How many Gnats can be flown with a single A/H and a pair of Main Wheels !!!

By Gp Capt PM Velankar VM (Retd)

Foxed by the title, Read on to unravel the mystery .

After being part of 22 Squadron for almost 5 years from 1969 to 1974 , In July of that year I was posted to 5 BRD Sulur . This was not my first visit to that place as I had ferried Gnats from 22 Squadron to Sulur for major overhaul and also accepted , air tested Gnat aircraft after completion of major overhaul and ferried them to 22 Squadron . However during those ferries even in my wildest dreams I had not imagined that I would be posted there not once but for two tenures and would spend almost six years at that place and have some wonderful times .

I was posted to do air test on overhauled Gnat aircraft and clear them for allotment to the Gnat Squadrons. Production task ( number of aircraft to be overhauled ) for the financial year was given by Air Headquarters . So 31 March assumed vast significance in scheme of things at the BRD .All sorts of rotables and a very large number minor and major items like canopy for re – bubbling , main under carriage oleo legs ,aero engine etc were removed from the aircraft received for major servicing and sent to HAL Bangalore for servicing as BRD was neither equipped nor had qualified personnel to do the job . While HAL was doing their job , technicians at BRD stripped the air frame carried out the servicing of the airframe , fuel cells , change on power looms replacing the cables and the wiring etc etc . There was always mad rush and race against time to finish the task against all odds of provisioning , servicing and mainly against lack of timely supply of rotables from HAL Bangalore .

The less said about the work culture at Public Sector undertakings the better it is . I do not know how things are now but only thing good which can be said about the HAL Bangalore of those days was the cost and the quality of executive lunch in Officers Canteen . ( by the time I went on deputation to HAL even that had gone to dogs as a cost saving measure ) . So it was no wonder that It was herculean task to get back in right time , the serviced roatables sent to HAL..

That is how it came to pass that in that year all the servicing schedule on four Gnats was over . The aircraft were ready to be offered for the air test . Even one air test on these would mean achieving the task by FOUR aircraft !! Only aircraft was offered and flown . The other three aircraft could not be offered for flying even though ready in every respect because Artificial Horizon (A/H) was missing from these these aircraft !!!! A/H sent for servicing were still awaited . Protracted correspondence had not yielded desired results . Frantic calls had same results . As a final solution it was decided to cannibalise the only available A/ H to the other aircraft and do the air test . Till such time remaining A/H were received , these four aircraft were flown with that that single A/H !!!!

I remember another time when main wheel tyres were not available in almost exactly the same circumstances except that HAL was not a guilty party at that time . It was then that a single pair of main wheels was cannibalised to fly three/four aircraft ( I forget the exact number ) .

It speaks volumes for our Technical Officers and technicians and a tribute to them that even against all odds they always delivered the goods , then , and continue to do so today . The Gnat king pins Shaukat & Sylam were in charge of Gnat floor those days .

Sir my hats off to you and our Technical Officers and men who do the impossible !!!

Today being Air Force day let us touch the sky with glory .

The Miniature Masterpiece: Golden Moments

By Group Captain D LAZARUS VrC (Retd)

The Gnat represents many firsts in my flying career. It took just three short years with this elite wonder, to initiate an aspiring 23 year old IAF pilot like myself into fighter flying.

Owing to my height I nearly did not make it. After several measuring sessions only was I cleared to fly this dinky toy! Though two of us six footers were posted in together, my shorter trunk and longer legs gave me the necessary clearance between the bone dome and canopy, while the other’s longer trunk disqualified him. It gave me the chance to get my hands on the Gnat, the IAF’s proven ‘Sabre slayer’.

The 1969 bunch of 22 Squadron pilots was professionally razor sharp and socially approachable. Flt Lts Bal, Munna Rai, Adi Ghandhi, Fg Offrs Baldy, Sathaye, Ganapathy and my course mates Su, PKT and MAW, gave me the first taste of a great flying brotherhood.

Back then, there were no Gnat trainer aircraft, so we trained on the fighter itself. As ab initio pilots we developed the ability to experiment by taking calculated risks. I remember Gana encouraging me to roll by using just rudders. This built confidence in handling the aircraft, without fear of getting into a spin.

