Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, March 2
Between tales of wartime flying and unforgettable personal anecdotes, members of the Indian Air Force’s 97th pilots course and 36th navigators course took a boisterous trip down the memory lane as they got together for a three-day reunion on Tuesday here.
On the outset, tributes were paid to Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, the IAF’s sole recipient of Param Vir Chakra, the nation’s highest award for gallantry, who belonged to this course.
He was serving with No.18 Squadron and had taken on four intruding Pakistani Sabre jets over Srinagar in the 1971 war.
Group Capt Balraj Rathee, who was present at the airfield on the day the air duel had taken place, recalled the sequence of events, and Sekhon’s action in shooting down two Sabres before his aircraft got hit.
Air Vice Marshal JS Grewal, a former Commanding Officer of No.102 Squadron, the only unit to have operated the trisonic Mig-25 Foxbat high altitude reconnaissance aircraft reminiscenced the surreal experience of flying on the edge of the atmosphere at heights of over 90,000 and an average cruising speed of Mach 2.5.
The aircraft had undertaken many secret and strategically critical missions during its service with the IAF from 1981 to 2006.
A navigator with the Canberra bomber during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Gp Capt PS Cheema had the opportunity of flying missions both on the eastern as well as the western front, carrying out bombing raids deep into enemy territory.
At the age of 75, Wg Cdr Kamal Nath is still an active flier and has a record logging 29,000 flying hours, both with the IAF and later in civil aviation.
A certified examiner, he is happy that he will continue to remain in the cockpit for some more time. Starting off with the propeller engine DC-3, he moved on to fly the IL-76 strategic freighter, then the largest aircraft in the IAF’s inventory.
Squadron Leader GS Jawandha said that the course had passed out in June 1967, with 168 pilots and 27 navigators along with three foreign officers, two from Yemen and one from Nigeria. Two course members made it to the highest level of the IAF, becoming Air Officers Commanding-in-Chief.
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