A Lucky Pilot - Pakistan Aviation

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Wing Commander Lanky Ahmad passed away on October 12, 2004 at Lahore, Pakistan where he was born in 1924 and is buried in the Pakistan Air Force graveyard located just before the landing strip of the Lahore International Airport runway.

Fifty Years --- A Long Inning

How time flies!

Today, on 6th of August 1995, while visiting the beautiful city of Montreal Canada, takes me back exactly fifty years, when an atom bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan. That fateful day was also the beginning of my Air Force life. It was on this date, I was selected for a Commission in the Royal Indian Air Force as a pilot. I am nostalgic and old memories are becoming clearer.

Half a century ago I had no conception of a lone, B29 bomber named "Enola Gay" would change the history of the world events so radically and there would be no other World War during my service career. The nuclear bomb over Hiroshima killed more than a million innocent people and two days later, the second bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. All this devastation was planned and perpetrated to warn the Japanese that there would be more to come, to wipe off even Tokyo, from the surface of the earth. Much has been written and spoken in favor and against this drastic and unilateral action by the United States.

Even today, the debate goes on unabated on the rights and wrongs that led to this great human catastrophe.

On the insistence of my friends and relations I have tried to relive and narrate, the eventful days of my Air Force life. This particular memoir is perhaps the last one, but would be the first in the chronological order of my previous articles. These episodes are from a pilot's recollections and reminiscences who luckily survived many incidents and accidents, some of them near fatal.

After the Bachelor of Arts examination from Government College, Lahore in 1945, I decided to join the RIAF much against the wishes of my parents. My other two class-fellows Zafar Chaudhry and Saeedullah Khan who were younger to me, had already joined the Air Force in 1943 and 1944 respectively. I was also selected with them to report to the Combined Military Selection Board at Dehra Dun but was not allowed by my parents. They forced me that I should first pass my B.A. examination. The former classmate rose to be the Chief of Air Staff and retired as Air Marshal, the latter became his deputy and was retired arbitrarily by Prime Minister Bhutto much before the fulfillment of his aspiration to become the next Chief. Both were considered highly professional and proficient in their jobs.

I was holidaying at Solan near Simla Hills, when the call came for me to report to the Selection Board at Dhera Dun on 2nd of August, 1945. In our neighborhood lived an exiled Burmese Minister, whose young and pretty daughter had become friendly with me. She came to see me off at the railway station, crying non-stop and would not leave the compartment when the train actually started moving. With great difficulty and the assistance of a cousin, at whose house I was staying, she was physically off-loaded from the train. I had to promise her, that if I did not get selected I would return to Solan. She might have thought that my chances of selection were very remote, being physically weak and stammering a little bit. However, fate willed otherwise!

Writing about the selection, it reminded me of an incident when I joined Government College, Lahore in 1943. Mr Sondhi, the Principal of the College was my father's class-fellow in the same institution in 1920-21, asked me, "Why do you want to join this college." He might have noticed my handicap, answered himself, "because it is the best college in India."

I knew very well that this kind of treatment would not be offered and meted out to me by the Selection Board. One of the factors which might have helped me to get selected was, that on the application form, I had written 'Air Force' as my choice on all the three columns, soliciting the preference of a particular Service. This I did, because basically I was enamoured by the Air Force, its uniform and also to have some due regards for my parents wishes. And thought, that I should have only a limited chance in the overall success. Moreover, the attrition rate of the qualified candidates in the Air Force was also very high. Out of one hundred selected cadets, who were sent to different Flying Training Academies, approximately 50% got their Wings and the Commission.

The British chairman of the Selection Board told me to reconsider the choices mentioned in my application as there was a possibility, that I might not be found medically or otherwise fit for the Air Force. He also advised that I should keep the other two options open i.e. for the Army or the Navy. I politely declined his kind offer by saying that my preference was only for the Air Force. This probably had confirmed his views, that I was the right kind of candidate and material to become an airman. In New Delhi, I passed the medical examination as well and telegraphically informed my parents and the Burmese girl friend about my selection. As I came to know later they were not happy. This was the beginning of my eventful career which provided me the most exciting and rewarding life.

