2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Lessons from the Gnat


I was looking through net-space in search of interesting factoids from unusual ventures in aviation when I chanced upon this Web Page (http://www.airvectors.net/avgnat.html).

The page deals with the Folland Gnat. Since the Gnat and I have had a long lasting love affair, I went through this page carefully. Many little lines jumped out to catch my attention.

I am penning this little note to share the interesting tidbits with my readers even though this little note cannot really be called a ‘Tale’.

Point 1

The Gnat prototype was refitted with an uprated preproduction Orpheus engine to put on flight displays at the Farnborough air show that year. While the RAF had no requirement for such a machine, the government wanted to encourage Folland in their work, and so the British Ministry of Supply (MoS) ordered six prototypes of the full-development aircraft for evaluation.

The evaluation Gnats were powered by the production-spec Bristol Orpheus 701 turbojet with 20.1 kN (2,042 kgp / 4,502 lbf) thrust. Most of the test flights were conducted in the UK, though ground-attack trials were performed in Aden (now Yemen). The report from the RAF evaluation generally praised the Gnat’s performance, but there were criticisms of its flight-control systems, and there was no consensus that the Gnat was what the RAF needed. The Gnat fighter never served operationally in Britain, though the MoS did order two more Gnats on top of the original order for six.

This forward-looking interaction between the Government and the Industry is what we miss in India. By this singular decision to support Folland in their Gnat project, the British Government created an export market for military aviation that lasted for three decades.

Point 2

The Gnat went into IAF service in the spring of 1958, with the first Gnat assembled by HAL from a kit flying in Bangalore on 18 November 1959. HAL then went on to build 195 Gnats themselves up to early 1974. The first completely HAL-built Gnat flew on 21 May 1962. IAF pilots were delighted with the nimble Gnat, which they felt was more than a match for Pakistani F-86s and MiG-19s, and nicknamed it the “Saber Slayer”.

HAL took 13 years to produce 195 aircraft. Just over 15 aircraft per year. The Gnat was, by the way, a rather simple aircraft to manufacture (albeit it was a terrible toy to maintain!)

Point 3

The RAF had shown no real interest in the Gnat fighter, but Teddy Petter was persistent, proposing the tandem-seat “Fo-144” trainer version of the Gnat. The RAF liked the idea, and a contract for 14 preproduction “Gnat T.1” trainers was placed in 1958. The first performed its initial flight on 31 August 1959.

Just one year and five months to move from an order for 14 pre-production aircraft to the first flight of the first aircraft? How I wish this could happen in India!

Point 4

The Gnat T.1 had no gun armament, but retained the twin stores pylons. It was powered by a Bristol Orpheus 4-100 engine with 18.8 kN (1,920 kgp / 4,230 lbf) thrust. It featured a larger tail, plus a bigger wing with integral fuel tanks, 40% greater wing area, and conventional ailerons and flaps instead of flaperons.

The Gnat T1 was quite different from the Gnat F1. Different and larger wing, different and more numerous control surfaces, different (lower powered) engine, deletion of internal gun armament and related gunsight/radar ranging equipment. The metamorphosis was still achieved in real quick time.

Point 5

The RAF was pleased with the Gnat T.1 and ordered 91 more, for a total of 105. These were built between 1962 and 1965 by Hawker-Siddeley, which had bought out Folland since the government was strongly encouraging consolidation of Britain’s aviation industry.

91 aircraft were built over 4 years. A rate of production of 22 or 23 aircraft per year. Also noteworthy is the fact that 14 preproduction aircraft were used intensively for over three years before a larger production order was placed. Folland did not shy away from setting up an intensive production line even though the production order was only for 91 aircraft. A strong contrast to what we are seeing in the LCA project! Alas.

Memorable Moments – 1: In 1963 With the Battle Axe


On our journey from Childhood to OLd Age, we constantly interact with people. Some of them we meet and interact with over long periods time, our dear ones, our friends and also those who are not so friendly. Yet, there are others whom we meet only once or twice but cannot ever forget them. I have already penned one such story about a person named Pistumlal. I however have a clutch of stories about similar persons I cannot ever forget even though I do not know or remember their names! I will attempt to narrate one such incident today.

