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.
Wg.Cdr. Nimbu Mallick as COO Patankot on September 08, 1970 gave me the dual check on the Hunter 66D and gave me the feel of the trim change of the Gnat after take off when the undercarriage was raised, by him pulling back on the stick and me briefed to maintain the attitude with forward pressure. (I used that tip when training others as a supervisor and Flight Commander.) I flew solo on the ‘Small Bird’, Gnat E306 on September 09, 1970 at Ambala. That take off demo in the Hunter was of a big help, but the nose up trim change was there to be experienced making one feel that the stick may slip out of one’s hands with the amount of forward pressure one had to apply with the Mount of Venus and trim at the same time with the thumb while supporting and gripping the stick with the rest of the fingers. Thereafter it was a battle between ‘Man Vs Machine’ just as the first few sorties on the Gnat are meant to be. Before you got to grips of handling the aircraft the fuel was getting low and had to spiral down to circuit from overhead to join circuit. Made a good landing after two overshoots. It was an experience of a life time and I joined a select band of Fighter Pilots in the World.
After two sorties on the Gnats, I went medically down for a few months making me a unique one of the human species. WingCo appointed SAS Khanna as O i/c fruits for AJ. The following Gnat solo on February 08, 1971 was the one that really took me for a ride after take off making me go up like a shooting star after take off as observed by late Crow De of my Squadron from the ATC. I remember in the next sortie still fighting to get a control of the aircraft overhead Ambala and not realizing the fuel state which when checked by the supervisor prompted an immediate descent for landing. Realizing the situation and then WingCo D’costa’s (now late) R/T call to the Tower on the aerodrome channel still ring in my ears, “Rocket formation abandoning Attack. Small Bird low on fuel.” A four aircraft formation of Sukois (SU-7) led by him were to carry out a practice or simulated attack on Ambala airfield in 2 minutes. I said to myself, ‘Thank God’ and went in for a landing. The squadron relationship and spirit was great amongst the two Gnat squadrons and the two Sukoi squadrons (32 & 108) at Ambala then, and the competition healthy. We all met for Saturday beer at the bar with the last landing at 1200 hours followed sacredly by one and all, with Black Beer bottle fined per the minute for the violator. Just for the consumption of others – It was at the bar that combat flying was taught, when inhibitions broke down and the two hands of the demonstrator got entangled demonstrating, “You were there, and I was here”. Also those were the days, when by tradition it was, “First learn to drink, then will teach you to fly.” Good old days. But guys from TWO were under the general supervision of the most famous tea-totaller who did once in a while allow us to indulge ourselves.
VISIT TO ATW JAMNAGAR APR-MAY 1971 WITH THE WINGED ARROWS
As my other course mates in the squadron (Ajit, Hothi, Pat, and Sids progressed to Air Defence Operational status, except for the guys who left for Mig Squadrons, I had just sort of finished conversion with a few hours when the Winged Arrows at the end of April 1971 flew to Armament Training Wing at Jamnagar for both Air to Air and Air to Ground weapons training. I flew with WingCo Greene on the first leg of the ferry in the Hunter from Ambala to Jodhpur and was doing instrument flying till I leveled out at 40,000 feet. Rest was navigation. I had a junior now, Shoker with a couple of hours less than me. Shoker kept us entertained with his jokes. Shoker flew the next half to Jamnagar with Greene in the Hunter. While at ATW, WingCo Greene shocked the two Flight Commanders BI Singh and Crow De, that he planned to send AJ and Shoker in formation to lead each other for Ranging and Tracking sorties as they were busy with Air to Air work. I had 15:00 hours on Gnat and Shoker had 13:00 hours. Crow pleaded with Greene for us both to do one more sortie with the experienced guys before we did that. That very evening, Wingco called us both to his room and briefed us for the formation sortie we were to do the next day with me leading Shoker in a two aircraft formation but under individual call signs. On May 19, 1971 we as briefed got airborne for Ranging & Tracking sortie. It went flawless and I brought Shoker back safe and sound. Greene took his chances as he always did. He always talked to us about the preparation required for taking calculated risk which ia a necessity to succeed in life. Both Shoky and I had done our OTU training in Jamnagar not very long ago and were familiar with the airfield and the local flying area and we both did Dual Checks on the Hunter on the way to Jamnagar. Boss was happy at our performance and having seen the film, he briefed both of us a day later again for Front Gun Dummy over Sarmat Range. I did a total of two dummy F/G sorties over Sarmat on 21 and 22 May. The gunsight MK VIII and firing parameters at 10 deg dive and 400 KIAS at a slant range of 600 to 400 yards with a 100 feet pull out, again were the same both for the Gnat and for the Hunter on which we had trained at OTU. Greene and the flight commanders were happy with the film we brought.