I reported at the Elementary Training School, Poona on the 3rd of November, 19945. T. S. Jan who was also my contemporary in the Government College, Lahore joined the Air Force two weeks later. He retired as an Air Commodore, after a long and meritorious service in the Pakistan Air Force. At Poona, I met AVM, Micky O'Brien, whose course was having their passing out Dance Party that night. He was the Senior Cadet and won the Swimming Trophy along with some other prizes. A number of Anglo-Indian and Parsee girls from Poona and Bombay were invited by the Cadets. The next morning was a Sunday. After a community bath, where all the cadets were supposed to take showers naked along with the others, I explored the beautiful building of Parsee Orphanage, where we were going to stay for the next three months. The newly built accommodation was requisitioned by the Government for the Air Force. That morning I got yet another rude shock and exposure to the Air Force life style. Beside the empty beer bottles, there were a few used condoms scattered behind the sofas and bushes in the lush green garden of the mess.

One evening, T. S. and myself were in uniform when we met two girls taking walk in the picturesque Bund Garden adjacent to our school. We introduced ourselves to them, the Anglo Indian girl mistook Jan as John and the Parsee girl became my friend. We remained in touch with them for the duration of the course and they also invited us to their homes to meet their parents.

My younger brother Bashir, with whom I had a wonderful equation and rapport was posted in Bombay with the Mackinnos, a British Shipping Company. He often used to visit Poona, where he introduced me to some close relatives of the Aga Khan. The younger girl 'Saidi' had travelled with him from England to Bombay in the same ship. The elder sister Rakhshi, later got married to Nawab Muzaffar Ali Qizilbash. It was she, who first introduced me to her husband at the Gymkhana Club, Lahore. He became the Chief Minister of the West Pakistan and later the Finance Minister in the Central Government.

After the completion of the course I had to go through an operation for a deflective septum of the nose. In the hospital, the patients were offered a peg of brandy or rum before the dinner as an appetizer, which was also known as 'comfort.' Although I never had smoked regularly but whenever I did, I got a bad throat. The doctor also warned me to get the tonsils out. To avoid that operation I stopped smoking, since then I had no problem with my throat.

I would never forget a rebuke from my father, when I was only ten years old. On my return from the School in Mussorie, U.P. he kissed me as usual and smelt the cigarette smoke. He asked whether I had smoked, I told him 'No.' When he saw the cigarette packet in my coat pocket, he slapped me and said that it was for telling him a lie. He said, if I had confessed he might have forgiven me. This probably has been one of the main reasons for my maintaining good health and saved a lot of money.

the Doctor gave me two weeks leave for rest and recreation, which resulted in my missing the course at the Flying Training School, Jodhpur. Late, I was sent to RIAF Coimbatore (South India) to while away my time, until the next course. Air Commodore Narandera was commanding the school who got married to Maharaja of Jind's daughter. Her brother G. B. Singh was my course-mate at Poona and we became good friends. Narandera also became the first Indian C. O. of Ambala. After the partition he was killed in Switzerland while ferrying a Tempest aircraft from England in 1948. His wife and daughter Vera are now settled in Toronto. We sometimes meet each other when I visit Canada.

Since there was not much to do at the new Station except for the morning P. T. and evening games I was allowed to take one month's leave. I visited the beautiful hill station of Ootacomed, Madras and Banglore where the gardens were as beautiful as the ones in Tivoli Copenhagen. I spent a week with my aunt in Hyderabad Deccan. My uncle took me to see the Nawab's "Kothi" palace. Inside the compound, I saw about 40 small houses built for his concubines. I always wondered as to how the Nizam, a small-stature man managed to satisfy so many wives. It is difficult to look after even one these days. Incidentally, he was one of the richest men and the greatest misers of the world. He wore inexpensive clothes and a 'Rumi Topi' which covered about half an inch thick layer of oil ring around it. He, however, gave reasonable stipends to his wives and good education to all of his offspring from the large 'Haram.'

I also visited Colombo where my younger brother Sharif was posted. He took me to Neauralia by train, a picturesque hill station. In the hotel we became friendly with the Sri Lankan Speaker of the National Assembly and his so-called young niece. They gave us a lift in their car to Kandy where we saw the biggest footmark in the world of the Lord Buddha, and his sacred tooth. We also saw the abode of Ravan where he kept Sita after abducting her from India. It was my first visit to Ceylon, the second one was on board --- the Queen Elizabeth III, the fabulous luxury Liner in which I was fortunate to travel from Karachi to Singapore in 1989.

On the Q E 2, I became friendly with Mr F. A. Fahim, a Minister in the Central Government and Akbar Liaquat Ali, the youngest son of our first Prime Minister who was assassinated. I also met Mr Habib Ibrahim Rehmat-Ullah, the Quaid's associate, and his wife. We had many interesting discussions on the Pakistan's history. The Colombo Skyline was considerably changed since my first visit in 1946, but the bazaars were more congested and dirty.

