Soaring high
Reviewed by Vijay Mohan

The Black Archers: Illustrated History of No. 47 Squadron
by Pushpindar Singh.
Society for Aerospace Studies, New Delhi.
Pages 100. Price not mentioned.

FEW squadrons have the distinction of being the first to fly a foreign-made fighter aircraft outside its country of origin. So, when IAF’s No. 47 Squadron re-equipped with the MiG-29 in 1987, it marked the beginning of a new era in air dominance operations over the sub-continent.

For officers and men who formed the core team for the MiG-29 induction, etching aviation history, however, did not come easy. The price was almost six months of freezing Russian winters with bare amenities, culinary tribulations and bland food topped by language barriers. The experience of the formidable MiG-29, with its blazing twin afterburners generating awesome power and live missions against target drones provided the silver lining.

The pioneers of the MiG-29 induction would perhaps, at that time, not have envisioned that little over a decade later, these aircraft would be flying combat missions over the frozen, desolate mountain ranges making up the world’s highest and toughest battlefields.

As the book details, during the 1999 Kargil conflict, the squadron maintained operational readiness platforms to intercept hostile fighters, escorted strike and surveillance aircraft, conducted combat air patrols and was regularly scrambled to counter enemy air activity. A couple of years later during Operation Parakram, the squadron was once again at forward locations on war alert.

From the brief excerpts of Operation Safed Sagar, some may try to read into the psyche and mindset of senior commanders embroiled in conceiving and executing operations in a real-war scenario after 1971.

Though there were no "kills" by the Black Archers during the latest cross-border conflict of fracas witnessed in the sub-continent, earlier wars were a different story. The book provides a detailed narrative of the squadron’s role in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, touching upon combat missions, the challenges faced by the aircrew and their learning experiences and innovations as the war progressed.

Having just received the President’s Standards, the squadron looks back to over half-a-century, the squadron was raised by then Squadron Leader Dennis LaFontaine who later rose to become Chief of the Air Staff. In his foreword to the book, he describes his experiences during the run-up to the squadron’s operationalisation on Toofani (French Ouragan) jets.

Detailed accounts of the Black Archer’s formatives years, its moves and re-locations to various airbases over the years, juxtaposed with some interesting snippets, anecdotes and first-hand accounts recollected by officers, conversion to different aircraft over the passage of time provide valuable insight into the squadron’s history for enthusiasts of military aviation.

A number of officers, both serving and retired who have been associated with the squadron since its raising at Halwara on December 18, 2009, have pitched in with information, pictures and memorabilia. The book’s strong point is the plethora of photographs, illustrations and squadron crests, both historic and contemporary. Some pictures of the MiG-29 are a visual delight. Last but not the least, the book does not forget those from the squadron who gave their lives in the line of duty.