On May 22, 1971 the day I did my second dummy sortie, I was launched for Front Gun Live with 17:30 hours on type! I fired 77 rounds. Firing ranges were OK, but sight ride up had to improve, pull out heights were safe. I was not happy with the performance about which I expressed to WingCo that afternoon at the Saturday beer session. He told me, “Take it easy, you hit the target at least, damn it.” I got 7 hits. I did two more live gun sorties on the 24th when I got 19 hits out of the 66 fired and on the 25th when I got 12 out of 56. Not bad I thought. On 25th I was launched for a Rocket Projectile (R/P) dummy. With 19.20 hours on type and on May 26, 1971 I went for R/P live with 4xT-10 rockets surprising late DP Singh, the Range Safety Officer (the unlucky guy who when on live ORP duties at Patankot still flying the Gnat after being posted there from TWO, having the Pak Mirage (I forget the type) in firing range over our territory on an intrusion during peace time, could not fire his guns as they were ‘Loaded’ but not ‘Armed’ as the firing arm was not connected. The Pilot Orders soon followed. DP died in a Mig accident later. Good guy with a hearty laugh as seen though his thick black beard). DP on R/T asked me “AJ, are you sure?” when I asked permission for “4xT-10 R/P Live”. I replied cockily, “Any doubts?.” I got a couple of direct hits and an average of 8 yards. Phooh! It made WingCo Greene tell, Allan Templeton, our KP(KingPin) in rocketry who had followed me to the range and did not get a great score, “To take briefing from AJ.” Allan who is close to white an Indian can get went Red! I did one more live sortie with both guns and rockets getting 35 out of 107 fired and an average of 10 yards in rockets.
That did my armament sorties at Jamanagar, thanks to my thoughtful Commanding Officer whom I respect even to this day next to my parents and with whom I remain in touch. He is 81 and at Mumbai with his wonderful wife Cynthia, and I am 60. The squadron left for Ambala end of May with me being allowed to go back with the Air Party in the Packet aircraft rather than by the Train Party as I had to propose to my would be wife as she was leaving Ambala for annual leave to Kerala in a couple of days. We nearly bought it as the Packet got airborne practically at the last slab just before the barrier on the runway towards Sarmat Range. I along with our EO Showkat Ali saw OTU one storey building pass by and then the ‘Flying Coffin’ got airborne maintaining a shallow take off attitude. I breathed a sigh of relief. The captain of the Packet executed a crawling climb overhead Jamnagar for 30 minutes at really poor rate of climb. He called me to the cockpit being the only squadron pilot on board. He calmly told me, “AJ, what did you guys do! You saw what happened. For God’s sake show the correct weight on the manifest.” The ground equipment weighed much more than shown. We had to spent the night at Jodhpur in the hangar as we had to change the Orpheus 70101 engine on one of the Gnats. I just made it to Ambala with just enough time to propose to my wife who did not hesitate to say “OK”. It was a GOOD month.
Late Kooky Suresh on the staff at the PAI Flight had been eyeing the Gnat and cozying up to WingCo Greene for a sortie on the Gnat. He finally got it. And I don’t remember a Gnat coming to a halt so fast on the landing run. Kooky landed, and one tyre burst followed by the other and the aircraft stopped before the middle marker on its stubs. Most of you will remember Kooky as that lively tall guy, but he also had long lanky legs, perhaps a bit oversize for the Gnat. He already had brakes applied when landing. Gnat brakes being like car brakes of old could be used to stop the ac in the shortest distance should circumstances warrant such an action by bursting the tyres just by sitting on the brakes. Kooky Suresh gave us the demonstration that it can be done. The wheels were changed, the undercarriage checked out and all was well. End of story.
