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.

June to August, 1952
Cross Country Trip to Australia And New Zealand

The Pakistan Air Force used to organise a number of flights to different parts of the world, basically to provide international aviation training for the Transport crew. Beside flying and navigational experience, foreign Air Trips were of great cultural and educational value. The aircrew always looked forward to such adventures, and this particular one is likely to remain an outstanding undertaking by the PAF.

There was repeated requests from the Australian Hockey Association and the Pakistan High Commissioner. Mr. Yousaf A. Harron who also had the honour to be the Quaid-e-Azam Honorary Aide. The Air Headquarters finally agreed to send the PAF hockey team to Australian on one of the newly acquired Bristol Freighter aircraft. I was lucky to be chosen as the Captain of this flight with the late Z.A. Khan as the second Pilot. I was asked to report to AHQ to discuss the details of this coveted trip. Later, Z. A. Khan became the Governor-General's pilot in my place, for reasons known to our Commanding Officer Dogar.

It took me sometime to convince the Training and Operational staff that it would be better to send an old Dakota aircraft rather than a newly acquired Bristol Freighter. The main reason was that I had a personal liking and more experience on that type of aircraft. The only other convincing argument, towards this conservative view, was that in the event of Bristol Freighter becoming unserviceable, we were likely to be stranded for a longer period. The spare parts of this aircraft were not available in that part of the world. The D.C 3 aircraft, however, was still in service with the R.A.E. in Singapore and the Royal Australian Air Force, who were supposed to be our hosts for maintenance purpose. The arguments in favour of the Freighter were, that it was new and could carry a greater payload. Eventually, my point of view was accepted and a good old Dakota of my preference was earmarked for this long and arduous journey.

The change over the aircraft, caused a lot of heart-burning and disappointment among some crew members and the reserve hockey players who had to be dropped. After a few meetings the final list comprised 6 aircrew 6 ground crew including a technical officer Flt. Lt. Hafeez Rana who later became an AVM. Twelve hockey players and one Manager were selected. The late, Squadron Leader Masroor Hosain was chosen as the captain of the team. The Mauripur Airfield was later named, as the Masroor Airbase after his tragic death in a B-57 Bomber, which occurred while flying low when a vulture hit the aircraft screen.

It was also decided to include, the World Squash champion, Mr. Hashim Khan to exhibit his masterly skill. E was going on the special request of the Pakistan High Commissioner and a number of Australian Squash Clubs were keen to see him in action. In view of the publicity, that he would be able to give to Pakistan, a seat was created for him at the eleventh hour. Besides, twenty-five persons including the crew with their baggage, 1500 Lbs of tools and spare parts, 500 lbs. Of the hockey kit, were also to be airlifted in the same aircraft.

Another, important problem to be tackled with, was the preparation of a detailed Flight Plan for the route. To our surprise, we could not get any charts or maps beyond Darwin, the first port of entry for the "Down Under". However, none of us had any knowledge about our Hockey schedule in Australia. The latter which was supposed to convey the hockey fixtures, was either lost in transit or on its way through the Foreign Office. It was urgently needed, to plan the route and to make suitable and convenient stop-overs in that Continent. The planning and training staff thought, that the whole trip would take about one month, and one hundred hours of flying with only one 'fifty hours' aircraft inspection in Australia. It, however, did not work out that way mainly due to the additional itinerary of New Zealand which was later given to us.

We took off from Mauripur in the early morning of the 29th of May, 1952, and were assured that the Hockey program and flying itinerary would be cabled to us either at Singapore or Jakarta. In fact, we never got to know about them until we reached Sydney. With this kind of briefing we embarked upon a training Cross Country which was to become the longest and most memorable trip for all the persons on board. As briefed by the Met office, we hit the monsoons in the central India and did not fly clear out of them upto Dacca. The only incident worth mentioning on this flight was a severe air pocket, in which our goal-keeper the late Flying Officer Durrani a brother-in-law of General Fazle Razik, injured his right foot for not strapping himself, in spite of clear and repeated instructions. His own white metal box which for some reasons or the other he had unlashed, caused this injury. This served as a warning to other passengers, who throughout the journey had their safety belts on, whenever required.

From Dacca we flew to Bangkok in rain and poor visibility, remaining in clouds till we landed safely at Don Muang airfield. Most of the hockey players had never flown in the clouds for five and a half hours at one stretch. It was an unusual experience for them, which automatically built up their confidence in the ability of aircraft's crew, a prerequisite for such an arduous and long trip. We had a good night's rest and recreation in Bangkok, the beautiful capital city of Thailand. In the afternoon some of us managed to visit a museum and saw the relics belonging to Anna and the King of Siam. Next day, again flying in the rain and scattered thunder storms we reached Singapore. That evening most of us went on a sight-seeing tour of the fabulous city. Some of us did window shopping and made a mental note of the articles that we wanted to buy on the way back, hardly realising that on our return flight we would be quite broke.

