Reconstructing the Caribou
-Sanjeev K Sharma (Sainik Samachar)
Caring for history is as important as ex-servicemen for the nation. This was reiterated recently when the Indian Air Force reconstructed the historical Caribou aircraft and presented it to the Air Force Museum, Delhi. The presentation ceremony was held at Palam Air Base. Air Marshal MB Madon, AOC-in-C, Western Air Command (WAC) presented a memento to Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, Chief of the Air Staff. Speaking on the occasion Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy said that history is very important for generating awareness among the people about Air Force and different types of aircraft. He urged more and more people join hands for the reconstruction of national heritage.
Air Force Museum has many aircraft that served the Indian Air Force except the Caribou though it was in service till 1987. Eastern Air Command located fuselage of two Caribou aircraft one each in Jorhat and Walong. It reconstructed one of the aircraft to place in the Air Force Museum. Eastern Air Command formed a project cell for reconstruction work under Gp Capt CS Sohoni. After a careful evaluation, it was decided that the reconstruction work on BM774, lying at Jorhat, should be attempted first.
A team of one officer and eight airmen worked for more than two months for the reconstruction of the aircraft. The frame for the entire 32-feet long wing was fabricated by using MS angles and MS square pipes. Aluminium ribs were fabricated to provide the leading edge contour. The tail portion of the aircraft had deteriorated extensively. The horizontal stabiliser and rudder were missing. These were fabricated with aluminium sheets. The missing nose cone was completely refabricated and fitted. In addition, all windows and windshields of cockpit and doors which were missing were fabricated and fitted. Panels of cargo compartment, which were also missing, were reconstructed using aluminium sheets. After repairs, the aircraft was airlifted by IL-76 to Palam. The parts of the aircraft were then reassembled and the whole aircraft was painted and brought to display standard.
Caribou (also known as DHC-4) was developed by De Havilland of Canada. The construction of the aircraft began in 1957 and the first prototype flew on July 30, 1958. Initially five Caribou were delivered to the US Army in 1959. The US Army handed over the Caribou to the Indian Air Force in January 1963, for evaluation in the Himalayan terrain. The aircraft successfully demonstrated its capability to operate on short length runways. The Indian Air Force subsequently placed an order for 20 more Caribou.
Caribou, on induction, were involved in casualty evacuation after the Chinese aggression. Since then it had been operating in the difficult terrain of the North Eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, and the Mizo Hills. Caribou had been of great value for transporting men and material for construction of border roads in the North-East. It was also utilised during the counter-insurgency operations Zonga in the Mizo hills in 1966.
During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Caribou took part in Bangladesh operations for supply-dropping missions as well as decoy drops at Tangail. It also had the distinction of carrying out bombing missions over targets in the erstwhile East Pakistan. This aircraft was privileged to fly in Sheikh Mujibur Rehman from Calcutta to Dacca and fly out Gen Niazi from Dacca to Calcutta. Caribou also dropped nearly 160 tons of food for Bangladesh refugees under operation Annapurna. After a faithful service of over 24 years, Caribou was phased out from service on March 31, 1987.