Before I forget, I want to let you guys in on how WingCo Greene trained us to have control over the rounds we fired when we pressed the trigger. Whenever an aircraft was ready for butt-test (after a major servicing the guns are proved on the ground firing the guns jacked up at the butt-test range) one squadron pilot was detailed to practice the art of firing one round from each gun at a time, considering the rate of fire is 3600 rounds per minute or 60 per sec. It is achieving self control when firing a weapon. WingCo in one of the first sorties flown during that visit in April-May 1971 got 35 hits firing in 17 dives over Sarmat range!! Unbelievable. I would not have believed it but for the fact I was there. One more thing, the harmonization by the pilots of the sight with the guns following the correct procedure during the cool hours of the morning, improved our performance.
U/T Ops to A/D Ops to ORP Duties at AMRITSAR – Operation Cactus Lily 1971 (INDO-PAK WAR)
My training continued in earnest at Ambala with each sortie packed with multiple exercises unlike that given in the syllabus as that approach as per WingCo Greene did not make it boring for the trainee and secondly more debrief was involved making faster progress towards being declared Air Defence Operational. With 51:00 on type now, I was called up to join the Squadron at No. 4 MEMU, Amritsar on October 15, 1971. I thought I was asked to report for Base Ops duties as things were heating up with Pakistan. Sitting in the Base Ops with WingCo Greene the next day morning October 16, 1971, he asked me, “Don’t you want to fly?”. I said, “Yes, Sir.” He then declared me Air Defence Operational and briefed me on a solo sector recce as flying hours had to be conserved on aircraft. After the sortie I was checked out for Operational Readiness Platform (ORP) scramble and cleared to do live ORP duties. He took his chances.
The telemic though an integral part of the Gnat for purposes of passing on scramble orders by cable connected to the right undercarriage bay and onto the pilot when on Operational Readiness Platform, it was not used till Raaj Kumar Poonia my course mate and an another genius of an AE(L) officer Fg.Offr. Aggarwal decided to revive it with local resources. And who did they experiment on. Yours truly. Raju wanted me to talk to my would be at Ambala from the cockpit when on ORP. On one occasion when I was strapped in the cockpit when Maria called, they redirected the call from the ORR the call which was channeled through the telemic cable to the cockpit. I had a good and long conversation which helped to pass time strapped up. It is only when I got out, did I get an embarrassing surprise. Ajit Agtey practically word for word came out with the private conversation I had speaking into my mask. The men also were giving me that ‘look’. The whole thing was there for all to hear on the tannoy speakers in the pen! Raaj Kumar Poonia and Aggarwal got Mentioned-in-Dispatches for their effort.
Start of the War
Greene told us that in war we would possibly have to handle the Gnat at very high speeds at low altitudes that can result in Pilot Induced Oscillations (PIO), face low fuel figures, and land in poor light conditions possibly at dusk or night for that matter. Towards that end the pylons were removed on ORP aircraft, the pilots cleaned the canopy of any spot/spec of dirt, and the men cleaned the aircraft with Watpol for better aerodynamic cleanliness. I learned to fly the Gnat at low level a few knots over 600 KIAS straight and level. He made us report at the Rejoin Point for Amritsar with Bingo Light ON (250 lbs) and get over the phobia of the low fuel light glaring at us, and develop the confidence in landing of the first approach in those conditions, by carrying out a demo circuit and approach. Lastly he was introducing us to night flying progressing with landings with increasing intervals of 10 minutes after sunset with every sortie. That is when on December 03, 1971 at dusk when Sqn.Ldr. Nini Verdi our Flight Commander and my course mate Fg.Offr. DR Patankar were on circuit, they were asked to clear the circuit and orbit for endurance at low level to the East, as the radar unit nearby was attacked by 104 Star Fighters of PAF and Amritsar airfield was under likely attack. Two Mirages dropped their eggs on a reciprocal heading along the runway when the AN-12 ferrying the Mig ground crew and two pilots were just airborne. Lucky, as one dropped at the dumbbell the AN-12 had lined up for take off and near the ORP bunker where we lived. The War finally broke out and we yelled with eagerness and relieved our stress. After the Mirages left and the runway inspected with just one hit at the very end, Nini Verdi and Pat were asked to rejoin, but Pat bore the brunt of the trigger happy ack-ack gunners who kept their headsets to one side and ignored the commands for cease fire from the Command Post. They were now really low on fuel. The squadron had given the gunners so much practice and they should have recognized the Gnat! We had to literally go to these posts and hold back these guys. At the end of the war the Regiment presented Pat with a nicely brassoed ack-ack shell. Just as no Gnat was shot down by the Pak ack-ack gunners because of its diminutive size, our pilots got away lucky as it happened again with (?) and Hothi which prompted Greene to tell their Captain, that if it happened again he will ask his pilots to retaliate.
