By Air Cmde RV Phadke (Retd)
This happened exactly thirty one years ago while I was posted at Hindan. Within a few months of my reporting to No. 23 Sqn. (from DSSC) that was slated to convert to MiG-21 Bis aircraft, all the pilots and aircraft assets were transferred to No. 9 Sqn which was co-located. Flying was at best sporadic. What with modification to Mark 1A the Gnat squadrons were once again experiencing poor serviceability.
By the end of September I had barely flown 35 hours even though I was medically fit and available throughout. On 30 Sep 77 I was to ferry a Gnat to 5 BRD Sulur. With me was Benji who was to go to Bangalore. As I was strapping up, the Instrument Warrant Officer walked up to the side and said with a straight face that the invertor was U/S. When I said I would wait for them to replace it, his reply was that the squadron did not have any. Was I to go without one? This meant no Artificial Horizon, G4F Compass except in the DG mode and most importantly no fire warning system. Sure enough, when the engine started the Doll’s Eye was white and remained so for the entire ferry. Take off and navigation to Jodhpur, refueling and further to Poona was uneventful. Since it was already afternoon, we decided to go to Bangalore/Sulur the next day. That afternoon, some six Gnats had also landed at Poona on their way from Jamnagar to Bangalore after some trials. One of them was Rusty and another CK.
Next morning the weather was marginal with one of those Bay of Bengal depressions coming across the peninsula. The six ASTE Gnats and my No. 2 Benji took off but I was delayed for want of destination clearance. I had filed a flight plan for Sulur over-flying Bangalore so that if necessary I could land there. Finally, I took off and climbed to 46000’ without breaking clouds. Luckily, the high Cirrus were not too thick and I could make out the faint outline of the Sun. Flying over total under-cast, the only major recognizable feature I saw was Nagarjun Sagar in the distance. By now the clouds were thickening and I was getting a bit tired of flying on ‘Limited Panel’. I contacted the newly installed (?) Bangalore radar, but he was so busy giving PLDs to the seven Gnats ahead that he told me to shut up. Another ten or fifteen minutes went by and I was now flying at some 30,000’ between two layers of clouds but the scene ahead and below looked distinctly menacing with thick black clouds and much rain. Bangalore radar finally gave me pigeons but immediately asked me to descend to 15000’ and steer a Southwesterly course. I was not comfortable descending towards the Nilgiris in clouds. But he didn’t listen.
After further descend to 10,000’ he gave me a right descending turn for an approach to runway 09. I don’t now remember what the bank and rate of descent was but when I rolled out I was more or less in line with the runway and the dark clouds were slowly breaking up. Just when I thought I was safe now, Radar told me to discontinue descend and climb back to 10,000’ due reciprocal civil traffic. I was too exhausted to obey, so I broke cloud about 1200’AOL and immediately spotted an IAC Avro on left base for runway 27, many miles away, mumbled a quick thank you and changed over to tower frequency, called downwind No. 2. But on the final approach it began to rain in sheets, I could barely see the runway but made a safe, in fact a good landing, and immediately streamed the tail chute hoping it would jettison when the time came. With strong and gusty winds the Gnat felt like a soap cake on the bathroom floor, but the speed reduced and the chute also separated in time. When I taxied back to the HAL Hangar the Tower guy was telling me to contact Radar on land line for disobeying his instructions and Mr. Kannan of HAL Gnat was waiting with a smile. We were both drenched, he with rain and me with perspiration.
The following day I deposited the Gnat at Sulur and returned to Bangalore by Civil Air, the only privilege those days, teamed up with Benji and reached Palam at 2200 hours. The old Officers Mess located next to what is now the domestic arrival, was full up and there was no way we could go to Hindan. I suggested to Benji that we walk back home. He said in an incredulous voice, “Phady Are you crazy? But when I said there was no option he reluctantly fell in step with me. We hitched our first ride in an Army three ton to Dhaula Kuan, walked a few hundred yards and the second truck to ITO and once again after crossing the Jumna Bridge the third ride to Mohan Nagar, from where we walked and reached home just after midnight. I am sure Benji will never forget the Full Moon Night with the two of us walking with our bone domes and G-suits.
Was it stupid and dangerous to fly without the invertor, undoubtedly, but then such was the poverty in Gnat Squadrons.
PS No. 23 Squadron finally received the MiG 21 Bis in early 1978 but by then I had been posted to FIS for the QFI Course after completing the Bis MCF at Poona.