Gnat Scramble: A Lucky Escape Once – A Disaster Decades Later

By Air Commodore Tapas Sen (Retd)

I had joined the Panthers in November 1963 as a Flight Commander and had needed just twenty eight days to be declared operational on Gnats. Therefore, my story today must have been set on a cold Sunday morning early in December 1963. I do not have my logbook handy at this moment so I cannot quote the exact date. Tradition demanded that I get rostered for a holiday stint at the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform) as soon I get declared operational on type. I claimed no exception for myself; I found myself on the ORP on that Sunday. By chance, the other pilot on duty was the other new flight commander, Reggie Upot. We were no strangers to each other. He was my instructor when I was a pupil in the Flying Instructors’ school, and he was my CO when he was commanding the FIS and I was his Chief Ground Instructor. He was now my senior colleague.
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My brave and enthusiastic Gnat friends

By Gp Capt AG Bewoor (Retd)

I am most certainly not a Gnat fellow, but I have staged Gnat units from here to there, with scooters, cycles, and other non military goods in the AN-12. Met some very fine persons in those ferries. Some good friends are hard core Gnat pilots, unfortunately a few went ahead of me, I miss them dearly.

A most amusing incident of me and Gnat pilots happened during the 1971 war. I was flying C-46s and AN-12s with ARC, and was a regular transient thru Guwhati. By about 10 Dec 71, USS Enterprise had come into the Bay of Bengal, and there was much debate on how the IAF would engage those fighters if a direct confrontation resulted. The Gnat unit at Guwhati was on top of the world, the PAF was crippled in Bangladesh, and we ruled the skies.

The watering hole was the canteen at the ATC, and one normally lived on egg bhujia for two if not all three meals. That is where I was, wolfing down food before getting out for another task. Suddenly there appeared a young Gnat pilot in g-suit, with a revolver strapped on his waist, and started berating me and the crew, and challenging the Americans to take on the Gnats. I suppose he believed that because ARC may have had some kind of link with USA, we desi transport pilots were an extension of Enterprise, and some of the goomph had to be blown off. Quite puzzled we did not retort, he was armed, and we “civilians” were unarmed. It was a strange encounter, I cannot recollect his name, maybe the person will read this and reveal it now. It was of course wonderful to see the josh and supreme confidence in so young a man.

Gnats were a class by themselves. I was coming into Kumbigram in a C-46, this is before the war, and so were four Gnats. As No 1 reported Downwind, he asked for ATF refuelling. Next transmission was, ” Me 2″, then “Me 3″ and finally ” Me 4″. That foxed the civilian controller, and he promptly asked, ” Confirm helicopter?” Recollect MI-4s took Octane fuel, not ATF.

On 22 Nov 71, Massey, Gana, Lazarus and Suares, intercepted and brought down three Sabres under Jafarpur S U control. I think Jain was the controller. I was coming into Cal by AN-12, and was made to orbit about 10 miles east, and then continued orbiting for a good 20 mins. I was to get briefed, and do a “sweep”, and do it as fast as possible followed by another one later at night. All queries to ATC got ” maintain orbit” reply till finally we landed, and who should tell us about the encounter, but the Indian Oil refuelling crew. We stole his jeep to meet up with the Gnat heroes. They had been beating up Cal before we could come in.

I could still jump into a Gnat cockpit and proudly get airborne

By Air Cmde Gurdip Bal

Pre 1965 period a pilot posted to Gnats was considered a dead man. So two pilots were posted from flaming arrows to gnats (15 sqn). Farewell was worded “hope to see you again ”

However we did not loose heart and proceeded to sqn on posting. After all the formalities we both were cleared for solo by hooka upkar singh. Shyam Hattangadi and self were to do our first solo on Gnat E-229 (premod a/c for jet pipe). This blooming a/c had a pronounced swing on t/o. Both of us got airborne almost on kutcha, thanks to good thrust and clean configurations. We both were reluctant to report this fact to the flt cdr with the fear that we may be sent for another dual check that is a visit to KKD from Bareilly.