It was a cloudy day late in 1963. I was about to finish my tenure of duty with the Battle Axe as its adjutant. I had been posted to the Panthers who were, like the Battle Axe, located at Ambala. I was in the process of clearing out from one unit and moving to the other. I was to move to my new unit in a day or two. I had some paper work to attend to. It was late in the afternoon. The flight offices were closed. We were then operating off the Green Fields dispersal off tented accommodation. A couple of gangs were working in the technical area. I was in the Adjutant’s tent. The afternoon was busy for me as it was lonely at the same time. My work was suddenly interrupted by some commotion and the sound of people running. I put my files aside and came out of my tent to inquire what the matter was.

The scene that greeted me was quite confusing. There was some commotion around a Hunter aircraft parked outside a blast pen for last flight servicing. A young airman was hanging along the fuselage next to the cockpit ladder. His head was inside the cockpit, his hands were hanging by his side, and his feet were off the ladder. It seemed that the canopy had closed on his neck and he had passed out through suffocation. One airman was supporting his legs to prevent his neck from snapping. One sergeant of armament trade came running to disconnect the canopy from outside. As I looked on, the young technician was brought down. He was unconscious as he lay on a canopy cover spread on the ground as his emergency bed. I ran back to the adjutant’s tent to arrange medical support. At that part of the evening, the fire-rescue-ambulance support were not on an alert state. Flying had stopped some time earlier; every one was on ‘stand easy’. To get an ambulance to reach the spot took some time, and every second of that wait seemed like an eternity.

We ultimately reached the military hospital. Doctors took charge of the situation. The young airman was saved.

Unnoticed through this turmoil, one airman knelt next to the unconscious body of the stricken airman and continuously gave him artificial respiration. He performed this task continuously for about forty five minutes. This lad was not medically trained. He just happened to be around the spot of the incident as an electrician on duty. He had just been a Boy Scout in his school days and had been instructed on emergency help for respiratory problems. But for his dedicated intervention, the technician caught by the canopy would not have survived.

I left the unit a few days later. Ajit (Peter) Rawley took over the duties of being the Adjutant to Battle Axe One from me. About a week later, I asked Peter about the welfare of the stricken airman and about some Service Recognition for the lad whohad kept his friend alive. I was happy to learn that the technician was doing well. He had been discharged from the hospital. He was given some leave and he had gone home with his father who had come to take him home. I was also happy to learn that the young man who had provided respiratory support had been recommended for a Vayu Sena Medal. The sad part of the story is that this recommendation was reduced to a CAS’s commendation by the Command HQ and was further diluted to a letter of appreciation of the station commander by the Air HQ.

I have forgotten the name of this airman. Even his face is now obscure in my memory. I however remember the incident and I hold that man in high respect for his dedicated support to his comrade.


Jostling with Ethics -8- : Dancing Down the Street


Ethics is a very personal matter. After all, it is one’s own perception of right and wrong. While these perceptions are not immutable over time, changes to one’s perception of ethics need to spring internally. Any force or inducement to alter one’s ethics is normally resented. And yet, in a structured group like the Army/Navy/Air Force, the Commanding Officer is charged with the task of ensuring that individual ethics of the personnel under his command resonate with the group ethics of the Fauj. No one chronicles a list of what a fauji ethics aught to be. For the officers, it is just covered with a vague label ‘Officer Like Qualities’ or OLQ. The CO thus has the unenviable task of monitoring, strengthening, and often time modifying the ethical standards of the men under his command without ever appearing to be an interfering SOB. When I was a CO, I found this task very challenging. I often had to create a situation of a moral dilemma in the minds of selected officers and then force them to take an ethical stand without compromising with the task at hand. My story today is about one such incident.

Batra was my Signals Officer. Young, smart and reliable. He joined me at Chandigarh when I converted the Black Archers on to MiG 21 Type 77, and he moved with the squadron a year later from there to Hindon. Soon after our arrival at Hindon, Batra announce that a marriage has been arranged for him. The date for the event was fixed. The venue for the event was in North Delhi, not far from Hindon. I proposed that the Archers will attend the marriage function enmass. One of the officers was made in charge of administration. A bus was to be hired for the journey. Every one was excited.h

On inquiry it transpired that for the selected date of marriage, hiring charges for a bus was very high. The cost for the journey, even a 1/20 share of it, was steep. It seemed that my plan for leading a big Baraat for the marriage would fizzle out.We needed new ideas, and my boys were keen to solve the problem. A scouting party reported that a road under construction from near our base was now useable. The road could take us to a newly built bridge over the river Yamuna reducing our distance to our destination by about half. Would it now be within 20 kilometers from the base? We did not really know. That piece of information was important because it would then become possible for us to hire a service motor coach at subsidized rates for the journey. Such amenity run was permissible only up to a distance of 20 km. Another scouting party went out to actually measure the distance to our destination only to return crestfallen; the distance for the round trip was 43 km. These three additional kilometers made the trip untenable as an authorized . The matter came to me for a decision. It gave me a chance to initiate a nice debate on ethics.