Being fully ops on three other aircraft, can never match the thrill of experiencing it for the first time on the Gnat. Maiden milestones have great significance for us all!

You name an emergency (barring engine failure) and I experienced it on the Gnat. Out of seven brake failures, the one I remember best relates to the KKD runway’s distinguishing feature; the height difference of 35 feet between dumbbells. After a brake failure landing, as the aircraft slowed on the incline, I jumped out. The ATC officer was dumb-struck to see the aircraft, canopy open, move along the runway with no pilot in the cockpit. He did not spot me running alongside, towing it towards 17 ORP!

Aerial activities heated up by November 1971. Pakistan had not learnt the lesson of 1965 and continued to rattle their Sabres along the borders. On 22nd November a formation of four Gnats of 22 Squadron was scrambled by Bagchi, to intercept enemy aircraft. With a keen spotter like Su, we gained the advantage. This coupled with the vertical agility of the midge silenced the Sabres. After an exciting dogfight, we shot down all three intruders, securing a 100% kill. The Gnat had lived up to its name again, giving first kills to Mouse, Gana and self!

I took full advantage of the acclaim and publicity the aircraft enjoyed, when I ferried one to Sulur in January 1972. Indian Airlines wait-listed me on my return trip from Coimbatore to Madras. As I did a low level high-speed run and a zoom pull-up over Coimbatore airstrip, the ATC confirmed my seat to Madras. The Gnat had won many hearts back then!

With the passage of time, fickle hearts have newer toys to occupy them. For me, the petite Gnat will never become obsolete.

My First Air Battle — 03 September, 1965

By Gp Capt Manna Murdeshwar (Retd)

At the end of August 65, the Pakistani Army made a concerted effort with troops and tanks to snap the vital road link to Jammu from Pathankot, hoping thereby to cut off Kashmir from India itself. Disconcerted by this manoeuvre and unable to face the onslaught, the Indian Army asked the Indian Air Force to interclude.

Not quite able to estimate the Pakistani intentions, Headquarters Western Air Command, (HQ WAC), in their collective wisdom, deployed a Squadron of aged Vampires based at Pathankot and tasked them to neutralize the menacingly advancing enemy troops and armour. Baying for blood, the Pakistani Sabres counter attacked these malevolent Vampires. The morale of the Indian Air Force came crashing down when four Vampires were shot down on the very day that they were called upon to play their role.

HQ WAC now shuddered into an alert mode as if someone had cracked the whip. Gnats, stationed for ORP duties at Ambala and Halwara (23 Sqn dett had moved from Ambala, with, Siki,. Pathania, Kitcha and Gill) were now asked to bare their fangs. The Ambala ‘ four’ that were named later, were Johnny Greene, AJS Sandhu, Trevor Keelor and me. Thus there were a total of six of us from 23 Squadron, and two from 2 Squadron comprising the two detachments who were ordered to move into Pathankot for a “Hum kuch kar dikhayenge” move.

It was at last light when our detachment of 4 Gnats cruised in from Ambala to shore their bets. The base was agog with everyone running around like headless chickens, filled with their own importance, but not knowing what exactly they had to do! The Officers’ Mess was over- crowded and the only things that seemed to suffice were eggs!!

Filled with a sense of mission and primed by months of “Day Fighter Leader’s Combat” training under Johnny Greene, all of us went into a huddle with some of the Base Commanders, to plan the task of drawing out the Sabres and shooting down at least one of them..
Continue reading My First Air Battle — 03 September, 1965

Pilot Error: They can’t even read JPT & RPM Gauges properly!

Gp Capt PM Velankar VM (Retd)

This incident took place in the year 1977, when I was on Deputation to HAL. I think it was the last week of the Mad Month of March. Being a Public Sector Undertaking, “Financial Year End ” fever was on. There was great urgency to air test as many aircraft as possible. It was quite late in the afternoon when I was called to do the first air test on the newly manufactured Ajeet. There was the usual Puja and coconut breaking ceremony, every one had sweets and prasad. Many times I thought that the puja was not so much for the good omens it would bring the aicraft but for the leisure time it offered the workers and the sweets which were distributed in generous quantity.:-)

After having a bit of the sweets, I did the externals, jumped in and strapped up. I asked for the air and started the aircraft. As the RPM was building up I looked at the RPM gauge and got the shock of my life. There was some thing terribly wrong – the gauge was calibrated in “degrees centigrade”. Looked at the JPT gauge to see how it was coming up and got another shock. Here again, some thing was terribly wrong. This gauge was calibrated with RPM. I switched off the engine and got out.

