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.

December, 1951
Fateful Ferry Flight of Three Tempests

In the early fifties the PAF was actually short of both the pilots and aircraft. The Government purchased a few old Tempests aircraft from the Royal Air Force in Singapore. During the last week of December, 1951 I was detailed to fly there, for the first time in a Bristol Freighter. The passengers were Sqn/Ldr Zafar Chowdhry, Flt. Lts. Boss Ahmad, Gully Haider and some technicians to service the three second hand Tempests.

We left Lahore on the 26th of December, and arrived at RAF Sletar Air-Base on 28th December after making a night stop each in Dacca and Bangkok. All this happened soon after Christmas and before the New Year's eve. In the bargain, we had a wonderful rest and recreation at Singapore, a small beautiful island. We purchased some wooden carved decoration pieces made from the walnut tree. These artifacts do sometime bring back the memories of that fateful trip.

On the second of January when the RAF base came to life again, the three pilots were shown the rusted and neglected aircraft. These had been lying for a long time in the open, under torrential rains and scorching heat. I could see the immediate reaction of our most experienced Fighter Pilots, who were told by our British colleagues at Peshawar AHQs that the aircraft had flown only a few hours and were in good flying condition. The next five days our technicians, along with the RAF ground crew, cleared and serviced the aircraft and declared them airworthy late in the evening of 7th January. Since we were already delayed, a quick air test was planned just before the departure next morning. Luckily, all the engines started, the three aircraft got airborne and landed back safely without any serious defect.

My crew members Flying Officer Syed, the Navigator, and Sgt. Khan, the Signaller were all set to get a thumb sign from the leader of the Tempests aircraft for the first leg to Penang Airfield (Malaysia). When all the three fighter aircraft took off, the Bristol Freighter with the maintenance crew immediately followed them and flew as fast as permitted by the manufacturers to land there soon after.

Over the Penang Airfield we could seen an aircraft had overshot the slippery runway, mainly due to the rain and was lying nose down in tail up position. We got permission to land on the alternate but shorter strip and soon reached the scene of the accident. Zafar Chowdhry was bleeding from the wrist and the mouth, his head was down and the legs were up. The RAF rescue team was busy sawing the fuselage and window to get him out as soon as possible. When they wanted to cut his straps and remove his flying boots, he shouted that he would rather 'die with his boots on'. We were happy that he did not lose his sense of humour even at that hour of agony. (The PAF Fighter Pilots started wearing the plastic helmets only when the jet aircraft were introduced in our country).

With great difficulty, we managed to get him out from the aircraft. After a shot of morphia he was carried to the ambulance, I and other two pilots accompanied him to the Hospital. After the surgery his wrist was bandaged and he felt better. When the doctor told him that he had to stay in the hospital for a few days, he reacted strongly and requested them to allow him to fly in the Bristol Freighter on a stretcher. The Doctor reluctantly agreed, since a day after he would be admitted into the Combined Military Hospital in Dacca in his own country. In Rangoon, the para Medics were on alert to take him to a clinic for a night stop.

On our way to Rangoon, I heard Haider on the Radio Telephony, sending SOS distress message to the Tavoy Airfield control in Burma for an emergency landing. The aircraft engine had failed and he made a good job putting the aircraft down on a 'dead stick'. We landed soon after him to find out as to what had gone wrong to our second aircraft. The technician declared that the engine had ceased due to oil leak and it would require a replacement. The Air Traffic Controller of the deserted airfield, was pestering us to take off immediately. He was expecting a guerrilla attack from the Communist Insurgents. We collected the lucky pilot, leaving the aircraft there and landed in Rangoon, where Ahmad had arrived earlier. The next day we landed at Dacca and left Zafar Chowdhry, in the good hands of his brother Anwar Kahloon.

At Lahore, just before landing the pilot of the third aircraft, Ahmad had a near fatal mishap. His joystick got jammed, and he was compelled to use some extra force with his feets, to unlock the stuck up position of the elevator. The aircraft was repaired and cleared as airworthy after one month. Flying Officer Baldy Chowdhry flew it to Karachi for its final destination. On his final approach at Mauripur the engine stopped working. He undershot the runway and was badly injured and remained in the Hospital for three months. After a short period, he bade farewell to the PAF and joined the PIA, and retired as a Captain of Boeing 747. I was detailed to carry out an enquiry into the accident. I happened to have some experience on the Tempest aircraft and had the firsthand knowledge as to what had actually happened, since the ferry flight left Singapore. The result of the investigation was simple and easy to compile:-

(i) that the aircraft had not been flown for about 2 years,
(ii) that the pipes and hoses got so brittle and old; they easily gave in after some flying.
(iii) that the reason for the engine failure near the Tavoy Airfield, was also the leaking of oil.

This was a sad story because of a misunderstanding or carelessness involving some senior British officers working with the PAF, who made a bad deal with their RAF counterparts in Singapore. The appropriate action should have been, to send a team of engineers for the acceptance or otherwise of these aircraft before detailing three senior pilots who nearly got killed. And committing a Bristol Freighter to ferry them out during the X'mas holidays, I am not aware, whether the remaining aircraft were ever flown to Pakistan or the deal was rescinded, but the fact remained that a very serious human error was inadvertently occurred. This time, not by the pilots, who were normally blamed for the accidents.

Such was the life the Pakistan Air Force had in early days of its existence. On the advice of Quaid-e-Azam, the founder of our Nation, we did build the Air Force rapidly to defend our frontiers but at what cost? Neither of the three crashed aircraft, were ever repaired and flown again but luckily all the four fighter pilots involved are still alive, after rendering valuable service to the Pakistan Air Force and the Airline.