Farewell to Falcon

Indian Air Force bid farewell to its Canberra aircraft after fifty years of its glorious service. The phasing out ceremony was held at Air Force Station, Agra. The last of the Canberra Squadron, 106 Squadron finally called the Lynx at Agra. The ceremony was presided over by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal FH Major.

The ceremony comprised a fly-past by the mighty bombers and concluded with the handing over of ‘form 700’ to the Air Chief by Wg Cdr Mathur, the Commanding Officer of the Canberra Squadron. Wg Cdr Mathur flew the last sortie. He demonstrated the manoeuverability of the aircraft amidst cheers from the spectators. Veterans who flew the machine were present on the occasion to touch it for the last time. Many could not control their tears while seeing their flying machines being phased out. Speaking on the occasion, Air Chief Marshal FH Major said that no other aircraft in the Indian Air Force history had served so long and indeed as gloriously as the Canberras. He said that the Canberras were also known as the eyes of the nation. Acknowledging their stellar contributions, the Air Chief paid tributes to the veterans who flew it, many of whom are now legends. Later, speaking to the media, he added that even though the Canberras were fit to fly, non-availability of spares and high maintenance cost had forced IAF to retire them. These will be kept in IAF museums, even in one or two college or schools, he said. Nostalgia permeated on the occasion. Veterans took photographs with the aircraft, recollected and narrated experiences to their beloved ones who accompanied them to say adieu to this flying fancy. Wg Cdr (Retd) AS Duggal has a record of flying this aircraft for 3,100 hours. Talking to Sainik Samachar, he said that the aircraft was highly reliable, extremely stable and always brought him home. He recollected that he had done a number of reconnaissance sorties in the northern sector.

For over fifty years, Canberra has been a familiar sight the world over, both in war and in peace. Designed in 1944 to meet a specification for a jet bomber, Canberra has had an unrivalled history in the world of military aviation. During its lifetime, it equipped over sixty Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons alongwith a number of special flights. It was license-built both in Australia and the USA. It also proved a best seller overseas, being operated by seventeen air forces, and seeing active service with many of them. The No. 5 squadron of IAF was the first to get equipped with the Canberra Bomber in May 1957, and by 1959, two more squadrons, No. 16 and 35, had become operational.

Canberra, the only bomber of the Indian Air Force until late seventies, got the first taste of operation on December 18, 1961 when 16 Squadron and 35 Squadron were tasked to carry out reconnaissance and bombing of Dabolim airfield in Goa. Canberras of No. 35 Squadron were the first jet aircraft of the IAF to bear its arsenal on an enemy. The highly accurate bombing damaged only the target with no civilian casualties. By December 20, Goa had been reclaimed.

The Belgian Congo Faced political turmoil in 1961 and the UNO was called in for help. When the situation in Katanga (UHHQ) and the capital Leopoldville worsened, India was requested to send strike aircraft on behalf of United Nations. Earmarked for this task was the proud No. 5 Squadron.

Though the Canberras stood down in the Chinese conflict and did not fly any combat sorties, reconnaissance sorties went through. The Canberras flew 22 photo recce missions between totalling more than fifty hours. Areas of Aksai chin and Eastern Sector were covered to monitor enemy encroachment. Canberra’s mettle was again tested in 1965 Indo-Pak war. Numerous high level bombing missions were successfully flown during the course of the short war.

The cohesive teamwork of skillful pilots and meticulous diligent navigators kept Canberra a viable and dependable bomber force when the 1971 war broke out. It spearheaded a strong counter-attack on a number of Pakistani targets. Throughout the war, Canberras gave the enemy no respite even at night due to persistent night raids on numerous targets. The highlight of the 1971 operations was bombing attacks carried over the oil refinery complex at Karachi. The results of these raids were so devastating that the Karachi oil complex was ablazing for nearly a week. Canberra Squadrons were richly rewarded with four Maha Vir Chakra, a dozen Vir Chakra and many other gallantry awards and distinguished service awards in recognition of their contribution to the victory in 1971 war.

Advent of potent air defence system consisting of low-looking radars, surface-to-air missiles and supersonic fighters equipped with air-to-air missiles in late seventies signalled formal retirement of this great war-horse from combat duties. However, superb aerodynamic design, high system reliability and good maintainability gave Canberra a lease of life to march on for some more time, albeit, in secondary roles viz. electronic warfare, maritime strike and target towing. The photo recce Canberras continued to operate stealthily for some more time. It was effectively used in the Kargil conflict and brought the first photographic proof of enemy intrusion in the Indian territory. Despite taking a missile hit and the left engine blown apart, the pilot of the aircraft, Wg Cdr Perumal and his navigator, Flt Lt Jha skillfully managed to land back safely at a nearby base. For this act of bravery, Wg Cdr Perumal was awarded Shaurya Chakra.

-R Chidambaranathan
from Agra

Noble Gesture !

In a unique ceremony, Armed Forces officers including senior doctors along with other dignitaries pledged their organs for donation at Army Hospital (R&R), Delhi. Ms Nikita Anand and Ms Gul Panag, both former Miss India, Mrs Shyama Chona, Principal DPS, RK Puram, New Delhi, Mr Ajit Bajaj, the first indian to conquer North and South Poles and eminent media personality, Col Ajai Shukla also pledged their organs.

Another unique initiative was taken by the Army doctors in the form of launching Armed Forces Organ Retrieval and Transplantation Authority (AORTA). It aims to increase awareness about organ donations, organ retrieval and transplantaion. The efforts of this Authority will be coordinated by Col (Dr) AK Seth, an eminent super specialist who has a vast experience of organ transplantation.

Recently, Maj Vipin Chaudhary took the noble step of agreeing to donate the organs of his mother, who brathed her last following brain haemorrhage at Army Hospital (R&R). The liver was transplanted, for the first time, at Army Hospital Research & Referral into a serving soldier, one kidney into a serving officer, another kidney into an 18 year-old and two eyes into a suitable recipient. This selfless gesture influenced the lives of five families and served as an inspiration to others. To acknowledge the noble deed of Maj Chaudhary, he was felicitated during the ceremony.

On this occasion, Lt Gen Saibal Mukherjee, Director General Medical Service (Army) lauded the efforts of the Army hospital and all others who are associated with these initiatives.

-D Pandurangappa