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.

V.I.P. Pilot to the C-in-Cs of the Air Force and Army

I was lucky to be assigned as a V.I.P. Pilot to Air Vice Marshal L.W. Cannon and General M. Ayub Khan, within three years of my Commissioned Service. I learnt a lot from both the Chiefs and met most of the top brass of the two Services. The PAF C-in-C's Dakota C406 was the same aircraft which was used by the Quaid-e-Azam, as the first Governor-General of Pakistan. Whenever I flew this aircraft in always reminded me of the last journey to Quetta in July, 1948 in which I was a second pilot.

General M. Ayub Khan mostly flew in the brand new Bristol Way-Farer, a V.I.P. version, when he became the Army Chief in 1951. He was a good passenger and it was a pleasure flying a handsome and smiling personality, who was every inch a General. At times, he used to sit in the second pilot's seat to see the terrain and the routes which we flew. Once, while flying over the Rohtas Fort and the inaccessible Jogi Tilla on top of the Thitar Ranges near Jhelum River, he asked me if I knew the Fort's name to which I replied in the negative. He told me the importance of the Rohtas Qilla during the early Moghal days in India and also about his numerous partridge shoots in that region.

In early 1951, I flew the C-in-C Army to Thal near Parachinar, a border town. Brigadier Habibullah Khattak received him at this small and neglected Army strip. After landing, the propellers picked up small pebbles which hit the fuselage. Thank God, there was no damage from this meteoritic attack, which the General also felt and noticed. Our host explained that the Army had got the airfield buldozed everyday since they came to know of his visit. At breakfast table, the C-in-C's ADC gave him the morning newspapers. In those days Martial Law was declared in Lahore due to religious tension between Ahmadis and Ahrar parties. The C-in-C laughingly said that other day his youngest daughter asked him as to why there was a picture and the news item everyday about General Azam Khan, the G.O.C., Lahore but no information about him. According to him, she was satisfied when he explained to her that it was not his job to run the day-to-day affairs of the Army.

Unfortunately, there was also a news item about Wg/Cdr B. K. Dass, who had, a day before force landed near Amritsar in a Harvard Aircraft. I did not know the full details but I fully defended him as it could have happened to any pilot. He was also my Commanding Officer at Lahore. Later on, I came to know that due to a bad compass and very poor visibility he had by-passed the Lahore area. After pin pointing Amritsar he decided to backtrack but had consumed all the fuel. He made a belly landing in a cultivated wheat field and saved himself. He was taken to Amritsar by the Police and was released by the Indian Air Force after a few days of interrogation.

I flew the Air Force C-in-C and Air Board to all the PAF Stations for Annual inspections and had a fair idea, of how to run the PAF units. It definitely helped me to run the Lahore Station successfully for five years in the early sixties. I was also concurrently appointed as the Regional Controller of the Civil Aviation in the North from Rahimyar Khan to Skardu. And was responsible for shifting the civil operations from Walton and Chaklala airports to their present locations. My only regret was that no new Terminal building was ever made during my tenure at the major Airports in Pakistan including Dacca and Chittagong. I contributed a lot towards making out the feasibility reports prepared by the foreign consultants, who also designed the Orly Airport of Paris. More money has since been spent on the additions and alternations of the old buildings and hangars. Luckily, the Karachi Airport is the only exception, where I was the Airport Manager in 1968-69 a new terminal building has recently been built. The new site was also selected by me with the help of other officers connected with the development of Civil Airports in Pakistan.

In the early sixties, I had a large scale mosaic aerial photograph displayed in my office at Lahore to show an excellent site for the proposed terminal building. It was at the end of the Shaheed Aziz Bhatti Road near the Army Garrison Gold course. Since then the Army has built some quarters for the Jawans at the proposed Car Park area. In those days the Government did not have enough funds to invest on larger airports to meet the requirement for wide body aircraft. I strongly feel that it is still the best site available as a large size of area is still under Air Force Ministry of Defence. The existing terminal could be used for the domestic flights. The Army could be compensated for their land and the newly built houses. Going across the runway from Bedian Road nearer to the Indian border is not a god proposition. I strongly recommend that the appropriate authorities should even now re-investigate and examine this proposal for the betterment of Lahore Airport which is in a very bad shape. Although three years have elapsed since the decision was taken for the new site the work on the new terminal building has yet not started due to some serious problems like a proper approach road.

I remember a funny episode when the C-in-C Air Force and Mrs. Cannon visited Gujrat, to see the new furniture for the Air House in Karachi. Wing Commander Rashid Malik known as 'Chacha', and a cousin of Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, the Governor-General of Pakistan was responsible for the deal. When the order was completed I insisted that he should fly with me from Peshawar to inspect the abandoned airfield at Gujrat for a trial run. I was no happy with the condition of the Airfield for a V.I.P. flight. But when Malik promised to get the stones and bricks removed from the runway, and also cleared the cattle and other animals by next morning, I reluctantly agreed to make this trip.

When we landed, the 'Chacha' received us with six shabily dressed policemen who were sent to guard the Airfield and aircraft. To our surprise, he made them stand in a line, for the C-in-C's inspection and gave the orders for the General Salute himself. I could see the amused faces of C-in-C, his wife and their house companion Mrs. Guest. After return from the furniture shop in Gujrat, he again re-assembled the poor sepoys and presented the guard of honour in his loud voice. He was known for such surprises and stupidities and always got away with them.

