History is also a story. Often it is also his story, i.e., there is a hero who features in the story that in due course becomes history. The story I am about to narrate is certainly history. It took place many years ago and every one involved with the story either as a participant or a spectator have all left the Air Force long ago. I am however unable to nominate an individual as a Hero of this story, though Tara Chandra comes close to automatic nomination for the title. I also am aware that time plays tricks with one’s memory. Perhaps some other participants of the incident will remember it with slight variations.
Head of the Soviet Air force Marshal Kutakov was visiting India and it was decided that a grand reception will be provided to him with all aircraft of Russian origin in our air force on display. The location of the display was set at Adampur. The display included a very large fly past. Four boxes of four MiG 21 aircraft were to be a part of the fly past. One box each was contributed by 1, 29, 45 and 47 squadrons. As Archer One I led the first box. For the final day the aircraft were to operate from Adampur, but for a couple of rehearsals the MiG 21 group was to launch from Hindon.
Since the exercise entailed formations from four different units who did not normally fly together, a very detailed operating procedure was laid out. The portion of the procedure relevant to take off was that pairs will stream with a separation of 300 meters and boxes will follow at distance of a kilometer. After take off there would be one 90 degree turn to permit the sub-sections to catch up with the lead pairs. All the boxes will transit between Hindon and Adampur in line astern with a separation of one kilometer. It seemed a simple and straight forward procedure to follow.
The first foursome got airborne followed by the lead pair of the second box. Unfortunately, the wing man of the second pair of the second box had some problem and abandoned take off after an RT Call to that effect. The problem was that the call was a bit curt and the call sign preceding the call of ‘abandoning takeoff’ was some what indistinct. The Call came at a time when the lead pair of the third box had already started rolling. By SOP, the aircraft behind the aircraft abandoning take off was also to abandon take off unless his nose wheel was off the ground. The person on the hot lane was Tara Chandra. His leader heard the call, looked up and saw the aircraft in front on the other lane was slowing down. He expected his own number two to do like-wise. He looked at Tara and to his horror he found that he was stuck to him, his eyes riveted to the lead aircraft, oblivious to the danger looming ahead. Unfortunately it was also the time to rotate and the lead aircraft had to raise the nose-wheel. He quickly shouted ‘Abandon Take Off’ and made some wild gestures to Tara. How he managed to rotate the aircraft (with his right hand on the stick) and shout ‘Abandon Take Off’ (with his left thumb pressing the PTT on the throttle) and yet shake a fist at Tara is something I will never know.
By now Tara’s peripheral vision perceived the threat. Instinctively he came off the after-burner and his nose wheel slammed down. His leader shot forward. He now realized that the aircraft in front was close and he was too fast. He kicked the rudder, swung to the other lane, slammed the throttle and re-engaged the afterburner. This was the time his leader pulled up ahead of him and the jet blast hit him with full fury. Tara’s jet nozzle was open and the after burner had not lit. The aircraft was still decelerating. The jet blast of the leader upset his aircraft that was still swinging and he went off the runway. A huge cloud of dust billowed out. The observers on the ground feared the worst. Tara however now kept his cool. He held his course ignoring the cloud of dust that was billowing behind him. The after burner kicked in. He inched back from the shoulder of the runway and he lifted off before the runway ended. All was well. After a shocked silence of a few seconds, the rest of the aircraft took off and the fly-past took place as scheduled!
The sixteen pilots involve included a large number that rose to fame in the Air Force later in life. Bharat Kumar, Neelu Malik, Vinay Kapila, DN Rathore, Nadkarni, Tich Verma, Ranjit Bedi, Vinode Patney, Subhash Bhojwani are few of the names that I think were included. I wonder as to how they remember the incident.