Gnat and RUM
The two Aden guns, firing 30 mm rounds fitted on each Gnat air-intake like the guns on a Western Gunslinger shooting from the hip, were known to jam because of the inverted feed of the rounds to the guns against gravity, link jamming in the cross-feed chute, man-handling due to restricted space and work habits, and because of a host of other mechanical problems. In the East the trio of Massey, Gana, and Suarez flying Gnats shot down Sabres with perhaps just one small burst (6 and 7 rounds from each side) of the guns after which we heard the guns jammed. Air to Air kills in no thuka. Johnny Greene, who himself missed out on an Air to Air kill in 1965 Ops because of gun jamming, had another idea to make the guns fire at least one second burst of 30 rounds from each side by placing a bottle of Roger Uncle Mike in front of the guns. (The Gnat is designed to carry 120 rounds for each side but because of gun jamming reduced to 90 a side and later may be 60 a side. Right guys.) He charged then Fg.Offr. Bhaskaran (Air Force and National basketball player), our Armament Officer with the job. The guns fired at least 30 rounds each side before stopping and the armourers celebrated with the hard earned RUM given to them for the extra servicing they did. That made a big difference in our confidence when scrambled for live interceptions in 1971 war.
The dream of a Fighter Pilot came close to be realized for me on December 07, 1971 – an Air to Air KILL. Mission 69 A & B (SJ Rana and Self) were scrambled for interception and vectored on 030 heading from Amritsar. We were to climb to 10,000 feet. Two targets were reported crossing us from Left to Right. I positioned myself to the right of Rana in fighting to see through him and look for the bogies. Reaching 10G we were told to continue climbing and roll out on a more North Easterly heading. The target range kept reducing. Gun CB’s were in. I was frantically looking through my leader, when in that hazy afternoon I spotted two tail-less Delta’s (PAF Mirages) on my left at 10 O’Clock low about 5000 feet and 4 NM miles and on a Westerly getaway heading having crossed us from Right to Left instead of Left to Right as reported. I took the decision of rolling behind my leader and at the same time reported my action and the position of the Mirages. Rana made contact with me now in the lead and looking through me he made contact with the Mirages. He asked me to continue keeping an eye on the No. 2 who started to gently turn to the right in attempt to offer us two targets and take up a tactical abreast position. The Mirages descended too and engaged reheat and we closed in using the height advantage to 1500 yards behind in a 6 O’Clock position. My finger was on the trigger and the lead Mirage was in my sights. It was bloody close (just half a runway length or practically the distance of being abreast in tactical formation). The canopy was clearly seen and the features recognizable. Its at that time, I exercised discipline remembering WingCo Greene’s words, “Clobber the Bastards close” meaning not to waste the ammo firing early which happens in many cases due to misjudgment and the temptation to fire out of range in that excitement and consume all your ammo before you are in firing range. The rounds from both guns diagonally cross path at 500 yards too. That’s it. I wished I had missiles. They started to pull away. We were clocking over 600 KIAS and they perhaps went supersonic. They were warned of our presence as we later learnt. I should have take some pictures at least. We turned back hugging mother earth, lest they turn around and we know they are armed with missiles. WingCo Greene thought that it was a trap for us and was worried about us. In a way if they had seen us earlier we would not have known what hit us. Again we were flying the Gnat which is hard to spot, whereas we learned to spot others from unbelievable distances, prompting radar controllers to ask us if we were ex-Gnats even if we were flying a Mig in an interception mode.