The second Commander-in-Chief of the PAF AVM. Atcherley, had a great impact on the life of our young Air Force. He came to Pakistan with new ideas like the creation of Shaheen Air Scouts and the modernisation of the Air Force with jet aircraft. The Attacker aircraft were selected to form the first Squadron, commanded by Sqn/Ldr. A. Rahim Khan. Our pilots were trained in England and ferried most of the aircraft to Pakistan. One of the Attackers had force landed at Damascus (Syria) in November 1948 due to flameout of the engine. It was my first flight abroad as a Captain of the Dakota Aircraft carrying a new engine for the jet aircraft.

We had two nights stop at RAF Habania (Iraq) as there was some technical problem with our own aircraft. We got the opportunity to drive to Baghdad and saw Karbala and other famous religious sites. We stayed another two days at Damascus and went to Beruit by road. It was a wonderful and escalating drive through the winding hilly route. After making the Attacker serviceable with the new engine we started our backward journey. Bahrain informed us that there was no 100 Oct. fuel available and suggested that we should land at Sharjah, an oil and dust Air-Strip. I remember, there were only a few mud huts at the Dubai village. While posted at the U.A.E. in 1979-80, I discovered that the oil company's Air-Strip was later converted into the famous cricket ground of Sharjah and Dubai, the twin interconnected cities.

One afternoon in early 1949, Sqn/Ldr. Rahim Khan, in uniform walked into my bedroom at the Mauripur mess from Drigh Road. He was tired and looked worried. I asked him what was the matter with him. He told me that two of his Attacker aircraft had force-landed at Jiwani due to shortage of fuel. He wanted me to fly there immediately with the fuel and some food, as both the commodities were not available at that unattended Airfield. I told him that it was four in the afternoon and I must take off by five as there were no night landing facilities at Jiwani. I also requested him to make sure that the jet fuel in the 45 gallons drums had been loaded in the aircraft before the deadline.

He was my instructor in Risalpur and he knew my ways of doing the flying duties. He was not happy and said, that suppose there was a War and I was required to rescue two stranded pilots at night. I said under these circumstances, I would not like to kill myself and my crew. In the meanwhile, I arranged for the crew and some food/coffee from the mess. When we arrived at the airfield, the aircraft was not loaded and there was no sign of the maintenance crew, for another hour. Rahim Khan was fretting as to why his arrangements were delayed. At six when the fuel was loaded I told him that I would now take off at four o' clock in the morning to arrive at Jiwani at first light. He was not happy with my overriding decision.

Once I was flying the C-in-C Atcherley to Chaklala from Mauripur in 1949. He was a lone passenger in an old Dakota, which along with others where being phased out, in place of newly inducted Bristol Freighter. He had an important meeting with the Finance Minister concerning the payment of the above-mentioned Fighter and Transport aircrafts. The other day, Group Captain Majid Khan told me that once he received the Finance Minister Ghulam Muhammad at Mauripur Airfield. He took him aside and asked him whether the price of a Bristol Freighter as rupees nine lakh was a fair on e and hoped that nobody had made a kick back and commission.

When we were near Mianwali and flying in the clouds at ten thousand feet above sea level, Atcherley gave a buzzer in the cockpit. I sent the Navigator, Flying Officer Rogers, a fair looking Anglo Pakistani Officer, to the passenger cabin. On his return he informed, that the C-in-C wanted the E.T.A. for Chaklala and he was looking uncomfortable because of the cloudy weather. After calculating carefully, he went back to the cabin and returned immediately to say that he did not want to E.T.A. but would like to eat his lunch. Soon after, old Rogers again came back with the lunch box and was in a panic and said that the C-in-C wanted the 'Heat and not Eat'.

He was feeling cold and showed the sun to old Rogers, when we momentarily came out of the cloud. This time he was sure what he wanted and the Heat which was immediately switched on. The C-in-C had a strong cockney accent and it was difficult to understand him, especially, when flying in a Dakota which was not sound proof. When we reached Chaklala it was raining and he waited for us to come out of the aircraft. He said that being a Fighter Pilot, he always wanted to see the surface before hitting it. No wonder, he lost his twin brother another AVM in the Mediterranean, while flying very low over the sea, just to avoid the clouds. His body was never found.

In the early fifties, I flew Air Commodore Amlot, Chief of Staff of the Air Force and his beautiful wife Ruby to Bombay at night. He was retired from the PAF after two years of service and they were catching a P & O ship to Southampton with their heavy luggage. Mr. Iskander Mirza, the Defence Secretary was very friendly with the couple, also came to see them off at the Mauripur Airfield along with other senior PAF officers. We made a night stop at the famous Taj Mahal Hotel. Soon after 'checking in', I took a taxi and went to the Marine Drive to see the place where I had some wonderful time in 1946. I went to the flat where my younger brother Bashir was paying guest, to a young handsome couple from Goa. I was happy to see the signboard of Mr. and Mr. Fernandes which was still there. After a few buzzers a fat Marwari woman opened the door whom I thought was their maid servant. When I asked her about the Fernandes she said that last year they had gone back to Goa and she now owned the flat. I was very much disappointed and returned to the Hotel with the mission incomplete.

In 1955, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinluck of the Burma fame was a business partner of my father in Karachi, and was invited by him for a dinner party at the Mauripur mess. Everybody who mattered from the Defence Services from Karachi and my father's business friends were present at the function. The C-in-C Air Force with his wife were happy that their ex-pilot was entertaining the distinguished guests on his father's behalf. When I was introducing him to the Field Marshal, the C-in-C told him that I was his personal pilot for two years and now working on a staff appointment.

Those were the encouraging and rewarding words for any pilot. I am sorry most of us never tried to learn such good traits of the British.