At Coimbatore, one evening, I did a stupid thing and nearly got killed by a Sentry's bullet. I returned late in the evening and forget to collect the 'Password' before leaving the camp. At the gate on my return I was ordered to halt, which I did not and pressed on riding fast on my bicycle. The Gorkha's guard fired in the air. At night I felt very bad, as it was not a big offence to come late and without a password. I promised that I would never commit such a blunder again, although I might have violated some safety rules in the air and got scot-free because of my strong faith in God and my mother's prayers.

I nevertheless, landed up at Jodhpur in the middle of 1946 for the elementary flying training in the mono-winged Cornell and biplane Tiger Moth aircraft. The course consisted of about 30 cadets mainly Anglo-Indians, Hindus and Sikhs. To my surprise, I was made the senior Under Officer. It was the British "Raj" and there was no favouritism, although the Anglo-Indians were in their good books, because they could speak English. In the beginning, our British C. O. was Wing Commander Young who was replaced by Wing Commander Maqbool Rabb, the first Indian who was given this high position.

One morning, a long nose Spitfire XIV landed at our base and nobody other than Flying Officer Zafar Chaudhry alighted proudly from his aircraft. He was flying it to Lahore from Karachi via Delhi, because there were no fuel and other facilities available on that route. I am sure he did not see his classmate wearing the Under Officers' badges otherwise he would have certainly congratulated me in spite of the fact, that I gave him a smart salute.

My instructor at Jodhpur was Flt/Lt Massalamani from South India. He was a daredevil pilot and nearly got both of us killed on a dual sortie, flying very low but at fast speed. Much against the advice of old mothers to their sons to fly "low and slow." One day when we landed, the Tiger Moth started swinging to the port. He shouted on the mike "What the 'Fuck' is wrong with you this morning." I told him that he never handed over the control of aircraft to me. Later, we both realised that the aircraft was properly trimmed and landed unattended by itself.

During one of our Bristol Freighter weekly Mail Runs to Dacca in the early fifties, we had to spend a night at the Indian Air Force Mess at Palam due to the engine trouble. Group Captain Massalamani was Commanding the base and came to see us to find out if we were comfortable. He immediately recognised and embraced me in the bar. After a few drinks I pulled his leg and said "what the hell two Indian Tempests could not shoot an unarmed PAF Dakota in the Kashmir Valley in 1948." I was aware, that he himself was flying one of them. He said that his No. one, finished all the bullets chasing the aircraft. Dogar was clever to lose height immediately and started flying low over the Indus River, by taking full evasive actions. According to Massalamani his own gun chamber got jammed, so he could not shoot. Some bullets did go through the body of the Dakota and killed one of our ejector crew and injured a Signaller. For this encounter Dogar got "Sitara-e-Jurat."

Dogar was my Commanding Officer in the VIP Squadron in 1952 when I was selected by the AHQ's and ready to proceed for training on the Governor-General's four-engined Viscount aircraft in England. He strongly objected to my becoming a permanent VVIP Pilot and eventually replacing him as CO. He managed to get my course cancelled and recommended a junior and less experienced pilot. He now wears a long beard and joined the Tabligi Jamaat after his retirement from the PAF as an Air Commodore. I wish him all the luck in his pursuit of happiness.

In the early sixties when I was the Station Commander Lahore, an Indian Air Force Illushin-19 on its way to Moscow had to spend a night at Lahore due to some technical problem. To my surprise the Captain of Aircraft was Sqdn/Ldr Budhwar from the Mussoorie school whom I had not met since 1939. When I asked him that was he the same fellow whose parents were very friendly with mine? He confirmed in affirmative. I invited him and Group Captain Lodhi the Indian Air Attache in Moscow for dinner. He was on board the aircraft and the elder brother of Captain Lodhi of PIA who opted for PAF. Luckily my boss Air Commodore Dass the D. G. of Civil Aviation and the late Group Captain Bapu Murad were staying in the mess. Lodhi was in Kohat with them before the Partition. He being a Muslim did not open up in free discussions as 'Naite' Budhwar. I am glad I got the opportunity to return the hospitality of the Indian Air Force, as they did earlier for us at Palam.

To our bad luck when we arrived at the Advanced Flying Training School, Ambala in early 1947, the acting Pilot Officer rank (APO) was withdrawn as the War was over. We were, however, told that the Commission would now be given to us after the completion of the course in October, 1947. The political negotiations were at their climax and suddenly in May the Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten announced the date of transfer of power and the so-called "freedom at Mid-Night". Most of the Muslim Officers decided to opt for Pakistan.

