Category Archives: 07 – Under a Bowler Hat

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 (

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.


Jostling with Ethics -5- : Shooting a Clay Pigeon


I was then a very junior officer of the Air Force, a mere flying officer. I had however become a Qualified Flying Instructor. I was on the staff of Number 1 Air Force College at Begumpet. One day I was asked to report to the armory for some documentation. Being a law-abiding officer, I went down there and inquired what documentation I was required to perform. I was directed to a table where a register lay open-faced. There was a Sergeant behind the desk. He found my name on the register and pointed to a column marked as ‘Signature’. ‘Please sign here sir’ he said. Read the rest of this entry

The Tejas Debate Continues


The Tejas debate continues at a furious rate. I would attempt to respond to Vina who has been a persistent critic.

Vina’s first point was a personal opinion:

I do feel that the govt’s decision of getting the IAF out of the airframe business was correct. It is too specialized a field and requires a whole different set of skills than what a force trained for fighting would possess , unless the IAF too like the Navy goes and recruits Naval Architects, either builds a specialized cadre staffed with trained Aerospace engineers hired from outside and/or trained in IAF technical schools ,even if it is restricted to purely design , concept studies and architecture and not goes into actual building (which will require an even wider set of skills in manufacturing, sales,supply chain etc).

Read the rest of this entry

The Tejas Debate – A Repartee


My post on the arrival of the Tejas has elicited a lot of response, on this blog as well as on the Bharat Rakshak Forum. A large segment of the critical responses have chosen the perceived neglect/hostility of the air force to the Tejas project to be the focus of their ire. One of the most strident voices that have come out belongs to poster Veena. His views are clear and are placed cogently. There are however other points of fact and opinion that would make his denouncements somewhat less valid. I would try to present these facts and views for Veena and my other readers. Read the rest of this entry

The Tejas Arrives……


The morning papers on 11 Jan 2011 were full of details of the ceremony at Bangalore declaring the Initial Operational Clearance for the Light Combat Aircraft now named Tejas. It was certainly a happy moment. For those of us who are not so young any more, such happy news brings with it a flood of memories from the past but connected closely to the source of happiness at hand. Read the rest of this entry

Jostling With Ethics -4- Is Conflict Necessary?


In our daily life we take a million decisions without much special thought. Lets have a cup of tea. Let’s take in a movie this afternoon. I do not like spicy food. I love to read Harold Robins. In our day to day life such decisions do not cause any ripples around us in most cases. However, even such mundane decisions sometimes cause dissent. What if your companion has an appointment with a hairdresser for the afternoon that cannot be sacrificed for a movie? What if she really loves that spicy curry that must be cooked to day? Well… Life is not easy. I realized this simple truth when I joined the Tigers in October 1953 after I completed my conversion training on the Spitfire Mk XVIII at the Operational Conversion Unit, Air Force Station Hakimpet. Read the rest of this entry

A Long and Arduous Path


Some time, in our humdrum daily life, we chance upon opportunities of doing some things of utmost importance without really being prepared for it. Some times the opportunity fructifies and you are able to achieve something memorable and valuable. At some other times, you either do not recognize the opportunity and let it slip by or are unable to take up the challenge for various reasons. On some other times, you get a chance and try your best, but your best turns out to be not good enough. The opportunity dies. These occasions leave a scar on your soul that do not heal with time. My tale today is of such a chance that I could not grab and see through. Read the rest of this entry

Jostling with Ethics – 3 – : Having a Drink


I am unashamedly from a ‘Moddhyo Britto Bhadro Poribaar’ from ‘Poorbo Bango’ . In plain English that would translate to being from a Middle Class Gentle Folk from Eastern Bengal. Like every other social group in this world, this social group also has its baggage of ‘do’ s and ‘dont’s just as it has its own set of behavior considered socially right and socially wrong. One of the values for this group during the first half of the twentieth century was abstention from alcohol. Read the rest of this entry

A Very Small World – 10 : The Silver Streak Comes Home


It was perhaps a morning in March 1987. I had retired from the Air Force in August of the previous year and had come down to NOIDA without any clear plan about my resettlement. NOIDA had seemed to offer the most convenient set of advantages. It was a new township near Delhi. House rents were affordable. My eldest daughter had found a job as a school teacher. My second daughter was away from home at Shanghai studying Chinese on a scholarship. The third, Swagata, had just returned after her post-grad studies in Bharat Natyam from Kalakshetra in Chennai. My son Subir had just finished his ten plus two and little Sudeepta had just completed her class X. My wife Leena had picked up a job to keep the home fires burning. So, the house was full though Leena was mostly away at work. Read the rest of this entry

Jostling With Ethics -2- : Puffing a Bit of Smoke


One of the earliest ethical jostles that I remember was about smoking. I was in Class X and I was going to a school where many of my friends, the tough and the non-sissy ones, were experimenting with tobacco. Holding a cigarette, inhaling its smoke, blowing a ring, all these seemed so macho. I must admit that I was tempted to join these heroes of my class. Read the rest of this entry