The following day, we crossed the Equator. For all of us it was the first time that we had this imaginary and novel experience. I remember in the K.L.M. Airline, they used to present a certificate to the passengers to commemorate the event. There was no champagne to go round but we, nevertheless, celebrated the occasion. We flew over hundred of islands of the Indonesian archipelago, and made a night stop at Surabaya after a refuelling halt at Jakarta. On the way we had a good peep over the highest volcano peak in Indonesia, the aircraft got a few small bumps, caused due to an active crater at that time. One could see the red lava oozing out and falling on the sides of the cup-shaped mountain.

On the Surabaya to Darwin leg we had the first incident, which delayed our schedule by nearly a day. Soon after taking off from Kupang, the left engine cut a number of times. We landed back safely and the aircraft was made serviceable late at night. The limited staff of the Control Tower helped us in improvising some kind of shelter and food. They served us plain rice with thin vegetable soup and canned bully beef, left-over from World War-II for dinner and the same menu with the addition of tea for breakfast. This was the best they could manage for a contingent of 25 uninvited guests. We were grateful to them for their hospitality, the cost of food was, however, paid from the imprest.

At Darwin, we spoke to the Air Attache to late Squadron Leader Mustafa Kamal in Sydney, and told him about the incident and unforeseen delay. He insisted that we must try to reach Sydney immediately. As it was difficult to change an important hockey fixture at Canberra on weekend. It would also upset his reception arrangements, the following morning. Flying across the Australian continent at night was the only alternative. It was a wonderful experienced to fly a distance of about two thousand miles which was covered in thirteen hours, with two refuelling stops at some God forsaken bush airfields, called Coloncurry and Charlvelle. Luckily, the weather was clear with full moonlight, we could see the vast areas of barren land with endless stretches of jungle without any sign of habitation or life in them. The reception at the Sydney airport was heartening, the Air Attache with the journalists and photographers were present to welcome us. This airfield was one of the busiest in the world. Every minute an aircraft took off or landed on six different runways available to handle to Air traffic.

The following day, we flew to Canberra with the High Commissioner Mr. Yousaf A. Haroon and his ever smiling wife Pasha on board. Both were very popular, for their good nature and known Pakistani hospitality in Australia. We played our opening match in the beautiful capital city which is surrounded by hills, similar to the ones in Islamabad. Luckily, we won and made some sports headlines in the newspapers next morning. We flew back at midnight to RAAF Richmond about thirty miles away from Sydney and handed over the aircraft to the Australian Air Force for the first fifty hours inspection, which had become due since we left Karachi. After five days, the aircraft was flown back to Sydney and started the Hockey tour of Brisbane, Melbourne, Waga Waga and Point Cook. On looking over at the intinerary the High Commissioner was informed, that another inspection of the aircraft would be necessary, before proceeding back home. The Air Headquarters were apprised accordingly about the impending delay.

During these flights the port engine again started giving the same trouble, much to may consternation and annoyance since I was solely responsible for selecting this aircraft. However, it was gratifying that the passengers had gotten used to these "Bangs". At an RAAF airfield near Brisbane, we got stuck again due to this trouble for two days, while extra Hockey Matches were arranged and played. An Indian Muslim businessman who had settled there for the last fifty years invited us for a dinner party. As customary he delivered a speech and said that he was "produced" in Pakistan near Gujranwala. He had an Australian wife and children.

The engineers could not make the aircraft, fully serviceable and declared partially airworthy for the Richmond flight. There, the Maintenance Chief informed us that, in case, they could not replace two of its defective cylinders, a new engine had to be installed. There was no other choice but to leave the aircraft at their mercy. It took them about 10 days, including two long week ends, to make the aircraft fully serviceable without changing the engine. During this period our team played a number of matches in Sydney, and near about places travelling by road and train. All the players gave satisfactory account of themselves bringing a good name and excellent publicity to Pakistan. The Captain of the Hockey Team had to give a number of "after dinner speeches", and after a while he became an expert.

In the glare of publicity and good name our team projected, the New Zealanders explored the possibility of getting us across to their country. The High Commissioner felt that it was a good opportunity to show the Pakistan Flag in that territory as well. The captain of Hockey Team and I informed him that the approval of Air Headquarters was necessary for making an extra three and half thousand miles journey across the Pacific Ocean and back. After obtaining the necessary permission, we headed towards the land of the Maoris. We flew for five hours in clear weather and landed at a tiny Island, called Norfolk which is only 4 x 5 miles long. If we had missed this place, there was no other alternative but to ditch in the sea. This leg was stretched over more than 1,200 miles from Australia to New Zealand, and was known to be infested with sharks.

In New Zealand, the old Dakota flew in both the North and South Islands. We played a number of matches in Auckland, Christ Church, Rotoroa and Wellington. The country looked more or less like England. No wonder, they had given similar names to their cities and roads. The only difference was one of the climate. It was snowing in New Zealand while England was having a good summer. One Hockey fixture was played at Duneden, the southern most tip of this country. Here, in the mess, we were served with live oysters in an appropriate sauce, which most of us tried for the first time and but did not like. Beyond this point one could reach the South Pole after flying a few hours over the sea and Antarctica.