Soon after the war, finding ways to spend time, WingCo Jog and Wingco Greene came up with the idea to pit the Sukoi-7 and the Gnat in an acceleration race overhead Amritsar airfield to check how the two will hold out. Pat Singh ex-TWO and ex-Gnats, then of 32 Sqn was to fly the SU-7 and I was to pilot the Gnat. After take off I joined up in fighting to the Su and then in line with Runway 16 came up abreast on the right to 500 yards. The SU was flying at 700 KMPH and I matched the speed in the Gnat. Both of us over dumbbell 16 opened full power. The guys below were yelling ‘Buck up Gnat, Buck up SU on the R/T. The Gnat initially went ahead and soon thereafter the Sukoi overtook the Gnat. It was fun. I joined up with Pat in fighting and he took me down to low level to show as briefed earlier as what actually 300 feet AGL means. He was flying on the radio altimeter. It was much lower than we in Gnats flew on a low level sortie. That was another good experience. Flying at 350 KIAS (a comfortable speed and that kept for valley flying) in a Gnat and hugging the earth was I thought the best way to get out of trouble when chased by the enemy or returning from a strike perhaps.
WingCo Greene, before the 1971 war started, gave us a problem to solve after one of those keep fit runs. (He believed that a fighter pilot need not be an athlete with low pulse rate which is not good, but just need to keep the heart beating faster for 30 minutes. We were taken for a run even preceding the war in black out conditions along the Rajasansi (Amritsar) airfield taxi track). The problem was as to how many nautical miles from base, a pilot flying a Clean Gnat, with low fuel light(250 lbs) On or BINGO light ‘ON’ at low level at 420 KIAS, can fly before executing a safe landing. We kept guessing, and finally he came up with the answer 80 NM!. The procedure was to commence climb, drop speed to 350 KIAS and then open full power to maintain 350 KIAS for TWO minutes, all on a straight heading for the base and then bring the throttle back gently to idle dropping the speed to 200 KIAS (Glide speed that will give 2 NM for every 1000 feet loss of height) aiming to reach 20,000 feet approximately and with fuel around close to 50 lbs. Then select HP cock OFF and glide straight ahead aiming to intercept Low Key Point over base in a Forced Landing Pattern at 4500 feet above ground, ‘Relight’ the engine and execute a safe landing. Gp.Capt. Suranjan Dass, the famous Indian Test Pilot, landed like this on numerous occasions to quote Air Marshal Dey (Groupe it seems had more gliding hours on the Gnat than power flying hours in the early stages of development). Then Flt.Lt.Nautiyal, as our instructor at Air Force Flying College in early 1970, used to tell us as Flight Cadets how in Operational Squadrons the unsuspecting new Gnat Pilot got a scare when he encountered a ‘Flame Out’ above near 40,000 feet as the Pressure Ratio Limiter (PRL) was deliberately set high (True, you guys senior to us can tell. Its possible!).
Prior to the 1971 War, Operation ‘Cactus Lily’ was on. WingCo Greene convinced us that such exercises are a prelude to war, and prepared us mentally even when Bhutto went to East Pakistan and we thought that there may be no war. He told us one evening after our fitness half an hour run and when standing in a semi circle, “Today we are all standing together, but after the war we all may not be standing like this together”, in a stark reminder of the realities and seriousness. We were thrilled as a young bunch when the war broke out and yelled our guts out when the Mirages struck holding our guns. Using the call sign ‘Greene 1 & 2’ whenever 2 Gnats established low level Combat Air Patrol (CAP) overhead Amritsar, we made sure the PAF knew if they were listening out as to WHO was defending the base. In the intelligence reports we did come to know that the PAF was advised against engaging the GNAT in close combat. In my P-57(Annual Appraisal) interview I had after the war, I asked WingCo as to ‘WHY’ he made me take part in the war and take his chances. I had just around 50+ hours on type. He told me, “I wanted to make a MAN out of you. Don’t you feel good?” I said “Sure, Sir” and smiled indicating a THANK YOU with a sense of gratitude.
