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.

May, 1950
Re-burial of General Raza Shah of Iran

The Pakistan Government decided to send a high level Military delegation to Tehran in 1950 to participate in the funeral ceremony of the Shah of Iran's father. He was deposed in 1941, in favour of his son. His remains were brought in from Geneva Switzerland, where they had been interned for several years.

I was detailed to head a formation of four brand new Bristol Freighters from Drigh Road Airfield to Tehran. In my lead aircraft, three Pakistani Heads of the Services, General Ayub Khan, the C-in-C Pakistan Army, Commodore Khalid Jamil, the acting C-in-C Navy and Group Captain Asghar Khan, who after a few years, was to become the first Pakistani C-in-C of the PAF were the passenger. Also accompanying them were some senior officers from the three Services. In the other three aircraft there was a contingent of one hundred personnel, from the Top Army Bands who were supposed to march at the funeral parade.

We arrived a day earlier from Lahore, in a different aircraft carrying the full complement of four sets of Air and the ground crew. The aircraft were checked the same day and we were assured that they were fully serviceable, and had recently been flown into Pakistan by the British crew. The scheduled take off time was at 0700 hours on the 3rd of May, for Tehran via a refuelling stop at Zahidan. When I aligned my aircraft on the runway I found that the compass was off by 30 degrees. I looked towards my Navigator, Flt / Lt. T. S. Jan who was also not happy with the situation. We had a great rapport as we had been together as students in Government College, Lahore and had joined the Indian Air Force in 1945. I told him that, if we abandoned our take off now and got the compass swung by the ground crew, it would take at least 2/3 hours and we might not be able to take off that day. We did not want to arrive in Tehran at night, as the Captains of the other three aircraft were not yet instrument rated.

I also did not want to face the three Services Chiefs and cut a sorry figure. However, we decided to take off with a faulty compass by keeping our fingers crossed. All the four aircrafts got safely airborne and T. S. applied thirty degree off-set course, to adjust the error for heading to Zahidan. Being the leader, I told the other Captains to change over to a secret channel, so that, no one should hear our conversation. It was a great relief to find out that all the other compass except ours were in order. I did not disclose this fault to them as they might have panicked at some stage, because their job was to follow my aircraft in a loose formation.

After refuelling at Zahidan we headed towards Tehran, where we were going for the first time. It was a five hours flight over the desert and unchartered terrain which was clearly marked as such on the charts and the topographical maps which we were carrying. After 4 hours of flight near Tehran's high mountains, a lot of clouds were present and extended about 100 miles around the Mehrabad Airport. To get into the clouds with three young budding pilots was undoubtedly suicidal. I had to descend quickly and take a deviation of about 30 to 40 degrees to hit a Railway line leading to Tehran. We had crossed our estimated time of arrival and sent our signaller down to convey a revised E.T.A., and also the reason for flying low about one thousand feet above the ground. We had luckily pinpointed the Railway line, which was running North to South in the narrow Valley from Tehran.

Group Captain Asghar Khan came up into the cockpit and asked, as to what was happening since some passengers were feeling uncomfortable. The aircraft was flying very low with the threatening black clouds overhead, being a pilot himself he understood the problem. He went down to inform them that we were on the right track and only 30 minutes of more flying time remained.

When we landed in Tehran our Ambassador Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan and the Iranian protocol officials were much relieved and happy to see us, although, we had kept them waiting for about forty-five minutes. After dropping the delegation which was to stay for ten days in Tehran we were supposed to return the following morning. The aircraft were urgently required in Lahore for supply dropping mission because of river floods and heavy rains in the Punjab area. I apprised the Group Captain that it would not be possible for us to take off as planned, because all the aircrafts required servicing, maintenance and some rectification. He realised that we were very tired after flying for about eight hours from Karachi in bad weather and on a difficult route. He agreed and directed me to send a message to the AHQs for a 24 hours unexpected delay, which I gave to the Ambassador for the transmission. He was happy about this change as he has planned to send 20 Iranian University girls with us for a week's visit to Pakistan.

At about 2 o' clock in the morning, Group Captain Asghar Khan knocked at our room where T. S. Jan and I were sleeping in the beautiful Officers Club, fully covered with the Iranian hand made carpets. He showed us the reply from AHQs, saying that the C-in-C Air Force, AVM Atcherley, desired that we should get back according to the schedule, as the aircrafts were urgently required for supply dropping. I told him that we would try our best to get airborne by 10 o' clock after servicing the aircraft, if not, I could not take the responsibility of landing in Karachi at night with three inexperienced pilots. He said that we should try our best. We all went to the Airport early in the morning but could not get our aircraft serviceable before one o' clock in the afternoon. Another message was sent explaining the reason for not complying with the C-in-C's orders.

In the evening, we had the chance of visiting the city and Durban, the summer hill resort of the Shahinshah of Iran. T. S. tried to refresh his Persian language taught by our great Professor and Poet Soofi Tabbasam, with some college girls, whom we had come across while sight-seeing. At night, the Ambassador organised a dinner party where we were introduced to the University girls, who had come with their parents. The next morning, all the girls had to fly in my aircraft, as it was the only one which had appropriate seating arrangements. The other aircraft had bucket seats, which were hard and not comfortable.

During the flight I got a message that a pretty girl named Yaleh Cyrus wanted to come up in the cockpit since she was not feeling too well. She gave us good company in the long return flight. Spoke good English and told us a lot of things which were happening in her country. The following day, we had to fly back to Lahore for the relief work, leaving the girls with the staff of Karachi University.

I was again detailed to bring back our important passengers on the 13th of May. The girls had already been flown back 2 days earlier, in the 3 aircrafts headed by Flt / Lt. Maulvi Arshad who was to lead the Army band back. Later on, I was told that Yaleh Cyrus became friendly with him but nothing came out of the 'crush'. She was so enamoured by the Pakistani Air Force Officers, that after one year when the late Group Captain Mubarik was sent to Tehran for a Technical meeting with an introductory letter from Arshad, she became interested in him as well.

It reminded me of a couplet from the great Urdu Poet Ghalib "oh my friend I have no complaints against you. Give my salams if you ever meet the messenger who delivered the letter to my beloved."

I was told, some years later, that she eventually got married to a British Airline Pilot and had settled down happily ever after.