A fighter pilot who lived a full life : The Tribune India

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A fighter pilot who lived a full life

A fighter pilot who lived a full life

Photo for representational purpose only. - PTI file photo



Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

HIS age and New Delhi’s air had weakened his lungs. It was on his third morning in hospital that he removed his oxygen mask and signalled the nurse for paper and a pen. She had a pen, which she offered him. He pulled her hand and wrote on it: ‘Led a full life’. Before he could write anything more, the pen dropped from his hand and the fighter pilot in him flew away to the other world.

Better known as Minhi Bawa, Air Marshal Mohinder Singh Bawa — who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 92 — did live a full and eventful life. As a young pilot, he excelled in flying fighter jets. It was during a low-level flying exercise that his plane had a ‘bird hit’, resulting in engine failure. He force-landed the aircraft (Vampire), and both his ankles suffered serious fractures.

He was grounded and put on traffic control duty. Three years later, he came back to the fighters and won many awards as a skilful pilot. He commanded a fighter squadron with distinction. He was the chief instructor at the IAF Fighter School at Jamnagar in 1971. When war clouds appeared on the horizon, he was moved to Jaisalmer with just four planes to take over that airbase and support India’s military operations against Pakistan.

Recasting Jaisalmer into an effective and operational airbase was a Herculean task, which he accomplished with remarkable speed, skill and innovation. He lifted the morale of disparate airmen at that base.

It was around midnight on December 4, 1971, that information was passed on to him that a large column of enemy tanks and infantry had crossed into India at Longewala.

Just before first light, these aircraft were despatched. Soon, they struck the enemy column. Thereafter, each of these aircraft made a number of sorties, and by the evening had crushed the enemy offensive and decimated its tank fleet. During the remaining period of the war, his aircraft hit a number of enemy targets, including oil storage tanks in Karachi. It was a remarkable performance by a handful of planes under his dynamic and inspiring leadership that dashed the enemy’s hopes of capturing Rajasthan.

Later, as Air Commodore, he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies, UK. As the Commander of Ambala Air Force Station, he reshaped it into an effective operational base of then freshly inducted Jaguar aircraft. Thereafter, he held many important assignments, including the country’s Air Attache to the UK, the Chief Instructor (Air) at Staff College, Wellington, and Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Central Air Command.

After retirement, he looked after the welfare and development of his neighbourhood in New Delhi. He arranged jobs for many young men. He was deeply interested in Urdu poetry and did some writing as well. The Indian Air Force bid him adieu in a befitting manner.


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