My Time with The Bullets-2 : Bounty Hunting

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In our young days, our ‘Flying Pay’ element of our remuneration was called ‘Flying Bounty’.    There used to be an injunction in the Air Force Regulations that all officers of the flying branch will do their utmost to keep themselves in current flying practice.    The accounting regulations quantified currency in flying as at least six hours per month when an officer was on a regular flying appointment and at least 3 hours per month when an officer was held against a non-flying appointment.   The Accounting Instructions made such currency in flying a precondition for payment of the ‘Flying Bounty’.    The accounting instruction considered the ‘flying bounty’ to be an annual allowance.   Thus the count of hours that could be considered for qualifying for ‘currency in flying’ would start from the beginning of the financial year.   Any flying done say in March of one year would not count for April of that year.   Conversely, if a person flew 72 hours in April, he could draw flying bounty for the whole financial year without flying a single minute from May to next March.    It was a stupid set of regulation and thank God it has been scrubbed.

 Another stupidity of that regulation was that the auditors were not bothered about the kind of flying being done by the pilot.   It could be hours as a first pilot or a second pilot or hours under training as dual instructions.   It also did not bother about the type of aircraft being flown by the pilot.    Thus a fighter pilot could log co-pilot hours in a transport aircraft and that would count for his ‘Bounty Hours’.   

 A provision existed in the financial regulations by which if a pilot was unable to gather the required number of hours due to the exigencies of the service then this requirement of ‘currency in flying’ could be waived.   Like all financial powers, this authority rested on the Chief of the Air Staff and he was expected to delegate this power to a suitable staff level.       For some obscure reason this delegation of authority never took place.   In my young rebellious day I had questioned this non-delegation once.   I was then told that the attempt to delegate was thwarted by the auditors.   It seems that the original government letter had been badly drafted and the provision for delegation was not included.   Even if it was really so, it was a staff error that could and should have been rectified.    It was left hanging instead.

 By nature I was a hog for flying.   I went out of my way to find a chance to fly and leaped into the air whenever I could.   I therefore never had to bother about ‘Bounty Hours’ except for once.   I was sent to the UK for my Staff College Training in 1965.   I left Delhi in December 1964.   By then I had enough hours in the log book to cater for my bounty till the end of the financial year.   However, I returned to India only in December 1965.   While I was in the UK I had no opportunity for flying. (I am not counting the single joyride that I did manage on a Lightening Two seater thanks to my course mate Squadron Leader (later Air Chief Marshal) Paddy Hine.)    I had managed to draw the flying bounty for the months of January to March when I was abroad, but from April to December the flying bounty remained out of my reach.

 On my return, I needed 9 x 3 = 27 hours of flying for the financial year before I could draw the bounty.    I had made an attempt to get an exemption for the flying hours while I was in the Air HQ for a week awaiting my posting order, but I had failed.   Now, having reached my new unit (Number 18 Squadron: The Bullets) I made another attempt to obtain an exemption.   I needed the money quickly and it would have taken some time to gather thirty odd hours in a Gnat unit engaged in a training role.

Wing Commander Aubrey Michael was my new CO.   I had met him in the morning and had found him in a foul mood.   Now I had to approach him again on this personal financial matter.   Very sheepishly I went back to Wingco Mike.   His reception was very neutral.   I narrated my problem.   He thought for a while and then said that the authority for waiving flying requirements lay at the level of the Chief of the Air Staff and had not been delegated.   An application for a waiver would therefore take a long time to process.   It would be better and quicker to get attached to a transport squadron for flying practice and put some hours into the logbook.   He picked up the phone, spoke to the Air II and put the phone down.   There is one IL-14 from 42 Squadron on the base right now, he said.   You are now attached to 42 Squadron for flying practice.   Get on to that aircraft.   It will take you to Palam later in the evening.   Fly with the squadron till your bounty requirements are met and then come back.    I took all of this in silence, saluted and left.   I had come home after a whole year just ten days ago.   Within these ten days, I had had to stay at Air HQ for a week.   Now I was being shunted out for another indefinite period.   I did not like it.   I however had no choice.   To keep the home-fire burning, I needed the flying bounty to be paid. Ergo, I had to collect flying hours that was not possible locally.   I came back to the unit, explained the situation to Babi Dey (Sqn Ldr PK Dey, who was the senior flight commander of the squadron) and went back home.

 A signal exercise was being run in the Rajasthan sector about logistics of air transported reinforcement of troops.  The Red Land Forces were in Jaisalmere and the Blue Land forces were at Nal near Bikanere.   The umpires were headquartered at Jodhpur.   The IL-14 in which I travelled was collecting participants from various stations of the Western Air Command and dropping them to the three locations.   I spent a night in one of the transit rooms in Palam and got on board the IL-14 early next morning.   Starting from Palam, we went to Jodhpur and from there to Jaisalmere and then to Nal.   By the time the aircraft returned to Jodhpur for the night, it was pretty late in the evening.  I had put in more that ten hours in the aircraft since I had left Ambala and I was bored rather than tired.    I just did not understand who gained by this air journey in the passenger cabin of a transport aircraft by a fighter pilot.    Including these hours in my logbook would be a fraud and I hated the thought of defiling my logbook with such data. 

