAF, the original designers and builders of the Gnat, Folland Aviation of the UK, was the only major operator of the aircraft in both combat and training.

KILLER INSTINCT: The good old Gnats

Inter-Command Weapons Meet – Another View

By Gp Capt Ajit K Agtey (Retd)

Velu’s story has finally got me to type out the following piece. I had decided to stay silent as talking of it, would have amounted to blowing one’s own trumpet, BUT WHAT THE HELL, lets do it.

I am referring to the same Inter Commabd Weapons Meet of November 1972. Western Air Command had 4 Gnat squadrons, namely 2,9,18 and23. Each squadron had to depute one pilot for each event. For R/P WAC found a bunch of four young, aggressive Flying Officers. They were Parvez Khokhar (9 Sqn),VP Vadera (23 Sqn), VK Sharma (18 Sqn) and yours truly(2 Sqn). It would not be out of place to state that senior most team member had less than 4 years service and the junior most ie self had less than 3 years. The other two were in between.

The range was all time famous SIDHWANKHAS range and the base of operation was Halwara. On the due date we all gathered at Halwara and the practice sessions began. The other team members/leaders were legends like Mickey Jatar (Maruts), Godfrey Salins (Mig 21 F/G), Johnney Greene (Gnat Cine). The tail was brought up by us.

Halwara bar was as always the debrief centre, and we were generally being taught the finer points of R/P firing.

The format was, as already spelt out by Velu. The two best rockets of each member were to be assessed. The load we were carrying was 4, T-10s.

On the appointed day the team got airborne in copybook fashion and went and fired our load in total silence and returned. To cut a long story short the results were 16 DIRECT HITS. End of Story

That evening when we walked into the bar Mickey Jatar got up, shook us by the hand and said that it would be an honour for him to stand us a drink, as he had never seen scores of this kind.

The G- bird was a sheer delight to fly and was a very versatile weapons platform.

The team is still around Parvez is in Bangalore, Vady in Jet airways in Delhi, VK Sharma in corporate flying in Delhi and yours truly in Jet Airways in Bangalore. Looking forward to meeting up with all the stalwarts.

A Gnat Story

By Gp Capt PM Velankar VM (Retd)

Count down has started long back . Now , whenever we open “Gnat50years” site , we see the decreasing number of days . Today when I opened the site I saw “5 days” . I also notice that as the number of days are decreasing , so are the contributions towards posts and the comments .
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How Gnat Rolls

By Air Commodore A.C.Goel AVSM (Retd.) I A F [TUBBY To IAF]

How Gnat Rolls

Having flown Toofanis, Sabres, T-33, and Mysteres and a total fighter experience of about 250 hours, I found myself posted to No- 9 SQN at Ambala in the end of year 1964. Flying officer Tubby Goel was in the exalted group of stalwarts like, R J M Upot [C O] and Johnny Greene, A J S Sandhu Black 1 as flt cdrs and Denzil, Chatto the Flt Lts to lead us. We had recently formed and No 23 Sqn was the oldest and well established along side under the command of test pilot Bhopinder Singh with Sikki as the leader of boys of both the units for good things of life.
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A frightening dive

Air Marshal PK (Babi) Dey

During the Gnat development programme at Folland’s airfield at Chilbolton, we were having trouble with accurate measurements of free air temperature in flight. So one fine morning I found a small probe on top of the canopy when programmed to carry out high Mach dives.

As the speed built up in a steep 60° dive from 45,000ft, and approached 0.9M, the aircraft suddenly went into a violent lateral oscillation. I could do nothing to control it and expected the fin to break off any moment. Instinctively, I had ‘closed throttle and was trying to ease out of the dive. I took my feet off the rudder pedals which were also moving viciously. As suddenly as they had started, the oscillations stopped, and I gently returned to base, very shaken and relieved that the aircraft was still in one piece.

Investigations proved that the tiny probe on top of the canopy was the villain, creating shock waves that hit the fin and started the oscillations as the aircraft speed went past 0.94M. It was a lesson I never forgot, and always thereafter I treated any projections that the ‘boffins’ wanted to stick onto an airframe with the greatest suspicion.

Development of the Gnat at Folland – Uninspired Guesses

By Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

At the outset I need to make it clear that I was never involved in any development testing of the Gnat. What follows is mostly hearsay as remembered by me over the years. This has been slightly refined with help from Air Marshals CS Naik and MSD Wollen. AVM PDA Albuquerque has also helped in some of its aspects. I, therefore, request that anyone who has authentic knowledge of the work done on the Gnat in UK, may please correct the events as I describe them in following paragraphs and add whatever I have missed. Corrections and additions should be distributed either as comments or in a new post.
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A landing with tail split and stick fully forward!

By Augustine JohnSingh

After the exciting Indo-Pak War of 1971 in which 6 other course mates and I of 103 Pilots Course (7 Flying Officers with 2 years service – Ajit Agtey, RK Poonia, DR Patankar, SS Hothi, late AS Sidhu, RS Khangura, and myself AJ) in No. 2 Squadron under the Command of the legendary then Wing Commander Jonathan William Greene (God is Greene and Greene is God), flying the LITTLE FIGHTER in a mainly Air Defence Role took part from Rajasansi, Amritsar then No. 4 M.E.M.U. and kept the people of Amritsar safe from any damage whatsoever, the Winged Arrows were ready to relieve its sister squadron at Ambala, the Flying Bullets (No.18 Squadron) of its duties temporarily at Srinagar (Late Fg.Offr.Sekhon PVC’s Sqn) and make our presence felt in that area to prevent any misadventure by our neigbour.
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