By Air Marshal R Ramamurthy (Retd) PVSM VSM
Since April 1963, I was an Instructor in Air Force Technical College. I got married in November 1964. As a Flt Lt, I was deputed for a Hunter aircraft MCF course in Halwara, in January 1965. While I was in Halwara- one day- I got a call from Ambala ” You are posted to 15 Squadron, with rank”. I knew that 15 Sqn had just then been reequipped with Gnat aircraft. I did’nt have to break the news to my wife- she had already got it from the Ladies club network. Those were the days when we needed no cell phones!
After a couple of days, I got another call from Ambala. This time, it was the CO of 15 Sqn, Wg Cdr MJ Dotiwala (Later Air Marshal)- ” Come and join Immediately- we need the senior technical officer badly”. I told him that I had to go back to AFTC, clear and then come.
In March1965, when I reached Ambala Cant railway station, I found a number of airmen frantically loading a special train. I was told that No 2 & 15 Sqns were moving to 15 Wing in Bareilly. Since my belongings were already on the railway platform, I got them loaded in the special train- keeping with me only essential things!
I reported to the CO and was told that we were moving to Bareilly in a week’s time. We had not heard of Bareilly earlier. I got busy reading the manuals and getting acquainted with the aircraft.My two years stint in AFTC as an Instructor and my earlier thee years as EO in No 1 Sqn (Mysteres) helped me in getting to know the aircraft faster. A weeks time is not sufficient for getting to know the aircraft nor the other officers nor the technicians! However, in those few days in Ambala, I had established close relationship with my CO- Wg Cdr Dotiwala and the flight commanders- Sqn Ldrs Upkar Singh
and ML Chaturvedi- which has continued till now- growing stronger over the years! I had a young technical officer with me- Plt Offr SR Bendre, who gave me tremendous support.
On the designated day, all the aircraft of 15 Sqn flew into Bareilly. None was left behind. This was an achievement by itself.I reached Bareilly in the staging aircraft. No 2 & 15 were the first squadrons to operate from the newly established 15 wing. We maintained 75% serviceability. Earlier it was said that Gnats cannot operate from any base other than Ambala!
We had a bunch of young pilots in the squadron. the whole squadron functioned as a closeknit family!
Our “Chiefy” in the sqn DSS was Flt Sgt Irani- a tall and well built person. He had excellent control over the airmen. They were scared of him, but at the same time adored and loved him. He will line up the aircraft by 0630 hrs and the first sortie of 12 aircraft will get airborne by 0700 hrs!
The work in the RSS was well planned. We had a good set of experienced and dedicated technicians. One thing with the Gnat. For any rectification we had to pull out the rear fuselage and drop the engine, to get access. But these operations were easy and comfortable.After servicing when we sent an aircraft for airtest, it will invariably have a PRL flameout, at altitude. The altitude at which this occured gave us a clue to do correct adjustments! The drill was to run up the ATC tower after seeing off the aircraft, to monitor when the flameout occurred and also be ready for any emergency. The relight after descending to 15000 ft was always successful.
We went thro the alert which was sounded when the Kutch operations took place. From then on we were standing by for operations. In Sep1965- one night- at about 0430 hrs- we heard the drone of Packet aircraft circling over Bareilly airfield. we rushed to the airfield. They landed at daybreak. The Packet squadron has been despatched from Srinagar. Operations had started. No2 Sqn and half of 15Sqn aircraft moved to Ambala. The other half of 15 Sqn aircraft and pilots & technicians moved to Agra- leaving behind the Packets in Bareilly.We kept a team of technicians in Bareilly for serving of the Gnats, as and when required. I was mainly in Agra. In Agra, the squadron mounted CAP sorties continuously from dawn to dusk. On one such pre-dawn sortie Sqn Ldr Chaturvedi swerved during take-off and hit the runway lights. He abandoned take-off. The aircraft was a total write off but Chato escaped with a fracture of the leg. We had to send an aircraft back to Bareilly for inspection. I estimated that the inspection will take 3 days- normally it would have taken 8 days. My “Chiefy” in the R&SS called me up the very next day and said that the aircraft was ready. They had been working on it continuously for 24 hrs!
For giving a max throttle ground run of Gnat aircraft we had to use chocks which were lashed.Without these chocks the aircraft would move forward even with brakes on. We did not have these lashing chocks in Agra. They had been sent with the Ambala detachment. We had an aircraft which had to be given a max throttle ground run. I had therefore requested one of the young pilots to taxy the aircraft to the end of the runway and give the ground run.He was thoroughly briefed by me and the flight commander that the aircraft will move but he is not to release the brakes. However, to our horror, we noticed that he released the brakes, picked up speed and then braked. He did this not just once but thrice. The aircraft whizzed past us on the other end of the runway and crashed in the overrun area.The brakes had got heated up and hence the aircraft could not be stopped. The aircraft was a total write off- fortunately the pilot was safe and unhurt.
We came back to Bareilly after the cease-fire was announced.We had a change of CO. Wg Cdr CV Gole (later Air Marshal) took over. Bhayya Jatar took over as senior flight Commander. The squadron was training hard. The cohesiveness was built up further.It was indeed a great time. 24 Sqn was formed with Wg Cdr MM Singh (Later Air Marshal ) as CO.Now we had three Gnat Squadrons in Bareilly. Earlier it used to be said that Gnats could operate only from Ambala and nowhere else.
We went for the Republic day flypast. We operated from Palam. On every rehersal day 18 Gnats will get airborne for the flypast and land back safely.We maintained 100% serviceability throughout the period. On posting out of the Chief Engineering officer, Sqn Ldr IG Krishna (Later Air Marshal), I took over as CEO 15 Wing. Sqn Ldr IG Krishna was the pioneer of the Gnat and had established a name for himself. He was no doubt an outstanding engineer.
15 squadron moved to Jamnagar for “Air to Air firing”. The results were excellent. One day, in Jamnagar, an aircraft taxied out with an air intake blank still on, on one side. The manual advised a change of engine. I was summoned from Bareilly. I inspected the engine thoroughly and since there was no damage at all, I cleared it for further flying. I was in Bareilly till April 1967. I was sent to USSR for training on Su-7 aircraft. I loved the Gnat and was amazed at its design features and
superb performance. At the same time, maintaining the aircraft was a challenge and a great experience. One had to be alert all the time.
My experience on the Gnat stood me in good stead throughout my career.