The Gnat Brotherhood

By Group Captain (Retd) AK Datta, Vr C, IAF

1. An Indian Air Force, single-seat fighter pilot is a unique individual. To be effective and deadly, he has to acquire qualities and skills beyond that expected of an ordinary fighting man. He has to be a mixture of an infantry soldier, a gladiator, a “six-gun” fighter of the Wild West and at the same time have the mental and physical agility of a combat marine let loose in the jungles with equipment that requires mathematical familiarity to effectively use a multitude of countermeasures along with the simultaneous ability to launch a number of long, medium and close range weapons. And, in the final phases of combat, display a capability to “go-it-alone”; and, do all this in the span of not more than 30 to 150 seconds. The Gnat is the smallest operational aircraft in its class in the whole world – it did not have a trainer aircraft for pilots to convert. The first solo was flown after a dual check on a Hunter Trainer and, hence, the first solo on the Gnat was traditionally logged as “1 Versus 1” ie “Combat of Pilot versus Aircraft!: As very aptly put by a Gnat Old-timer “ It requires a pilot to fly an aircraft – but it requires a man to fly the Gnat !”

2. In a fighter squadron, a pilot normally flies into combat as part of a formation of two or four aircraft; or, multiples thereof. The leaders, sub-section leaders and the wingmen are all interdependent on each other to clear the others’ tails and provide combat support as per standard operational procedures (SOPs) during all parts of the flight. In other words, your life is literally in the hands of the other members of the formation. This very aspect of a fighter pilot’s life lends very strongly to a feeling of closeness to one’s squadron mates — a feeling of being as close as brothers.

3. The Vikings of yore were bold fighters. They feared little – certainly not death – this gave them a fearless attitude. An attitude which fostered a curiosity and an eagerness to test the unknown. They could be considered individualists in certain circumstanstances, but most aspects of a Viking’s life involved the group, particularly the family. The family, however, did not curtail the individual’s independence as long as the family’s honour was upheld. In fact the family was regarded as the most important tie and was very close, standing by one another through all difficulties. Another special bond was that of friendship. Important friendships were sometimes given the same permanent bonds as of that of the family by the swearing of blood-brotherhood. The very act of cutting oneself and mingling the blood with the blood of another, taking an oath, and sealing it with a handshake and a hug established ties equivalent to kinship. These blood-brotherhoods were a separate identity in their own right, as the swearing of blood-brotherhood tied the person not only to the other person’s kin, but to other sworn blood-brothers. [Native American Indians ie The Red Indians of the Wild West fame, had a similar tradition.] In this way, the ties established a war band that supported one another as they would their kin. ….(1)

Further, James Barrett, Deputy Director, Cambridge University ’s Macdonald Institute for Archaeological Research, conducted a study of Nordic historical records. His analysis found that Scandinavian men often served as warriors, frequently forming “military brotherhoods”. According to Barrett, honour and religious fatalism – the idea that the time and manner of death is predestined – also fueled the Vikings, helping explain why men were willing to risk death in violent battles and risky seafaring. ( Sounds akin to our Hindu and Buddhist concept of “Karma.”) Viking society placed great emphasis on the concept of honour in combat eg it was unfair and wrong to attack an enemy already in a fight with another. ….(2)

4. Similarly, in a fighter squadron, the Commanding Officer, assumed the role and aura of the father, with the Flight Commanders being the big brothers. The rest of the fighting and support elements of the unit being blood-brothers in a larger entity – the Fighter Squadron ie the Family! A concept of sharing responsibilities and privileges – ie vision, work and sacrifices, too, led to a Fighter Unit’s gung-ho attitude, esprit-de-corps, high public esteem, fame, glory, loyalty and honour. These characteristics, so similar to the Vikings Blood-Brotherhoods’, led the Family of Gnat Fighters to form “The Gnat Brotherhood.”

5. The feeling of “The Gnat Brotherhood” was so strong that when the call went out to Get Together at Poona in September, 2006, to toast to our departed Gnat Brothers and to celebrate the passage of 50 years since we signed the Agreement between the (erstwhile) Hindustan Aircraft Limited and Folland Aircraft of England, Gnat Brothers, their spouses and children from far and wide in the country and abroad —- landed up. Now, the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the first arrival and launch of the Folland Gnat aircraft from Indian soil is being celebrated at Bangalore under the aegis of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited on 21 & 22 November, 2008. From the fervour of queries regarding the details of the functions being planned it is evident that the call of the Gnat Brotherhood is as strong as ever. All Gnat hands who can travel say they would not miss this Get Together for anything else in the world!!!
(1) Extracts from an Article on the Internet titled “Are the Vikings that Bad ” by Dena L Moore on Authorsden. Pp 3 – 6.
(2) An article in the Times Of India, Pune Edition, dated 21 September, 2008, P 13, Cols 2 – 6.
[Copyright, 2008, Gp Capt (Retd) AK Datta,Vr C, IAF. All rights reserved.]

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