H Singh Bends a Pitot Head

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The AOC in C had advised me to get the squadron fully operational as soon as possible after we reached Hindon.   That advice suited the temper of the Archers just fine. However, the desire to accelerate the pace of training was being thwarted quite seriously by lack of support from the Station administration.   One stumbling block for us was the non availability of Motor Transport Drivers (MTDs) in sufficient numbers.   The MiG21 units were established for a large number of technical vehicles along with the requisite number of MTDs.   With Harsaran Gill in the Air HQ MiG Cell under Mally Wollen, I had no cause to complain about my manning levels.    Twenty three out of my authorized twenty-four MTDs were physically with me.    At the station level, however, these MTDs were merged into the station pool of MTDs.   The unit was allotted with only three or four MTDs per day.    It was impossible to run a 3 shift training program with these few MTDs.   

I put my needs on paper and pushed the station staff.    The Chief Technical Officer (CTO – that was the name for the Senior Maintenance Officer in those days) was adamant in his refusal to relent.   I raised the level to the station commander.    Group Captain KM Ram gave me a sympathetic hearing but pleaded his inability to over-rule the CTO as he was satisfied with the fairness of allocation of the station’s resources.    The Archers put their heads together and made out a list of 16 SNCOs who held civil driving licenses.     I sent the list to the station and requested the CTO to issue Service Driving Licenses to this lot.    The CTO returned the list on the plea that issue of licenses was beyond his competence; the matter had to go to the Command HQ.     I returned his volley with a request that the list be sent to the Command HQ for action.    (I bent the Service Protocol a little bit and set a copy of my letter to the concerned tech staff at the Command HQ).    The CTO sent my letter to the Command HQ who promptly turned the request down on the plea that since my manning position of MTD trade was excellent; the need for issuance of additional driving licenses was not understood.    I was irritated.   I picked the 16 SNCOs that we had listed.   The names of 4 Corporals who were also qualified to drive civilian vehicles were added to the list. I made out a Squadron Technical Order authorizing these 20 to drive vehicles held by the unit – for unit operational tasks – within unit technical area – and under strict peer supervision when operating within 50 meters of an aircraft.    In the order, peer supervision was explained in detail and entailed another technically qualified airman outside the vehicle guiding the driver by hand signals whenever the vehicle was required to be closer than 50 meters from an aircraft.   The problem of shortage of MTDs was solved.   The unit started flying in three shifts.    Every thing went smoothly until…..

I presume it had to happen one day.    The youngest of my make-shift MTDs was a lad named Corporal H Singh.   He was a very smart and enthusiastic lad.    He was for ever available to undertake any task allotted to him and was ever ready to seek out jobs waiting to be done.   He was also very thrilled to have been permitted to drive a service vehicle.   Late one evening an aircraft was being serviced for LFS (Last Flight Servicing) and the crew wanted to top up the compressed air bottles.    For the MiG21 fleet, the source of compressed air was mounted on a truck called UZ (oozaa).   An UZ was standing just outside the blast pen. H Singh was lolling near by.   As the Airframe Mechanic hollered for the UZ he jumped in and drove the UZ to the aircraft.   He did not wait for a peer to marshal him in. He came too close to the aircraft and touched the pitot-head jutting out in front!   The deed was done.

The need of the hour was to replace the bent pitot-head so that the aircraft could be back on the line.    It was also necessary to go through the procedure of disciplining young H Singh.    A number of alternative possibilities presented themselves.    An aircraft had been severely damaged a few months earlier in the neighbouring unit.   It had to be written off.   Fortunately its pitot-head had not been damaged.   The pitot-head had been retrieved and was available for use off record.   I could have quietly replaced the damaged part with the retrieved part and be done with it.   The procedure would have been illegal and unsafe.   I rejected it.   A pitot-head was available in the spares set boxes.   It was officially taken out and used.   In those days, before the Russian maintenance practices were stopped, the spares set boxes were under the control of the unit.   No one outside the unit needed to know of this incident.   It was also possible for me to call H Singh into my office for a dressing down and close the matter.   However, as I said earlier, I was irritated.    I wanted the C in C to get to know that the support staff at his HQ, as well as at the station HQ level, was lackadaisical about operational needs.    I therefore decided to raise a stink.   I directed that H Singh be booked for disobedience of unit orders.

Under the Air Force Act of 1950, the Commanding Officer of a unit has quite a lot of power to punish Airmen for acts of indiscipline.   Failure to obey instructions is a serious offence.   H Singh, the straight forward guy that he was, pleaded guilty as he was brought in front of me and awaited my verdict.   For a corporal, I could award either a Reprimand or a Severe Reprimand.     Either award recorded in his service book would have affected his career adversely.   However, I was not about to close the case so easily.   I with-held judgment and recommended a court-martial.  As a preparatory step, I requested the Station Commander to order a summary of evidence.   This brought the case a lot of publicity.   H Singh, the good fellow, was quite confused.    Was he free to present the unit tech order authorizing him to drive in his defence? He came to see me to seek advice.    I made him understand that the charge against him was not one of driving without authority but one of ignoring the instruction about peer supervision.   He must therefore quote the unit tech order and admit only his incorrect procedure.   There was no question of his driving being unauthorized.The Summary of Evidence was duly recorded and forwarded to the Command HQ with a request for a Court Martial.    A Court Martial was convened.   H Singh was awarded a reprimand.    A few days later, a show cause notice was served on me by the Command HQ to explain under what authority I had issued the unit tech order and also to explain why disciplinary action should not be initiated against me.   In my reply I wrote back to state that I had issued the order in exercise of my executive power as a CO to ensure that the unit’s operational task was achieved within the resources available to the unit and within the expected time.   There was no come-back from the Command HQ on this reply.   I did not have any shortfall of MDT resources for the unit for the rest of my tenure.   No one asked me to cancel my unit tech order.   The order remained valid as long as I was the CO.   I was however, not very popular with the Command Administrative and Technical Staff for some time after this event.

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One response »

  1. What a heart warming story Sir.
    What an interesting blog!

    I think of all the trades the two I had a very soft corner for were MTDs and armourers. These guys would give their utmost, all they wanted was someone to pat them on the back occasionally and a little wink and a nudge when their enthusiasm got the better of them.

    One of my favourite stories is about Ac Labh Singh the COs MTD, 31 Sqn Hindon around 1971 – 72. He came up for his promotion exam to Cpl and I was one of the examiners for the oral english test. They were given a para to read and then had to answer three questions on it. Labh Singh, suddenly materialised in the chair after pushing off a poor guy whose turn it actually was. “Sabji, thusee sanu test karo, Hindi mein please”. So I asked him if he had read the para “Ji” “Understood?” “Ji”, I asked him a question his reply, “Sir aur kuch pucho” this was repeated three times. Finally he implored me, “Sabji jo pata hona chaiye woh tho aap puchte nahin. Kuch drving ka puche “. So I then said OK just tell me what do the three colours on the traffic lights mean.
    For the first time labh Singh relaxed and smiled:
    “Sir Green, go”
    “Sir Red, stop”
    “Sir, woh third walli lal jaisi, all go!”

    One fine morning he first came to my residence before going to pick up Boss, and proudly showed me his new stripes!

    Dara

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