The Supervisor was worried and came to check what was wrong and why I had switched off instead of taxing out. I told him that the RPM gauge and the JPT gauges were wrongly installed. In fact their position was interchanged. That fellow just did not believe what I was saying. After all, during every stage of manufacture, every thing was checked by one person above the other. Finally there were people from some Government Inspection Agency (I forget which defence dept it was) whom the HAL technicians called “Aircraft Inspectors.” Not only that, the aircraft, in the process of production and making it fly worthy was given a large number of ground runs, full throttle runs, etc. not only by the HAL technicians but also by the Aircraft Inspectors as well. No wonder the Supervisor did not believe me nor did the others who were present around the aircraft. Finally, he and every one, including the Aircraft Inspectors looked and saw, looked and saw again in horrified disbelief, because the position of these two gauges was WRONG, they were interchanged.

There was no explanation as to how and why such a mistake was not only committed but also not detected for over a period of 20 days plus when the engine was first installed and the aircraft offered for air test. As I was leaving, supervisor asked me what I was going to do. I told him that I was going to make a written report to the CTP about such gross negligence and carelessness on the part of every one involved. Every one present gheraoed me and begged me not to do that. They promised to rectify the mistake, be doubly careful in future to ensure that such a mistake, nay, any type of mistake would ever take place in future. Finally I entered the snag in the snag sheet (Form 700’s equivalent in HAL) and left for crew room. The entered snag was : –

“On start up, the RPM gauge did not register beyond 650°C and the the JPT was more than 6000 RPM.”

True Confessions – Velu’s Near-Goof-Up In 1971 War

By Gp Capt PM Velankar VM (Retd )

During 71 war I was in 22 Squadron and we were operating from Dumdum. The squadron had been operating detachments and had a major portion of the unit operating from Dumdum since September – October 1971.

Squadron aircraft crossed the international border to attack various ground targets or as an escort to Hunters for the first time on the 4th of December 71. A good number of sorties were carried out by almost all the pilots of the squadron. I did not cross the border that day but was detailed to carry out CAP sortie over Dumdum. I did three or four sorties of CAP with different No 2s. It was the same story the next day. Even after requesting the Flight Commander to let me go on ground attack sortie I was informed that the CO did not want to send me across the border. My relations with the CO were not the most cordial. He thought I was a good for nothing useless pilot. On my part the feeling was mutual! So  once again I did four CAP sorties. The same thing happened on the third day as well. Doing CAP sorties every day, for three days, had its effects ! Things had become so bad that even after flying was over for the day my head kept snapping and swivelling  from left to right as if still  looking around for the bogies ! It was OK so far as it went but caused lot of trouble in the evening when I could not put the glass to my lips as the head kept swivelling! For the first couple of sips I had to literally hold it still with my left hand and take a sip from the glass in the right hand. Things used to improve after a couple of drinks and and were back to normal by the time my normal quota was consumed!!!!

On the fourth day the sun did not rise from the west but I had a feeling that things would be different that day. The start was not too good. For the first sortie I was again detailed for a CAP! Boondi took four ac formation for a ground attack / attack on river borne targets at a place called Satkhira.

The time was around 1030 or 1100 when I was told that CO wanted me. He told me that, as I was keen to do a strike sortie , to take a two ac formation to Satkhria and to get air borne as soon as possible, Vinod Batheja was detailed as no 2, apparently Flt Cdr’s urgings had their effect!!! This being my FIRST EVER sortie in enemy territory and that too as a Leader, I was extremely excited and rushed to prepare the map and do the normal planning for the sortie. I Wanted desperately for every thing to go smoothly with no f***-ups !!! As usual when you are in a hurry things are just not found. Frantic search for the map, the pencils, protector, ruler was yielding slow results. In between people were telling me to hurry up as CO was enquiring whether I had got airborne or was still on ground and was being told that I was preparing the map !! Finally every thing was found and I had just drawn the line joining Dundum to Satkhira and measured the distance which appeared neither too little nor too much. Calculation of distances , timings and fuel consumption were next in line and still to be done , when I was told that if I was not airborne within 15 minutes some other targets were expected and then I could forget about the strike and keep swivelling my neck over Dumdum airfield. All this while Batheja was hovering around and like a good no 2 was neither a hindrance nor help. But now he pipes up and says “Velu, it is OK I have been to that place in the morning with Boondi and every thing was ok, no sweat.” To my enquiry if he was “sure”, he said, “Ya, absolutely sure every thing ok” I wanted to say “OK Bats kick the tyres, light the fires, briefing will be on D Delta”. Instead I just said, “OK Bats let us go, briefing as per the SOP” and we proceeded to the aircraft. Time elapsed between my being told to go for the sortie and we setting off for the aircraft less than 18 minutes!!!!
Continue reading True Confessions – Velu’s Near-Goof-Up In 1971 War