In Kiwi's land, we had a new experience of flying in the "Air Ways" in which one has to fly strictly on the navigational aids. At one place, the aircraft started losing height due to icing on the aircraft wings and propellers tips. The memory of which still makes me shudder and tremble. When we broke clouds, we were in a valley with high mountains on our left and right, a slight navigational error would have been a different story. The credit went to our two navigators, Flg. Offs. Beg and Malonwsky, a pole who provided with correct headings and ETAS throughout the long trip.

We visited the hot water springs in Rotoroa, where the locals cooked their food in the sealed utensils in the sulpher streams. We also saw a number of Moari dances in their colourful and gorgeous costumes. The Air Force Messes where we stayed were new, beautifully designed, decorated and furnished. When we asked some officers how did they manage to have such luxurious messes, their reply was interesting and simple. They got permission to purchase one hundred aircraft but ordered only ninety-five. With the left over money they built five impressive messes at their five Airbases. The Government did not object to it since the Air Force saved about five million pounds from their budget.

On the return route, a flying record was created for the Dakota aircraft. We flew a distance of about nine hundred miles from Norfolk Island to Richmond, without refuelling at Brisbane. It was a normal stop-over for refuelling when fully loaded. At night, in the mess when we told the RAAF officers about our straight hop they would not believe. It was a great experience, flying over the sea, in and out of clouds and a tremendous relief to have the first glimpse of the Australian coastal line at dusk. When we landed we still had half an hour of fuel left in the tanks, which is not a point to boast. Luckily, we had a number of alternate airfields on the Eastern coast, with which we were in constant contact and could have landed anywhere for refuelling. Although it would have delayed us considerably after a long and tiring flight. Richmond is about thirty miles west of Sydney harbour although it was still a suburb. In those days, there were no high rise buildings, I believe Sydney has now a radius of about fifty miles.

By now, we had done one hundred hours of flying in this aging but faithful "Work Horse". It took another ten days, before the aircraft was made finally serviceable, for the return flight to Pakistan. By this time some of us had started getting homesick. The captain of the Hockey team was keen to return home, as his wife was expecting their first baby. He had refused a very good offer of Air Headquarters, to stay an extra week in Indonesia and play some more hockey matches. This he had to decline because a number of players had sustained injuries, during the hockey matches in the last two months of extensive playing, without having any reserve players.

On the 1st August, 1952 we started the homeward journey and hoped to make Mauripur by the 7th, as some of us were required to take part in the rehearsals for the Independence Day Fly-Past on 14th August. But unfortunately, in Darwin we were held up due to the undercarriage trouble, the spare parts were flown from Richmond. As we wasted three days in this barren and uninteresting place, we reached Karachi on the 11th night and could not be included in the fly-past. The return flight was very strenuous and tiresome. A night stay in the Bali Island, offered the only relaxation for the crew and left some beautiful and indelible memories for me.

The Pakistan Embassy in Jakarta had sent their Press Attache Mr. Iqbal Chaudhry to look after us, with a personal request from the Ambassador, to stay at least one additional week in Indonesia. To please us, he managed to arrange an after-dinner show of the Balines dances for the entire contingent. After the show, I was invited to the famous 'Kuta Beach' in full moonlight by a well-known 'Palar' family of Bandung to whom the Press Attache had introduced me. It is a very long and interesting story which developed into a serious affair over a period of three years. It requires many more pages, if not a complete book. During the courtship I made two more visits to Indonesia. T. S. Jan, my friend knew about the whole episode, he always used to tease me that our infatuation was developed through the courtesy of Post Master Generals of both the countries of Pakistan and Indonesia.

When the Dakota touched down at Mauripur airfield, it had flown one hundred and fifty hours, and covered twenty-four thousand miles of a fascinating flight; a distance which could easily have taken us around the world. It was definitely a memorable and eventful training 'X' Country. We had visited a new Continent learnt a lot, played good Hockey and Squash and above all kept the Pakistan flag flying for two and half months. The main credit of this trip goes particularly to the High Commissioner and his staff who looked after us extremely well. And, of course to Air-Headquarters which had complete confidence and trust in the crew and the PAF Hockey team. No verbal or written appreciation was ever given to us about the trip because Sqn/Ldr Dogar did not like our prolonged stay, which was beyond our control. During this period the V.I.P. Squadron had two less pilots to meet ever increasing commitments.

I was once again reminded of this great trip when Mr. Hashim Khan came to see me in the Base Commander's office at Lahore in 1962, after his latest visit to that country. He recalled his first visit to the "Down Under" and thanked me profoundly. He said "Sir, do you remember, there were only fifty Squash Courts in Sydney in 1952 and today there are more than five hundred courts with a very high booking". I told Hashim Khan that it was because of him that the Australian picked up Squash very fast and got enamoured by the game. He felt very happy and proud of his achievements and the glory he had brought to Pakistan. I wonder how many more Squash Courts have since been built in Sydney after the lapse of about forty years?

The Australian and New Zealanders were not only fond of "After the Dinner Speeches," they are also great lovers to sports.