WingCo Greene believed that Fighter Pilots should get married early. His theory was that it solves the ‘girl problem’ and keeps one focused at base and flying rather than roaming around with a wandering mind. We hardly had any bachelors (Hothi, Pat, Sidhu,Khangura – all my course mates with just over two years of service, and Shoker the junior most) by end of 1972. Sandy, SAS Khanna, Maddu Khanna, Allan Templeton, Ajit Agtey, and self got married by the end of the year. And mind you we did well in flying too especially weapons delivery, and there were no fatals under Greene’s command. So, he had a point.
Sometime in March or April 1972 trying to beat Allan Templeton to a landing at Ambala after carrying out 4 x T-10 R/P live at SK Range, I rejoined downwind direct for R/W 30. Winds were gusting 10 to 20 knots as reported by the ATC. Attempting to make an approach as we made for R/W 34 at Amritsar a bit shallower than normal, I reduced power on finals although I was at the correct speeds. Having already taken permission to land and with speed about 150-155 KIAS on short-short finals I suddenly sank and saw these two trees looming in front of me. Had no choice but to go between the two tall trees on the approach. Something did hit me, a branch perhaps which shook the aircraft a bit, but as the aircraft was stable and flying level with no wing drop I decided to land hoping the wheels were OK. Landing was normal and I was happy to be rolling on all three wheels without any problems. When under control, I looked to the left and found that my drop tank had dented in the front. I taxied back and after I switched off and I saw Radar man Cpl.Vasan approaching the left D/T. When I jumped out there were more guys and Vasan asked me with a grin pulling out a dry piece of wood stuck between the pylon and the wing, “Did you hit a tree, Sir?” I called up Crow De who was then officiating as Flt.Cdr.and told him that I hit a tree on finals. He and WingCo Greene came and I told them as to what happened. WingCo told the Chiefy to change the tank and he told me to make out an incident report for ‘Bird Hit”! He told me that I was lucky to hit a dead branch seeing the little piece of dry wood stuck between the pylon and the undersurface of the wing. In the briefing room CO explained the mechanics of an approach and told me that I should applied half the gust factor on finals in those winds. End of story. Well it was so, but I lucky to get away once before when the squadron was at Amritsar and after the war when making an approach for R/W 16 and making it low like we used to for R/W 34, I found myself on short-short finals low with the fence above me. It was another day that I played real cool. I opened full power to go around and let the nose ride up on its own clearing the fence. I did not pull back at all on the stick. Just as I hoped nobody saw me from the ORR where normally the guys stand outside and warm themselves in the sun. I only told my late course mate Sidhu about it. The two trees on short finals for R/W 30 at Ambala I heard were finally cut down a few years later after I left Ambala and after perhaps a couple of Sukoi’s went through them.
As you all are aware the roll limitation was max 300 degrees per second on the Gnat. Wingco Greene to emphasize the effectiveness of rudders while maneuvering in combat briefed us to carry out a 360 degree roll at 300 KIAS between 10 and 15000 feet using ONLY RUDDERS, keeping both hands crossed over the chest and leaving the stick. The roll was to be commenced with the nose 5 degrees above the horizon. He cautioned us not to touch the stick at all even when tempted and to keep our hands crossed and to continue constantly apply rudder even when on the back when one can think one is about to get stuck. It worked when I tried and it was a new experience. The G-Bird rolled well.
I tried something on my own after WingCo Greene had left the squadron. Something I told him about when I visited him at Delhi when he was staying at Dault Kuan. It may sound not possible or some of you may have tried it. I carried out Stall Turns on a clean Gnat, I did about three or four of them in two sorties. I was ready for a flame out or duct banging and even entering a spin. This to my less experienced mind was an attempt to give the guy on my tail a surprise. Probably I would have got a surprise. When I told WingCo about this, he with his characteristic raising of his left eyebrow, told me, “You are asking for trouble.” I did not try this manoeuvre again after meeting him. In the squadron he never wanted a Aeros & Handling sortie to go up without being briefed and something NEW had to be tried out and parameters noted in the bluebook. He maintained boredom is the scourge of many pilots. Experience built up in quick time.