I remember, spending one week-end at our ancestral home in Mussoorie (UP) where I saw our Chief Flying Instructor of Ambala, Sqdn. Leader M. Asghar Khan with his 'life long' companion and wife Amina Shamsi. Flying Officer Bill Aziz Khan was also there courting his future wife 'Bunti'. Her younger brother Micky Kidwai was in a junior course at Ambala. He took me to his house near the Savoy hotel Mussoorie for the evening tea and introduced me to his future brother-in-law whom I already knew from Lahore. Micky later left the Pakistan Air Force in 1949 and eventually became the Chairman of the Indian-Tea-Board after marrying a niece of the Indian Army Chief General Criappa.

Mussoorie was known to be the Queen of hills. Most of the Maharajas and Nawabs from India had built their palaces and spent summer seasons there. Their rickshaws, driven by men in different multi-color uniforms and turbans, were a sight to watch. The Hakman Night Club and Skating Rink were two popular rendezvous where one could see the pick of the Indian elite. I also remember having seen a BOR (British Other Ranks) Club in 1935, where on the entrance fate it was written in bold letters "Indians and Dogs are not allowed." It showed the intensity of hatred some British had towards the Indians in those days or was it a love for dogs to equate them with the human beings?

To finish this article, although written last, some readers might like to know as to how I got the name 'Lanky'. I used to be thin, tall and played very good Tennis and Badminton. In those days, the senior officers and their wives always encouraged and groomed young officers to become social and often entertained them at their homes. In 1948, at Peshawar, our Base Commander's wife Mrs. Mavis Dass and Mrs. Farahat Abdullah Beg, the wife of my Officer Commanding the Transport Squadron, started calling me 'Lanky' while playing the evening sports. It was a fashion and very much in vogue that every Air Force Officer should have a short nickname. Although, I did not like it in the beginning, but when everybody started calling me "Lanky" I had no choice but to accept it gracefully. All my colleagues and the senior officers know me by this name and have forgotten my real name Mahmood given to me by my parents.

I must mention a few anecdotes about the late Captain Abdullah Beg. He was the father of Transport Flying in Pakistan. In the early fifties, he joined the National Airline "PAK AIR" and trained hundreds of pilots. He spent most of his active life in the air, rather than on ground. He also trained me on Multi-Engines flying and had sent me solo in the Dakota aircraft only after four hours of dual flying in 1948. He wanted me to join the Civil Airline along with him, which I luckily did not.

The life that the Air Force had provided me, was so unique and unparalleled, that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. He was my colleague in the Civil Aviation Department in 1969 and strongly recommended me as the Chief Pilot to Mr. Baldasarini, the highest executive of the Tarbela Joint Venture, who came to see the Director General to get a pilot for the TJV. Abdullah Beg called me on the Inter Com. And informed him that I was retiring soon and was the best available pilot for the executive type of aircraft Cessua 310, which they had ordered.

To complete my thirty-three years of flying, I flew for another ten years for the TJV, the WAPDA and the Pakistan National Constructions Company at Abu Dhabi. I might write another book, if this one is appreciated by the readers. It will contain some interesting and unknown episodes as I had flown four Chairmen WAPDA. Mr I. A. Khan, Mr Shahnawaz Khan, Generals Saad Tariq and Fazle Razik, Mr. Azim Khan, Managing Director of NCC. And also a majority of Mr. Bhutto's Ministers including the Governor of the Punjab Mr Ghulam Mustafa Khar who preferred to fly in the WAPDA's aircraft. It was extensively used by Mr Sherpao, Mr Hafeez Pirzada, Mr Jatoi and Dr. Mubashar Hasan. I have also flown three World Bank Presidents Mr Eugene Black, Mr George Wood and Mr. M'cNamara.

Captain Abdullah Beg hailed from Hyderabad Deccan having a tremendous sense of humour and the gift of gab. He was always full of jokes with hilarious laughs. He was a very good Tennis player and we made a regular foursome with the late Group Captain 'Zobo' Aziz and a young and rich Khoja Manager Swiss Airhostess, who used to become regularly to see us play Tennis. He used to tease her by saying "Darling, if you ever decide to leave me, get married to an Admiral." She eventually got married to the young Khoja Tennis player, after her divorce.

He also used to say that his first ex-wife got married to an Air-Marshal who become the C-in-C and the second to a senior most Army General who nearly achieved that highest position. His wish of making a real "troika" of his ex-wives was not fulfilled.

It is a brief write up about a great pilot and instructor who was full of life. Most of his pupils, still remember him because he always instilled confidence and inspired them, which was a rare quality in those days.