Hitting the target – Unintentionally!

By Air Cmde AD Chhibbar, AVSM (Retd)

The Hawks (24 Sqn) were operating from Kumbhirgram during the 1971 war. The mission was Close Support to the Army in an area North of Kurmitola. The CO,Ravi Badhwar, was leading this two aircraft strike and the FAC was our sqn guy,Stan Khanna. Stan was quite excited to be able to talk with the sqn guys especially the CO. He ably guided the strike from the CP to the IP giving details of enemy hiding under a mango grove. As the strike pulled up, Stan asked the CO if he could see a white building. “Affirmative” was the crisp reply. “Sir, 6 o’clock to the white building, 500 m is the mango grove. Good luck”. The Co mentioned he could not locate the mango grove and would make a second pass. Frustrated, Stan asked the CO to knock off the white building since some movement was observed. The CO acknowledged and turned finals for a strike on the white building. In his hurry to cage the gun sight, the CO inadvertently pressed the R/P release button instead of the camera button. “Whooosh” and the rockets were gone. A very excited Stan piped up on the RT, “Excellent shooting, Sir !! You got a direct hit on the MANGO GROVE !!!”

Fire Warning! To eject or not that is the question.

By Gp Capt PM Velankar VM (Retd)

This incident took place when I was posted to 22 Squadron . One day I was detailed to carry out an Air test on an aircraft after completion of one of the 100 hours servicing cycles from the R&SS . Start up taxi etc were absolutely normal and all parameters were within limits . After being cleared for take off max RPM, JPT and all the readings were normal and within limits . Acceleration during the take off run was also normal. Nose wheel came up at the normal place and unstick was also at normal place. So far so good.

However as soon as I had unstuck and got airborne the fire warning light came on. Barely off the ground and with aircraft accelerating normally but speed well below 150 Kts, ejection was not an option. There was also no question of throttling back, checking wake for smoke and the JPT being within limits etc. Writing and reading this takes time but in reality, as soon as I saw the fire warning light I had transmitted the emergency and asked the ATC to check if they could see and fire or smoke coming out of my air craft. As usual, not anticipating such a call from an aircraft which had just un-stuck, no one from the ATC including the duty pilot understood the call and I had the mortification to hear the ATC asking me to “Come again”. I again told them that my fire warning light was on and to check my air craft for signs of any fire! What I got back was “Your transmission not clear, come again “. I repeated the call and as every thing felt normal, except for the fire warning light which was shining brightly, informed the ATC that I was turning downwind for an immediate landing. Incidentally another aircraft had lined up after me and even though now I can not recollect the identity of that Pilot, he was on the ball and was the first one to tell me that there was no smoke or fire visible on the aircraft. A couple of other aircraft in circuit and by now the ATC also confirmed that “It appears that there was no fire and that no smoke visible on my air craft. A ‘tear-ass’ curved approach and normal landing was carried out. During the landing run It was again confirmed by the ATC and a couple of aircraft that every thing seemed normal and there was no sign of any fire.

