Dundigal Vampire06_Small

My log book for the month of Apr 75 has an innocuous entry as follows:-

Date

AC Type

AC No

1st Pilot

2nd Pilot

Exercise

Dual

Solo

16

Vampire 52

1638

Self

-

Hakimpet-AFA

-

0:30

However, this was no ordinary sortie. A short tale hangs on this short 40 km trip, made on a warm but clear day, from neighbouring Hakimpet to AFA.

The story starts with a request made to Air HQ by Air Cmde (later on Air Chief Marshal) "Baba" Katre, then Commandant AFA, to provide a Vampire aircraft for display at the Academy. Having been actively involved in the design of the Academy he knew that the two major triangular traffic islands were specifically designed for display of vintage aircraft. However, though the Academy had been in existence for about 4 years no historical aircraft had yet been positioned.

Vampires by then were already obsolete as they were no longer in squadron service and 112 PC (the last course to fly the Vampire) had finished their training; 113 PC was doing their advanced training on the newly inducted Kirans at AFA. In fact, many Vampires had been flown to their last hour and then parked on the western part of the tarmac, as they came to the end of their TTL (Total Technical Life). By Apr 75 about 15-18 aircraft (actually aircraft shells, as they had been stripped of all usable items) adorned the edge of the dispersal, externally still looking quite complete1 and ready to fly.

In addition, there were still about half a dozen fighters (Mk-52) and an odd trainer or two (Mk-55) still serviceable and in storage locally, although none of them had been flown since Dec 74. Therefore, the request of the Comdt, AFA should have received an immediate positive response. But in those days there was hardly any sense of history, nor the urge to preserve our heritage; in fact even aircraft photographs were rare, there were hardly any aircraft on display anywhere and even the IAF Museum had not yet even been thought of. Thus, it is not surprising that somebody at Air HQ wrote back saying that display of aircraft was a waste of time and money and no Vampire could be spared for the purpose.

Air Cmde Katre, however, was not one to give up easily. He called up CI, FTW (Fighter Training Wing, as AF Station, Hakimpet was then called). Wg Cdr Roy Kothawala2 was also the officiating Station Cdr that day (I think Air Cmde Katre timed it shrewdly; he did not want to deal with another big NO and waited till the then Stn Cdr was out of town!).

Roy Kothawalla immediately ordered the CEO to prepare a Vampire Mk 52 for flying and then sent for me.

Why me, you might ask. Well, since there was no flying at Hakimpet all the QFIs had been attached out to various FTEs. In fact 4 QFIs were in Poland doing their conversion on Iskra aircraft. I too had been away on attachment to FIS for over three months, but I had been routed back to FTW at my request as my wife was expected to deliver our second child any day. I was the only Vampire qualified pilot available to carry out the task the CI had in mind.

Roy Kothawala’s briefing was simple. A Vampire Mk 52 was being de-inhibited and prepared for an air test. Its ‘Form 700’ was to be taken on board. He then looked around surreptitiously; satisfied that no one was listening, he whispered what he wanted me to do next.

Very soon I got airborne. I hadn’t flown the Vampire for about 4 months and it felt much lighter and more responsive than the Kirans which I had been flying at FIS. I arrived overhead AFA and sought permission to carry out aerobatics, which was promptly given. I learnt later on that the Commandant was at the ATC to see his first ‘vintage’ aircraft arriving. After about 20 minutes of some pretty tight maneouvering I declared an "emergency" of hydraulic pressure falling and severe engine vibrations. The call was duly acknowledged by AFA and I was given permission to carry out a priority landing; naturally at AFA.

I landed, taxied in and parked in front of Hangar no 6. Then with a flourish I took out the Form 700 and proceeded to write the ‘snags’: engine vibrations, hydraulic failure, oil pressure fluctuating, undercarriage not lowering on main system, ..... the list of problems covered one whole page of the F-700. If photocopying machines had existed then I would definitely have kept a copy of that page; it was the biggest bunch of lies I had ever penned!

Before being dropped back in a Harvard (which were still flying at AFA) I shared a glass of beer with a very grateful Air Cmde Baba Katre.

The end of the story was most gratifying for those involved. Air HQ, "after due consideration", concluded that the engine change, rectification and final recovery of Vampire Mk 52 IB-1638, which had only a few hours before TTL, was "economically unviable". The Air HQ letter went on further to say, "....therefore, the aircraft would have to be ‘disposed off’ at AFA."

However, Baba Katre hadn’t waited for this pronouncement. Within days of its arrival at AFA a team of airmen from Hakimpet towed and installed the Vampire at its present location, just opposite Academy House, on the Vampire Triangle, where it remains till date3.

Every time I pass this little beauty I remember the satisfaction I had in writing DNCO, later that day, in the FTW Con Training Authorisation Book, although it was a DCO from the point of view of the intended mission.

Having read this piece I am sure you’ll excuse me if once in a while I get a bit emotional about that pile of metal and plywood with twin-booms that lies within a hundred meters of my present residence.

Commissioned in Oct 65, AVM Bhojwani is the present Commandant of the IAF's premier Training Establishment, the Air Force Academy at Dundigal. This article appeared in Ankur, the AFA's inhouse journal. Warbirds of India thanks AVM Bhojwani for his permission to reproduce this article here.

Notes:

1. These Vampires were auctioned off as scrap in the late 1970s. They were broken up into pieces by the Scrap Vendor before being carted away.
2. Wg Cdr Kothawala was the pilot of the Bell G-47 that chased Flt Cadet R B Menon in his adventure recounted in "....One Flew under the ..."
3. Vampire IB 1638 can be still seen at Vampire Triangle at the AFA. However the airframe has deteriorated due to prolonged exposure to the elements. AVM Bhojwani is currently undertaking a restoration project for the Vampire. This Vampire was one of the few aircraft that still has its engine inside. (Usually , The Engines are removed while being allocated for Gate gaurdian duties)

Additional information