Ferry Kalaikunda – Sulur : Gnats land up in Kasturchand Park , Nagpur .

By Gp Capt PM Velankar

After the 1971 war the squadrons were recovering and as Squadron Adjutant I was busy in returning the “mobile furniture , the tentage and sorting out “DWO Inventory “. The EO and Flight Commanders were also busy sorting out their inventories . One major item being establishment and the strength of the aircraft on the inventory . Due to the war , aircraft were given permissible extension to enable the squadrons to keep flying them . Lot of aircraft were were given extension beyond the airframe life and so were over due for major overhaul . Early months of the year 1972 saw lot of Gnats being ferried to 5 BRD Sulur for major overhaul . In this the EO had an unenviable job . Which aircraft had to be ferried for major overhaul was no problem as it was straight forward and simple matter .What was not simple was the decision as to which major and minor components fitted on the aircraft were left with lot of ” life ” and would be needed in the squadron to maintain good serviceability as the spares were not easily forthcoming . Once that was decided the EO had to “cannibalise” these with those components which were left with just sufficient ” life ” to ferry from Kalaikunda to Sulur with a landing in Nagpur . Examples which come readily to mind are , Engine which was left with just 2 to 3 hours of life , Stand by R/T set which could not be repaired , Tail chute which could be deployed may be only once , main wheel tyres may be good enough only to do 2/3 landings etc . This was always done in consultation with the Flight Commander and decision was taken keeping in mind the seniority and experience of the ferry pilot who was thoroughly briefed about what was being done ! So in this way two aircraft had been made ready for the ferry . I do not know how things are in the Squadrons now a days , but these were considered totally acceptable practices and If today’s pilots & engineers consider that we were taking chances with flight safety , I would say that those were calculated risks . Life and Air Force in those days were different . You see those days Gnats still ruled the skies !!!

Those were also the days Armed forces were held in very high esteem and Officers and Men in uniform were looked at with respect by the public . Gnat had become known to almost all the populace as Sabre Slayers . Air Force Melas were drawing enthusiastic crowds . General interest in the services was at its peak . Gnats were in great demand for displays .

The Squadron received instructions that the two aircraft being ferried to Sulur should land in Nagpur on the 28th March to be put on static display for Air Force Day mela being organised as part of Air Force Anniversary celebrations by Hq Maintenance Command on 01April 1972 .The pilots could continue with the ferry after completing the static display requirements of MC .I was detailed for the ferry with Pahupathi as no 2 . Flight Commander explained the situation to me and the need to stay in Nagpur till the static display was over
We took off on due date and landed in Nagpur .

On getting out of the aircraft after switch off I saw lot of light vehicles , even one odd staff car standing by the tarmac and few officers ready to receive us . This came as a great surprise as the general experience in the past was that the only persons to receive you were a party of Gnat technicians belonging to one of the Gnat squadron on T/D to Nagpur specifically to give turn around servicing facilities to Gnats being ferried to / from Bangalore/ Sulur .After landing one had to ring up a few times for transport to be taken to the Mess and wait some considerable time before any type of vehicle turned up . Any way if the transport was already there and officers to receive us , who was I to complain !!! One of the officers of Air Branch received us and on the way to the Mess , about 20 odd kms from the airfield , Brought us up to date which also explained the grand reception , this is what he told us : –

The request by Hq Maintenance Command to Air Hq for positioning two Gnats for static display on 01 April 1972 was agreed . MC had therefore organised a grand Air Force Mela with wide publicity , that two of the Mighty Sabre Slayers , The Gnats , would be on display .The news had taken Nagpur city by storm . Considering the interest generated in civil population , no one wanted to take chances with the vagaries of nature and the aircraft serviceability so it was decided to position the aircraft an Nagpur on 28 march . The Pilots were to be looked after properly and given VIP treatment . On 30 / 31 march a press conference was also organised so that the local press could meet the ” Gnat pilots ” and gain first hand information about the war and the role played by the Gnats ! The mystery of the grand reception was thus solved .