Pat Singh being a senior Flt LT in the sqn took up the clean a/c for aerobatics. He faced the same problem and abandoned the take off. When he asked us about the bent thrust, we meekly told him the truth. A/c was grounded and a test pilot from Kanpur flt visited the base for investigation. Air Mshl P Singh recommended the jet pipe change and the later modification of the jet pipe is a history. I am proud to say that i stuck to Gnats for longest period of its hey days, ie 11 years out of 18 years of my active flying service. I could still jump into a Gnat cockpit and proudly get airborne. That is the confidence we had in Gnats despite teething problems.

A Tale that ended well!

Air Mshl Raghu Rajan (Retd)

We were flying Gnats operating from Ambala.That morning we got airborne for a 2vs1 sortie, with G’Man in the lead, self as No2 and DDS as the attacker. Those days we had the privilege of having two Gnat and two Mystere Squadrons op from Ambala.On completion of the sortie, we pealed off for the landing, and I and DDS were in the Queue . That day G’Man had one tyre burst followed by the other and hence blocked the R/W30 some 2/3 way up and slap bang on the center of the R/W. I went around and we both Gnats orbitted for endurance as directed by the ATC. We also had two Mysteres-Hemu Khatu and VPSingh also orbitting Ambala. As the fuel state dropped to a low figure, we elected to divert to Chandigarh-the hitch, we did not have Chg R/T freq on board. We tried our Emer R/T but no joy, so we followed Hemu and VP to Chandigarh .Since my fuel state was 100lbs lower ,DDS let me be in the lead, and between ourselves we cleared each other on D/W and on Finals.Hemu landed safely on the right lane but VP had a tyre burst on the left lane, and hence came to a stop about 2000ft to go!! I had meanwhile rounded off for the landing and my fuel state did not allow any leeway (it was reading 50lbs or thereabouts) I stuck like a leech to the right lane, warned DDS to do the same and we taxied to 47 Sqn dispersal and switched off. We were surrounded by a host of officers and airmen who were heard shouting”Oye, Yeh Gnat walon ki Gaddi Hawa se chalti hai!!”The lessons learnt are too many but I leave it to you all who may have faced a similar situation!!

How I survived a spin!

By Daboo Dewan

I want to recount one of my experiences during my flying days in the Gnat.My name is Daboo Dewan and I opted to leave service prematurely in 1981.I had the privelage of flying the Gnat from 1972 through 1977 at 21,9 and 15 squadrons.During my conversion at 21 squadron in Gorakhpur I was on a training sortie 1 vs 1 combat and my leader was then Flt Lt Gujral.Whilst we were carrying out manouevers at 30000 feet at slow speeds I mishandled the aircraft and entered into a spin.I relayed this on the RT and my leader immediately spotted me even though I was loosing height rapidly. He instructed me in great clarity all the measures we were taught to counter the spin ,however I was frozen on the controls and cannot recollect whether I carried out his instructions explicitly though I presume I must have as I wouldnt be alive today.He was in constant visual and RT contact with me and asked me to eject when I had descended to 10000 feet.It was precisely at that moment that the aircraft recovered from the spin and I finally leveled out at 3000 feet.

On landing and reaching the crew room I was scared out of my wits but needless to say the squadron made sure that I flew the very next day to ensure I did not suffer from lack of confidence.The recovery from the spin was totally attributable to the professional manner in which my leader handled the situation rather than any skill on my part.I have lost touch with Gujral sir however I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for saving my life and I would appreciate if anyone can give me his contact.I would also be keen to learn from anyone else their experience of spinning this aircraft .

Even though I have been on civvy street for over 25 years We have been rather fortunate to have been in touch with a number of people from the airforce days.The reunion at Bangalore on 21st November will be a once in a lifetime event and I regret that I will not be able to attend due to a prior commitment of visiting our son overseas .