I gathered all the boys and spelt out the dilemma. Technically the venue for the marriage was too far, albeit marginally. To use amenity transport we either had to walk the last kilometer and half or ask the MT driver to under log the distance by three kilometers. To get all the young girls in their finery to trudge one and a half dusty kilometers was not a welcome proposition. At the same time, knowingly ordering a subordinate, in this case the MT Driver, to resort to falsehood went against the grain. Hiring a civil transport was too expensive. I wanted my boys to consider the problem and advise me on a course of action. It did not take them long to figure out a solution.
As one of my smart officers propounded, there was really no problem. It was a Punjabi Marriage. Traditionally, the Baraat must arrive at the bride’s place with the groom on a horse-back accompanied by music and dancing. We would park the amenity transport at the 20th kilometer, ask the appointed Ghodi-walla to position the mare at that spot, we shall carry a couple of Dholaks, Cymbals and other musical instruments, and we would then sing and dance as the Baraat and reach the marriage venue.

The Baraat for Batra was noisy and boisterous. The Black Archers enjoyed themselves quite thoroughly. No ethical transgression took place.

Jostling with Ethics – 7 : Rights and Privileges


It is amazing how some lessons get reinforced over and over again as we travel on in life. I never cease to wonder at how every one of us in this world enacts multiple roles constantly and effortlessly. I use the word effortlessly here because, to me, it is amazing how most of us solve conflicts inherent in our multiple roles through mutual give and take without any special effort. How often have we given an extra hug to a child because we cannot give her something else that she has set her heart on? How many times have we put on our uniforms and pushed off for our duty on the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform) at an unearthly hour on a holiday morning when we would rather stay in bed and cuddle? We decide between two desires or two duties so often and so regularly. But alas, our paths are not always strewn with rose petals. Some times conflicts do arise when we face two conflicting desires that are equally strong or we have a call from two divergent duties equally important. Conflicts can also erupt when we fail to perceive our own rights in conflict with someone else’s, or we misjudge the boundary between our rights and our privileges. In such cases, it is rather difficult to decide which action would be ethical and which would not. My tale today is about discovering and identifying such a conflict even before it arose.

In our younger days, in the sixties and seventies, we lived in a controlled ‘command economy’ regime. For all so called ‘luxury’ goods like a scooter or a car or a telephone connection, one had to wait in a queue. Banking had not yet been nationalized. It was nearly impossible to obtain a loan for the purchase of such a luxury item from a bank. For underpaid soldiers like us, the Government threw in a few privileges; a shortened queue for the allotment of a scooter through the Canteen Stores, a loan to purchase of a car and the like. For these too, there was an internal queue system prevalent. Typically, each unit maintained a list of officers desiring a car loan. In each financial year the Air HQ allotted money for a certain number of car loans. These loans were distributed to the units through commands and stations. During one of the years when I was in command of a fighter squadron, my unit was allotted the authority for one car loan. I had a list of 5 or 6 officers waiting for a car loan. The top name of the list was sent up to the station. I signed the letter and thought no more about it.