After the war on May 16, 1972 I landed Gnat E 1053 with tail split and stick fully forward about which I have already written about on this site. It was an hair raising experience, not then perhaps, but surely now.
HANDLE WITH CARE: ARMAMENTS
Talking of Armament Handling, I have seen guns firing in the dispersal at Ambala hurting a Sergeant badly, a T-10 rocket taking off towards the Diary farm from the right wing of the Gnat when Anjan Muhury was carrying out the external checks on an adjacent aircraft carrying rockets, and from behind seen a rocket again inadvertently fired when Allan Templeton was rolling in for the dive over SK Range.
GNAT WITH CAR BRAKES
I had an interesting experience of left brake failure when WingCo AS Bains was the CO. Maddu and I got airborne for a 1 VS 1 sortie as Pink 1 & 2 (Call signs in TWO then were Colors because of ‘GREENE’). I realized that I had a left brake failure the moment I applied brakes after take off to raise the undercarriage. I said to myself, “what the hell”, combat sorties are hard to come by, and decided to continue without telling my leader then but to do so when rejoining circuit at the end of the sortie. I moreover did not want to put him in a spot. Gnat brakes being independent of the main hydraulics, nothing else is affected. Enjoyed the combat and somewhere between rejoin point and the airfield informed Maddu. The ATC reported winds 12 O’Clock and down the runway and light for R/W 12. Ideal conditions. Having flown a combat sortie fuel was already low enough to make a quick landing without burning much of fuel. Just one overshoot with U/C down to give Maddu enough time to clear 12 runway and I don’t remember any other aircraft around. Good time to make a landing. My course mate Sidhu as supervisor came to the ACP and Wingco and I think Shyam Hattangadi flight commander were on the way as I gathered later. Aimed to touch down close to the threshold in the centre of the left half of the runway. Approach was good, speed was correct and touched down at the threshold as planned on the left side, kept the power on at idle, deployed tailchute and confirmed deployed, then selected HP cock OFF. Was able to control the aircraft to maintain a straight line in the left half and was ready with the left rudder. Chute was jettisoned, but around 2500-3000 feet up the aircraft started to move to the right abruptly. I gave it all I had with my left foot, brakes and full rudder. Not much of luck, just a brief reprieve. Then I noticed that I was going to hit the Middle Marker (4500 feet up). I tapped the right brake and on leaving the runway immediately moved the throttle fully forward (to activate the over ride mechanism for the U/C) and raised the undercarriage, followed by quickly selecting the HP cock OFF, and then just closed my eyes as I was aware of the trees on both sides of the runway at Ambala.. Nothing more I could do, than to wait for the undercarriage to go up or crash into the trees. Guess what? Nothing happened except for the slightly rough ride. The Gnat stopped with the nose BETWEEN two trees and the U/C did NOT GO UP, as the hydraulic pressure had depleted enough. WOW! Completed the switch off, made the seat safe and jumped out. The G-Bird was still on its feet. WingCo Bains and Shyam came over and patted me and told me that as seen by them all was going fine till the abrupt turn of events, probably they said because of some effect of the trees on the wind and weather cocking. The squadron airframe technicians came, slapped on ground locks and towed the aircraft away. That felt GOOD. Next day I described the emergency and the handling of it at the morning Met briefing at ‘K’ hall. I nearly lost my cool after I came down the podium, when then WingCo SD Mohan instead of giving me a shabash, told me that I went off the runway because I did not wait for my CO to come to the ATC before I landed. I told him straight, “Sir, I don’t wait for my CO to come to the ATC when favorable wind conditions existed and that too down the runway.” My CO calmed me down.
Although it was not a practice in our squadron, I have heard that at one base (I forget now if its Patankot or Gorakhpur) that the whole Gnat Squadron personnel used to line up on both sides of the runway towards the end whenever a Gnat landed with Total brake failure, to keep it on the runway.
LIGHT WEIGHT FIGHTER
Once at Ambala during the Tilpat Air to Ground demonstration the five aircraft were positioned on 30 dumbbell for a start up take off and return to base saving precious fuel in the bargain for the return trip to base. At the last minute the runway changed, making us to both tow and push all the aircraft along the runway to make the TOT possible. I remember I was in the team pushing the fifth and standby aircraft. We were just a handful of guys. We pushed and ran with the Gnat almost the entire length of the 9000 foot runway when the tractor came to save us from our agony.