I taxied back to the R&SS. Seeing the aircraft returning so fast,The EO, Flt Lt RS Mehata, others and SNCO’s came to receive the aircraft. I called the engine fellow and frantically pointed to the fire warning light which was still burning brightly. There was no change in his expression as he nodded his head gave me thumbs up sign. Now what did he mean by giving me thumbs up – here the bloody fire warning light was on, had scared the s… out of me and here was this fellow nonchalantly giving me thumbs up!!! I scowled, made my face furious and again frantically pointed to brightly burning fire warning light. The process of nodding his head giving me thumbs up sign was repeated again but this time with the sign for me to cut the engine . The whole thing had taken place in just about 45 odd seconds, it was definitely less then a minute in any case. By now the Flight Commander, the CO and the whole of the squadron pilots knew of the emergency and my returning to the R&SS. I entered the snag in F-700, explained the same to the engine tradesmen. I walked back to the Squadron, expecting a pat on the back and a ‘good show’ for keeping a cool head and professional handling of the emergency from the Flight Commander.

On reaching, I found that all the Squadron Pilots were in the Crew room waiting to be addressed by the Squadron Commander. I was unceremoniously ushered in the crew room and told to find a seat. At this point in time I can not recollect the exact words of the CO, but the substance of it was that “Velu was a bloody fool who did not know his aircraft, As every one knows the fuel tanks are virtually wrapped around the engine and in case of any fire, because of the construction, before any one can say “Jack Robinson”, the air craft would simply EXPLODE. The wisest thing to do in the GNAT, in case of fire warning light coming on was to EJECT immediately or else one was a goner in an exploding aircraft. Velu was very lucky and must thank GOD for being alive to continue his rum drinking days etc”. The talk continued in similar vein for quite some time. It was solid bamboo and Velu was suitably chastised.

Within a month or so of this incident, Vinod Batheja while flying at medium to high level sortie, reported fire warning light ON and ejected! Every Gnat pilot will own-up to missing a couple of heart beats looking at the shining fire warning light due to sun’s reflection thinking that it was ON. To this day I believe that but for that particular talk, he would have taken proper emergency action and landed back safely!

My Experiences with The Littlest Fighter in the World

By Air Mshl AR Ghandhi ( Retd )

I remember the day in mid-October 1965 , soon after the Indo-Pak Conflict that, getting ready to fly a Hunter sortie after the ops in 7 Squadron, we received a signal posting some of us young ‘joe pilos’ to the newly formed Gnat Conversion Squadron, No 18 Squadron, for converting onto Gnats. This was a momentous occasion for us young guys because it meant flying the famous ‘Sabre Slayer’ a sobriquet aptly earned by this amazing piece of machinery during the war because of the number of Sabre kills by the pilots flying this formidable little fighter. Post 1965 there was this epithet going around that “ It needs a pilot to fly an aircraft, but it needs a man to fly the Gnat’. The atmosphere was patent with excitement and preparations to move to Ambala, where 18 Squadron was formed were started immediately. Obviously, the air force wanted to build up the Gnat force as fast as it could to provide the capability to deter any future misadventure by Pakistan. The conversion was on a fast track and before we knew it in just a little over 2 months we were declared ‘Ops Day’ and sent off to Gnat squadrons being formed all over the air force. One of the nicest parts of our conversion at 18 was the CO, Wg Cdr Aubrey Michael, a kinder gentler, yet more professional man I have ever worked with. Of course there were other luminaries like Jafa, Khanna and Kamy etc also some of the greatest guys to fly with. Kamy ( AV Kamath ) among them was known for his witticisms. A large number of interesting quotes on Gnats we owe to him. The photograph shows all the youngsters in the front row and a few at the rear.

The Gnat was a small aircraft and much of its renowned advantage arose from its size because it could not easily be seen in the air till quite late, at times too late. There was this famous quote by a Gnat pilot about the psyche of PAF Sabre pilots making the rounds in the PAF, “In 1965 the Pakis used to dream of the Gnat at night, because they could not see it during the day’. Just flying the Gnat was a challenge in itself and it took much briefing and counseling to keep it under control on the take off itself. If you survived that first time then you were well on your way to becoming a Gnat pilot. It shot off the ground in no time at all and once the undercarriage was raised reached for the heavens like no other aircraft could. Since it had no trainer and there was no other aircraft which could match the rate of climb on take off that this little bird would achieve, the first solo briefing was always very critical and comprehensive. Imagine changing over from aircraft with just 6-7deg of nose trim to one with 16 deg ( from -3deg to +13 deg ), the largest trim change on take off itself, if I remember well from -7deg to +1deg. The reason was that the Gnat had flaperons ( flaps and ailerons combined in one control surface). The simultaneous raising of undercarriage and flaps on take-off created a tremendous change of trim requirement. So if you did not sit on that trimmer as soon as you raised the undercarriage, the chances were bright that the aircraft would take you for a loop after take-off. The undercarriage also acted as the airbrakes when necessary by extending partially to provide the necessary drag. Fortunately it was a simple aircraft and checklists were quite easy. After start up all one had to do was lift the right elbow and punch in all the CB’s on the right cockpit combing and then follow it up with a double-whammy on the right and voila you were ready to taxi out. Because of all these quirks in its design there were innumerable expletives and quotations about it, and those who flew it, that were acquired in its lifespan.
Continue reading My Experiences with The Littlest Fighter in the World