A few days later, I sensed a loss of social binding within the unit’s officers. There was something that was making them unhappy. I had to find out what the problem was, though no one had openly spoken about any problem. I looked at all the input present. It then struck me that the officer who had applied for the car loan already owned a car! He had applied for it a year ago when he was a bachelor. He then got married. He was from a wealthy family. His father gifted him a small car for the occasion. He had not removed his request for a loan and his name had remained on the list. Was this a cause of disaffection amongst his friends? I did not know for sure, but perhaps it was. I thought the matter over. The rule book did not insist that an officer requesting for a car loan be a non-owner of a car when he applied for the privilege. It was within the rights of an officer to buy a second car or trade in his old car for a new one. The only stipulation was that an officer could not use this privilege any more than once in five years. The concerned officer in my unit was within his rights to apply for a loan. A debate now raged in my mind as to whether there had been any breach of ethics in this situation. Was the eligibility for the loan a privilege or a right? More importantly, even if an ethical slant was to be admitted, would I have a moral right to judge and grade the officer’s conduct for this incident? After a long debate within myself, I came to the conclusion that an element of ethics was indeed present in the situation. And No, I had no call to decry the officer in this instance. I did not know whether the person was aware of the existence of the ethical element of the situation. I also did not know the full background why the officer had asked for the loan in the first place. I decided to have a chat with the person concerned.

The young man was called into my office. He was completely unaware of the reason why the Commanding Officer had become interested in talking to him. He was ill at ease. I began the discussion by mentioning his request for a loan. Yes, he said. He had applied for a car loan some time ago. He had been informed that his sequence for a loan had matured. He had therefore applied formally for the loan. I then asked him that since he possessed a fairly new car, whether he was thinking of selling it and buying a newer car. He informed me that he was quite happy with his car and had no intention of selling it. In fact, the car stood registered in his father’s name. His old man had multiple vehicles and had gifted this car to him after he got married and set up a home. When the loan came through, he intended to give the money to his dad and transfer the registration to his own name. The situation seemed to have become complicated. I asked the officer whether his father had asked him to pay for the car. No. Of course not. On mentioning of his intent to pay for the car, his father had asked him to keep the money as he had no need for it. I then asked the officer whether he saw any ethical conflict in the situation. He was taken aback. He was happy to have received a gift of a car from his father. But he was a big boy now. He did not want to sponge off of his big hearted dad. His own pay was too small for him to pay back the price of the car to his dad immediately. He therefore needed and wanted the loan. His father was reluctant to take that money from him, but he fully intended to press the money back to him. I was now convinced that the young man was totally unaware of the possibility of an ethical conflict in the situation.

My own conflict became more acute. All-round development of character for an officer under my command was clearly my responsibility. I was therefore obliged to draw the officer’s attention to the fact that indeed there was an ethical angle to any decision that he might take in relation to his application for a loan. At the same time, there was a clear possibility for the officer to take any pedagogy on my part to be a subtle play of favoritism by me against him. I could ill afford to let that happen. Of course it would have been simple for me to just ignore the situation. No one in the unit had brought the subject up to me. The general level of empathy within the unit was high. Heavens, as the saying goes, would not have fallen if I just looked away. However, in my own eyes, it would have been a failure of command responsibility on my part. I decided to speak to the officer once more.

The officer was somewhat surprised as I broached the subject. The way I approached the subject was new for him. He was, I explained to him, using a Service Privilege open to him to make some cash available to his dad. This was within the law laid down. His father was not in need of this money, but being able to give this sum to him would make the young officer feel good. The young man nodded. What I was telling him matched with his own views on the subject, though he had not examined his own feelings in such detail. I then asked him whether he had considered his relationship with his friends together with his relationship with his father. The officer’s eyes grew large in surprise. Indeed, he had not considered his relationship with his family and his relationship with his friends as related in any way. My words made him think about relationships in a new light. I let the young man think about the situation in this new light. If you are confused, I said, you can always consult with your parents or your friends. He nodded his head and left my office.

Two days later the officer withdrew his application for car loan. The slot for the unit was passed on to the next person. Now, when I think about this incident about forty-five years later, I still do not know whether the person concerned acted after conscious thought or was emotionally/psychologically coerced to do what he did because I was his Commanding Officer. Grappling with one’s ethics is often tough.

Brushing A Star Per Chance – 2


It was a cloudy morning after three hectic weeks of high level activity. The Government of France had invited a high level Defence delegation from India, headed by the Defence Secretary, to come to France and and start a new phase of defence procurement. A long line up of French military hardware was laid out for us to inspect and be impressed about. We were dined and wined well. The hardware on offer were all technically excellent. We had not really talked about prices, but of course these items were all expected to be expensive. It was indeed an exciting visit. I was a member of this delegation. I was at that time employed as the Project Manager for the induction of Jaguar Aircraft into the Air Force. My office was integrated into the Ministry of Defence. Read the rest of this entry