A major logistical air base for supplying forward areas in Ladakh, Air Force Station Chandigarh, which inducted the CH-47F (I) Chinook helicopters on Monday, has a history of being the first station to receive a new type of aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
While fighter aircraft are no longer stationed in the city’s air base yet, the first squadron to induct MiG-21 (Type 77) aircraft, No. 28 Squadron, was based in Chandigarh in 1963. The squadron calls itself “First Supersonics” precisely because it was the first squadron to be equipped with the supersonic MiG-21.
The unit was commanded by Wing Commander Dilbagh Singh who later went on to become the Chief of Air Staff in the rank of of Chief Marshal.
The first squadron to induct AN-12 heavy lift aircraft was also stationed in Chandigarh. No. 44 Squadron was then commanded by Wing Commander (Later Group Captain) Tom Lionel Anderson who was the first Commanding Officer. The squadron was formed at Chandigarh in April 1961, the year Chandigarh airbase itself was established.
The squadron was later equipped with the heavy transport aircraft, IL-76, in March 1985. The squadron moved on to Agra under the command of Group Capt (Later Air Marshal) A K Goyal.
Another transport squadron, No. 25, was also raised in the city and equipped with AN-12 aircraft. Squadron Leader George Jagdish Shaw was CO when the squadron was raised in March 1963 with four AN 12 aircraft. It converted to IL-76 aircraft in 1989.
The AN-32 aircraft, whose steady drone early in the morning for the first sortie to Leh was an early morning alarm for many residents of the city, was also based in the initial years of its acquisition in the city. No. 48 Squadron converted from Packetts aircraft to AN 32 and moved to Chandigarh in May 1986.
And finally, the 126 Helicopter Flight which has received the Chinook helicopter on Monday and is now a full-fledged helicopter unit, was also raised in Chandigarh in 1986 and equipped with the MI-26 heavy lift helicopters. These Russian helicopters are bigger and have more load carrying capacity than the Chinooks.
The Air Officer Commanding, Air Force Station, Chandigarh, Air Commodore S Srinivasan, was mindful of these facts when he spoke at the Chinook induction ceremony. “Chandigarh was a city conceived by our founding fathers to be a model city symbolising a young and vibrant India. As a planned city, it ushered in contemporary concepts and functionalities. The city and its air force station took birth together in 1961 and the air force station was selected by the IAF to usher in new capabilities,” he said.
Wing Commander Anupam Yadav and Squadron Leader Sidharth Swain, pilot and flight engineer respectively of the Chinook, were looking forward to operationalising the aircraft. “This is the first tandem rotor helicopter inducted into the Air Force, its flying characteristics were new for us. For this, experienced pilots of Boeing helped us, they had operational exposure as they had been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq,” they said.
IAF officials said that a special mention must be made of the staff of Commander Works Engineer (Air Force) and Garrison Engineer (Air Force) of the Military Engineer Services (MES) which created facilities for the Chinooks in a very short span of time. The hangars for the helicopters were set up with PVC flooring with anti-static properties and electrical fitments were provided as per American standards by a city-based firm.
While the city no longer hears the roar of the fighter jet engines of the MiG-21 and the steady drone of the AN-32 is also few and far between but new flying machines like the C-17 heavy aircraft have now appeared on the scene and fly supply sorties to Ladakh along with the good old workhorse, IL-76.