Another time Ajit Agtey and myself were watching an airframe technician change a wheel on the tarmac at Ambala when the bottle jack collapsed. We immediately got up, put our backs to the underside of the wing on that side (I think it was the right side) and supported the Gnat till the airman got out and help arrived. Thank God for its size and weight. We were told that Dingy Jatar, first thing in the morning, with minimum fuel on board in a clean Gnat used to Take Off, do a Roll of the Top and Land, perhaps the only sortie of the day for him. (1:1 Thrust/Weight ratio). Those DAYS!
GUNNERY MEET – NOVEMBER 1974 – SK RANGE
Its unbelievable to me even now and perhaps to many who read this. Then Sqn. Ldr. Mac Basra, my Flight Commander would remember this and perhaps a few of my squadron mates in TWO Maddu and Agtey and perhaps Whooch David in 18 who saw some of my films tracking the intake of Sukoi parked on the far end, when carrying out dummy dives over Ambala after the Missions and before the individuals while trying to improve my firing technique. I was assessed to be good on Guns and therefore was designated to take part in both the Gun Missions carrying 2 x 35, 30 mm rounds. In the first Mission on Nov 19, 1974, flying Gnat E 264, I got 37 hits firing 51 rounds. I was very apologetic to Mac Basra for firing less. He asked me to attempt firing more in the next one. In the second Mission that followed the same day, I flew again Gnat E 264. I thought I fired more. I felt bad to see that I fired only 42, and Mac Sir, told me, “AJ, its Ok if you get 42 out of 42.” I brushed it off thinking it a joke. I am sure he was serious. Next day in the morning Met Briefing it was announced I got 40 out of 42 ! All and one expected me to get the individual, but sadly I fired only 50 again and the first dive did not go to well. I got 38 hits in the individual. VK Sharma a KP in rockets got the Guns too. I owe my success in guns to WingCo Greene’s training. I believed in firing less between 600 to 400 yards for half a second and get practically the whole thing IN as the rounds from both guns cross at 500 yards. Also during normal range sorties, unlike the trimming technique advised at 400 KIAS the firing speed in the Safety Height Run which was to trim a touch UP, I used to trim a flick ‘DOWN’ so that after I had allowed the pipper to ride up to the centre of the target and tracked that black spot on the canvass for one second steady before opening fire there was no pressure on the stick at 400 KIAS – no bunt whatsoever during the acceleration to 400 KIAS in the dive. Fire and out.
A WORD OF THANKS
I have a total of 881.15 hours on the Gnat/Jet combo (Gnat MK 1:496:45, AJEET: 383:20, AJEET Trainer: 1:10 at Sulur with Tathgur). I flew the Gnat in No. 2 Sqn Winged Arrows at Ambala, No. 15, Flying Lances at Bagdogra with Maxie Malick, No. 9 Sqn, WolfPack (both the Gnat & Ajeet) under another Great late WingCo Kamath, once again at No.2 with late Patwardhan after my tenure at Iraq, at No. I Wing Srinagar as SFS&IO as 18’s R&SS was still there when they were at Udhampur, and finally as CTP at No.5 BRD, Sulur. I flew a total of 4084:40 hours in my 23 years of service spent only in Flying Units. I owe my development to be a safe and good pilot to the confidence the GNAT gave me and the training I got under Air Marshal Jonathan William Greene. Thank you LITTLE FIGHTER AND THANK YOU SIR. ‘God is Greene and Greene is God.’
PILOTS FLY GNATS
I take this opportunity to thank all my predecessors who developed the diminutive fighter, one and all, and to those who gave their life in the process. THANK YOU GUYS.
To all you GNAT VETERANS OF ALL HUES, SENIORITY, PILOTS, ENGINEERS, DESIGNERS, TECHNICIANS AND MANUFACTURERS, – HAVE A GOOD ONE AT BANGALORE THIS WEEKEND. I will surely miss it. To those who are still flying, ‘HAPPY LANDINGS’ and Take care.