However the surprises were still not over . We were told that the Air Force Mela was to be held in a place called Kasturchand Park right in the middle of the city , about 20 odd kilometres from the airfield and of course the static display was also in Kasturchand park and NOT on the airfield and the aircraft would be taken on flat-beds to KC Park from the airfield . I do not think even our flight commander knew about this . We had presumed that the static display would be at the airfield itself ! I tried to reason that these were fully serviceable aircraft and are being ferried to Sulur . To lift them by crane , man handle on the flat bed , cart them 40 odd kilometers by road to KC Park and back to the airfield and again lift them down from the flat bed did not seem the right thing to do . However the decisions were taken at higher levels . So the next night traffic on the road from the airfield to the KC Park was stopped and both the Gnats were loaded on the flat beds and taken to the Mela site . So we had two gnats with thier armament loads laid out on the static display for Air Force day celeberations at Kasturchand Park Nagpur .

Thanks to the Gnats , the Air Force mela was a HUGE success and had to be extended by one more day on public demand !! We also had our press conference and had news items published in the local news papers of the Nagpur . First and last time I made it to the newspaper !!!!.

Aircraft were back on the tarmac by the 3 rd April . As we did not have the luxury of carrying out an air test , I told Pashu to be very very thorough with externals and check all the parameters thoroughly after start up and on take -off run and to continue if all was well . And that is what we did ,continued with the ferry for sulur on the 3rd April . Short of Hyderabad , Pash reported that may be his drop tanks were not feeding and he wanted to land at Dundigul , however I knew the air craft he was flying and so knew that the fuel transfer was ok so we continued and finaly landed at Sulur .

I do not think that what we did on that ferry was possible with any aiecraft other than the Gnat .

After a few months I did another ferry . On landing at Nagpur was received by the ground party of Gnat squadron boys , had to ring up few times for the transport and while waiting for it under the wing , thought to my self ” war memories are dimmed and things are back to normal “

2 thoughts on “Ferry Kalaikunda – Sulur : Gnats land up in Kasturchand Park , Nagpur .”

  1. I did the first landing of a Gnat at Sulur ferrying from Pathankot(IE 1109 an illustrious a/c flown by Pathania – shot down an F-86 and had bullet hole repairs). The usual as you said, “cannibalised” and fit for one-ferry! I had total hyd failure at Agra and serious brake trouble. Next leg, I had inverter failure, lost instruments forutuately on descent to Pune. On way to Sulur Gene warning kept blinking, instrument becoming unreliable when I was overhead. Surprisingly for Sulur, wind speed was low. Tail Chute did’nt work. Managed but how! Yes, there was that spirit that got us to do things and take things for granted as “the only way to keep flying”. I must say, the “Old habit” continued. A MIG-29 pilot collapsed in air on a ferry (inoxia) followed by fatal crash. Cause – leaking oxygen system ‘fit for one ferry’! Pilot was to keep it off on ground and at low altitudes. Inadequate briefing, also possibly he forgot the briefed drill or the leak got worse in air. “cannibalisation” as a way of life is regrettably continued till i hung my uniform. Reasons.. many.

  2. Groupie Velenkar’s lucid account evokes some old memories.i remember as a 7 year old(accompanied by parents!)visiting one such post 71war”mela” held near Janpath,at Delhi,on the vacant lot on which the LIC building stands today.Still remember the wreckage of a shot down PAF fighter amongst the many exciting exhibits!Interesting to note that the IAF till 72 was celbrating 1st April(the RAF aniv)as Air Force Day.
    AOG(a/c on ground)is bad news in commercial aviation also,hence the pressure to ferry a “Substandard”a/c to maintainance base still exits,though these machines ofcourse have much more redundant systems than their military cousins.The perils of manhandling servicable a/c to remote static displays and flying them out shortly thereafter is still a hazard(perhaps the tragic Mig 21 crash at Palam after a post kargil display at India Gate is a case in point)And of course waiting for aircrew transport is something all aircrew,civil or military can relate to!

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