Gnat Handling Flight: An Accident, Lesson Therefrom.

By Air Mshl MSD Wollen (Retd)

The IAF celebrated its 38th Anniversary by conducting a Fire Power Demo, Hunter Formation Aerobatic Display and a Flypast over Marine Drive, Bombay on 03 Apr 60.It was a magnificent airshow ; never seen before ; and meant for Bombayites. Credit goes to the late Air Mshl MM Engineer, AOC-in-C, WAC and the team he selected, particularly S/L A Sudhakaran, who delivered a superlative commentary.

Three Gnats from the GHF had to operate from Santa Cruz airfield. Two Gnats were to formate, one on each wing-tip of a newly acquired Boing 737, which was in the Flypast.

The Gnats took off from Kanpur on 19 Mar 60. Westerly winds at the tropo-pause necessitated a landing at Nagpur enroute to Santa Cruz; a safety measure. The formation was led by S/L Wollen, no 2, S/L Raghavendran (OC 23 Squadron), no 3, F/L Jakatdar. Before descent, at about 175 nm from Nagpur, Wollen contacted ATC Nagpur on Channel ‘C’. What was not known to the formation was that all transmissions on this channel were recorded (most fortunate for Wollen).

The Gnat flown by R’vendran, experienced an engine flame-out. Relights, carried out below 28,000 ft, were unsuccessful. Wollen warned R’vendran they were approaching 10,000 ft AGL and to eject. Ejection was successful ; the pilot landed in an open field ; the aircraft crashed in open country. The site was approx 60 nm from the airfield. Wollen overflew “a standing-up” R’vendran and reported details to ATC Nagpur. He gave Jakatdar “pigeons” to the airfield and instructed him to land there. Wollen then flew to the airfield. A Tiger Moth trainer was available. Captain Baker, CFI, of the local Flying Club, flew Wollen to the crash site (no fees were charged). A Police party was at the site but the pilot was absent (we later learnt he had walkd to the nearby railway line and caught a goods train to Nagpur railway station). Wollen and Jakatdar completed their flights to Santa Cruz.
Continue reading Gnat Handling Flight: An Accident, Lesson Therefrom.

How Petter Made The Gnat Light

This and My Other Reminiscences of the Wunderkind

By Gp Capt NK Krishnan (Retd)

1. My right to claim membership of the Gnat Brotherhood could actually date back to a mid-fifties SBAC Show at Farnborough, when as a kid, I was able to snaffle an autograph of a gentleman called Petter, on a photograph of a civil registered Gnat (it could have been a Midge). But kidding aside, the Gnat was the first aircraft whose systems we learnt at the Air Force Technical College, The luck of my course was that our instructor, (then) Sqn Ldr B Mukherjee, was passionately in love with the Gnat and very experienced on the type. This was our, (certainly my), joy. The Gnat was the first jet aircraft that I had the privilege to ground run, in fact, twice in that limited availability during boot camp training. My AFTC team’s ‘Project’ work was to install and make functional the air conditioning and brake parachute systems on a Gnat shell. Some years later, my belonging to the Gnat Brotherhood was firmly established when I had the privilege of servicing an Ajeet, the HAL derivative of the Gnat, for two years (including dozens of ground runs) at an establishment where they didn’t ask you stupid questions like whether you were trained on type! Later still, my first ever job as a Flight Test Engineer was the IAF’s Preview of the Ajeet Trainer, where I worked with my first Test Pilot, (then) Flt Lt Rakesh Sharma, who had grown up on Gnats.

Continue reading How Petter Made The Gnat Light