On behalf of my wife Meera and me I want to convey our best wishes to the entire Gnat brotherhood


My only flight in a Gnat was an eye-opener!

By Gp Capt MO Blake VrC (Retd)

I was the Chief Instructor in Jamnagar when Mally Wollen’s Gnat Squadron arrived. I was advised NOT to use full throttle on take off. I’m afraid I ignored the advice and used full throttle!

As a result the little B ran away from me when I got airborne!! My nose was
approaching almost the vertical upwards position before I got the trimmer going to bring it to a level position!!! I will never forget the flight. I really enjoyed the rest of it! That was the one and only flight I had on the Gnat. It was an eye opener


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 !”
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There is no subsitutte for experience

By Gp Capt PM Velankar VM (Retd)

After doing production testing of overhauled Gnat aircraft for two years and logging almost 150 plus hours of flight test time at 5 BRD Sulur I was posted to ASTE to under go No 5 PTP course !

Dear reader , remember I was a student officer , so I became privy to what is written in the next para only after the event as they say .

ASTE was allotted a Gnat aircraft for some development trials . To this day I do not know what those trials were . The aircraft was instrumented for the trial purposes and to the extent required for the trials . All this work took time and may be the trial work was getting delayed too much . Unfortunately the aircraft was taxied out a few times but never got airborne and returned to tarmac .
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First Day, First Show! A sprog reports to a Gnat Squadron

By Air Cmde AD Chhibbar,AVSM (Retd)

The course at OCU got over and two of us course mates (Chimpy Koshal and I) were posted to 24 Sqn (Hawks) at Kalaikunda. Eager to be the first one to fly, I reported to the Sqn a couple of days before Chimpy. We were briefed before leaving OCU that at the new squadron one must present oneself at the Flight Commanders office immaculately dressed, wearing a peak cap and carrying the log book. The first day at the squadron was quite exciting. The flight commander (Chacha Malik) was in his office and I walked in, smartly saluted and said “Plt Officer Chhibbar reporting, Sir!”. He looked at me and screamed “GET OUT. I will call you”. A little taken aback, I retreated to the crew room.

Within a few minutes the Flt Cdr walked in and said ” Where is your overall. Change and report to me”. I was so elated that on day one I would be flying in the squadron. I rushed back to my room,picked up the overall and literally ran back to the sqn. Changed quickly and with great expectations of a dual check went to the Flt Cdr’s office. He asked me to follow him into the hangar, pointed to a Gnat and said “Clean it”. I was stunned and could do nothing but stand speechless. He looked at me with “Hawkish” eyes (We were the Hawks after all) and said “Didn’t you hear me? Clean it. I want it shining”.

I managed a rag and commenced cleaning it thinking it would be OK to dust it. But the Flt Cdr was keeping a watch and said “Shining means SHINING. Let me know when you are finished , I will inspect it”. I went to the store room and got some thinner and commenced the given task, It took me better of three hours to really do a good job. (After all being ex-NDA, I had been through many a “cabin-cupboards”). Around, 3 pm I informed the Flt Cdr that the aircraft was ready. I had really done a good job and was admiring the shine when the Flt Cdr arrived in overalls slid under the tail, touched the skid and came up with finger smudged in oil. “You call this CLEAN?”. Arms aching, anger in my eyes I “attacked” the Gnat once again. It took me another hour to really get under the belly and get the under-surface cleaned up.(And learnt that the skid was 9″ from the ground, there were numerous drains and holes for various functions etc). Finally I was told, “OKAY. It is satisfactory.” The icing on the cake when the adjutant (Madhu Sohoni) came up to me and said that the Base Ops Officer was not feeling well and I am to replace him immediately.

It surely was a very memorable “first day” with the “Crazy Hawks”!!

Memorable Gnat Ferry

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.
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