 Next morning I just did not feel like continuing with this pointless ‘joy’ ride.  Instead, I walked down to the flight office of one of the squadrons of the Air Force Flying College (AFFC) and declared myself available for instructional flying. The AFFC was the main flying unit at Jodhpur.  Most of the senior instructors active there had passed through my hands at the Flying Instructor’s School.  There was an immediate stampede of young instructors seeking my help for one of their pupils or another.  I put myself down for four sorties on the Harvard and had a very satisfactory instructional journey at this level of training after a break of many years. The last time that I had instructed a cadet on Harvard was in early 1958 and that was almost eight years ago.   I was through with my instructional tasks by about four in the afternoon.   Over a glass of post flight tea I met up with an old friend Squadron Leader Inder Jeet Singh Parmar.    IJS Parmar was a course mate of mine in NDA but he had to leave the NDA because of a fracas of some sort that he had got into.    Undeterred by the set back, IJS had joined the Air Force as a direct entry cadet and had become a pilot.    He was at that moment in charge of a flight of Vampire aircraft that were employed in air defence role at Jodhpur.    (I think these aircraft had been pulled out of the fighter controller training school that operated off Jodhpur.)   I had met IJS after a long break.   He was immediately solicitous.   ‘Are you on a hogging spree?  Do you want to fly a dusk sortie in a Vampire?   It is on in half an hour.   If you are keen then I will stand down and let you go’.   I was of course game for such offers.   I went down to the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform) and flew a dusk interception sortie, mainly for the benefit of the trainee fighter controllers.   This then became my daily routine for the next two days:  Four sorties of instructional flying on Harvard and a dusk sortie in a vampire, five to six hours of flying per day.    This was quite enjoyable after a whole year of no flying at all.   I had collected just under 17 hours in the process.   If I added that to the ten odd ‘passenger’ hours on the IL-14, I had reached my target of 27 hours (3 hours per month on a non-flying appointment for nine months) that I needed.   I was ready to return to base.

 On Saturday morning the signal exercise came to an end.   After debriefing for the exercise was over, the participants were authorised to return to their respective units.   The exercise was controlled by (then) Air Vice Marshal Laloo Grewal.   One IL-14 was positioned at Jodhpur to take him back to Delhi.   Now Air Vice Marshal Laloo Grewal as we all know, is a towering personality, and I am not talking of his frame of six feet four.   In the transport world, he was considered the guru of gurus in his generation.    If he was to fly in an aircraft, no matter who was the captain of the flight, the captain’s seat would be reserved for him.   On this particular day, the tarmac was full of officers and Senior NCOs released from the exercise who were trying to get home.   Naturally, seeing an IL-14 scheduled for Delhi, a number of people approached the captain of the aircraft for a lift.   The captain on the other hand had a simple answer for all.   ‘Air Vice Marshal Laloo Grewal was the senior officer on board.    Only he can decide who can be lifted in the aircraft.’    Smart guy, this captain.  He thought that he had found an easy way to deflect all requests.    Unfortunately for him however, Air Vice Marshal Laloo Grewal happened to be the most approachable Air Officer I have ever met.   One by one, almost every one went to him to ask permission for a lift; he refused none.    The IL-14 became over loaded.   When Air Vice Marshal Laloo Grewal entered the aircraft, he had difficulty in reaching the cockpit clambering over the pile of luggage and the mass of humanity.   He was a bit nonplussed.   However, since every one had taken his permission for the ride, he did not offload anyone.   Air Vice Marshal Laloo Grewal took the right hand seat.   The co-pilot came back into the passenger cabin.   The aircraft started up and taxied out.   To my surprise, it entered the short runway, a 1400 yard PSP strip in those days.   I then thought that perhaps he would use the link taxi track and go on to the main runway.   I was wrong.   The aircraft turned around at the end of the short runway and started its take off run.   The acceleration of the overloaded aircraft was slow.   I was not even sure that the loaded centre of gravity was quite in the optimal position.    I have seldom been frightened on a take off run.   But I have no hesitation in admitting that many a times during those forty odd seconds of the take off run I thought that I was within the last minute of my life.   Air Vice Marshal Laloo Grewal of course knew what he was doing.   The aircraft lifted off with about ten yards of the runway to spare and cleared the tree tops by more than ten feet.    We reached Palam on time.   Another IL-14 dropped me to Ambala just before dinner.

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4 responses »

    • Really surprised that they took off on the short runway at Jodhpur with a heavily loaded IL-14, especially when the main runway was available.

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