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 .
I said to myself , why should this happen , it should be exactly the other way round . People should take maximum advantage of the limited time left to share their views , memories , anecdotes , tales and in general once again live through these columns our life with the Gnat. After five days this avenue may not be available and may loose its relevance . Once again we will get busy doing our own things and as was happening before this site started in Sept / Oct , may rarely think of the friends from the gnat days ,
Considering this I want to tell a tale .
Today our Officers and Men of the IAF are inter acting with foreign air forces in various exercises and putting up extremely good shows and we are proud of them . But in the sixties and the seventies we did not inter act with foreign air forces . Instead in those days we used to have what was called ” Inter Command Gunnery Meet ” .
The tale which I want to share now goes back to the sixties and the seventies when Inter Command Gunnery Meet was held once a year . It was a major occasion . In this gunnery meet all the fighter squadrons of all the Operational Commands used to take part in pre determined exercises , including live armament sorties ! Neutral umpires were detailed and marking was done . But what the heck , I am writing this in Gnat 50 years site which is for those who were involved with the gnat . Obviously , they were around those days and will know all about the gunnery meet . Trying to explain nuts and bolts of the meet to these people may be like teaching Grand ma how to suck eggs , so I will dispense with all those details .
At the end of the meet , based on the performance and the markings by the umpires one command used to be declared winner ! It was a great honour !! Western Air Command used to eagerly wait for the meet , as year in and year out it was almost always WAC which used to walk away with the Inter Command Gunnery Meet Trophy !!!!
The period of my tale is the period of November 1972 . That year the Inter Command Gunnery Meet was held in geographical area of Eastern Air Command . Live armament sorties were done at Dulangmukh air to ground range . The gunnery meet had progressed a fair way and lot of exercises had already been completed by various squadrons of different commands . Officially which command stood where was a loosely guarded secret 🙂 Grape vine had it that as usual WAC was heading . Surprisingly EAC , which used to be no where in the contention in the past , was a very close runner up at that stage . Grapevine also attributed this great surge in the fortunes of EAC to Gnat squadrons which had come under its command at Kalaikunda and may be at Bagdogra as well .
One of the few events left for EAC squadron to take part was a 4 aircraft live R/P strike sortie at Dulangmukh range . 22 Squadron on dettachment to Tezpur , was nominated by EAC for this event . At this time my memory fails me as I can not remember the composition of the strike . What I do remember is that I was no 4 . The formation took off and set course for the first turning point on the navigation leg . I was in position and faithfully scanning the skies and reporting tail clear as I was briefed to do !! I reported a bogey a couple of times but was told by the leader that it was the airborne umpire chasing us and as per the briefing I was not required to report that particular aircraft more then once !!! As was the ingrained habit , I was also scanning my instruments . I felt that the fuel gauge had started reading even when drop tanks were still supposed to be feeding By the second turning point the aircraft was flying slightly left wing low and the fuel gauge reading confirmed that there was some thing wrong with the drop tank feed .I reported the matter to the leader and told him that I had fuel transfer failure . After checking with the airborne umpire I was told to return to Tezpur . Airborne umpire also told Tezpur ATC that I would be returning to the base and technical umpire should be present on the tarmac when the aircraft returns . So I set course for the base . By the time I landed and taxied back to the dispersal I had no doubt about the transfer failure as fuel gauge was very low indeed . Along with the ground crew I was received by the technical umpire who was there to check and confirm the technical snag . I told them that most probably the port D/T had not fed fully . As engine trade man was opening the D/T cap , technical umpire himself came forward and instead of loosening the cap gradually to release the pressure , in his keenness , took off the cap without waiting for the pressure to be released . As the cap was taken off suddenly , the over keen umpire was splashed and soaked with a gushing fountain of fuel under pressure . There were furtive smiles amongst the ground crew . I gave them a stern stare but in one corner of my mind a little devil was saying ” serves you right for doubting my word ” . It was confirmed that starboard D/T had fed fully where as port D/T was full to the brim and had not transferred fuel at all . As technical snag was confirmed , 22 squadron was awarded a “reshoot” by the Umpires . By the time snag was rectified and aircraft made serviceable it was already approaching 1430 – 1500 h and due to early sun set there was no time to do a sortie that day and we were told that the reshoot would be on the next day !!!
Next day by the time aircraft was made ready , visibility over the range improved and every thing was in order , it as already around 1100 h or so by the time I could get airborne for my reshoot sortie.. And it so happened that on that day by that time all the events of all the squadrons of all the Commands for the gunnery meet were over , EXCEPT for ONE aircraft R/P sortie of 22 squadron . Even though officially nothing was known or declared , the grapevine had it that WAC was on top followed very closely by EAC . The position was such that EAC will win the meet if 22 squadron aircraft can score three direct hits out of the four allotted R/Ps . Substitution of pilot at that stage was not permitted and in any case the aircraft was already airborne and on the way to the range . So what it boiled down to was that “velu” had to score three direct hits !!! knowing my past record , where I had fair amount of “wash-outs “at all the clock codes possible and never come closer then 10 yards , WAC pilots were aleady in the celeberation mood !!!
On way to the range I was blissfully unaware of all these developments . I was not flying in the formation so no tension of position keeping , there was no umpire so no tension of position keeping and bogey reporting . I was posted to 101 squadron during 64- 65 and had flown in that area so no problems with navigation to the range , so no tension of getting lost . In short I was in a totally relaxyed frame of mind . Then some one called me up on the R/T and told me that ” velu if you score three direct hits , EAC will win the Gunnery Meet “. I just laughed and pressed the PTT so that every one listening would know I had got the joke and appriciated the same !
Any way the previous night I had decided to concentrate on the on the sortie , on roll out , on roll in , keeping the pipper on the pin , tracking through the dive and concentrate as I had never done . In fact I had been telling myself to fly that ONE sortie and fire rhe R/Ps as I had never done before in my life . I established contace with the range as I was the last aircraft to fire in the gunnery meet , they were ready and waitihng for me . I was cleared for safety height run and for the live dive when I called up “live”. I rolled in with the pipper slightly below the pin , let it ride and held it steady on the pin through the dive all the time manipulating the controls , shouting and encouraging myself to do the best I could . I came to the firing range kept it there for a fraction of a second more and fired ! As I pulled out of the dive , tried to look where the R/P had landed but the RSO saved me the trouble and said “velu that was a direct hit ” . More sweeter words I had never heard in my life .
Folks you know what , you gussed it , the impossible had happened !! The same procedure was repeated two more times and velu had scored THREE CONSECUTIVE direct hits for the first and last time in his life !!!! May be God was my copilot that day !!!!
As required by the rules RSO asked me if I wanted my forth R/P to be assessed , I being no fool , told him that I will fire it but it should not be counted it . It was reported as 8 Yards at 6 O’Clock and that did not make any difference to the results .
After a long long time WAC was dethroned as champions . EAC had won the Inter Command Gunnery Meet Trouphy for the first time since its fornation . Gnats had contributed very significantly to that victory . A group photo of all the participents of EAC in the gunnery meet was taken on the tarmac at Gauhati . Unfortunately I do not have a copy of that photo .
A result of what this sortie did to the self confidence of velu was that never again he was to hear ” wash out ” after pulling out from the dive after live firing of R/Ps