Last action heroes remember a fighter

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by Neil, Jun 19, 2011.

  1. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

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    It was a warplane without a radar, engines which did not perform like they were meant to, a shaky canopy and a croaky ‘RT’, but nonetheless the HF-24 Marut was a legend for pilots who flew the country’s first fighter-bomber through the 60s and the 70s. Indian Air Force pilots recounted awe-inspiring episodes about Maruts destroying several targets —from a massive ammunition dump at Ghazi camp to rail yards in Naya Chor sector and Nawabshah airport in Sindh-during the Indo-Pak war in 1971 and subsequent peacetime sorties. They were amazed at how it would transform from a “bullock cart” to a supersonic aircraft once it crossed the 400 knot-mark to beat even Hawker Hunters and MiG-21 jets.

    “We used to fly at tree-top levels using maps, our wristwatch and the speedometer. There were no radars, so we fired with the help of gun sight. As wing commander flying the last two sorties (1983 & 1984), I made enough noise that the Maruts should not be phased out, but the powers-that-be did not pay heed as HAL failed to add more power to the engines,” says Air Vice-Marshal Aditya Vikram Pethia (retd), a war veteran who was awarded the Vir Chakra after spending six months in Pakistan as a prisoner of war (POW). Sample this episode to gauge the jet’s robust airframe: a diminutive Wing Commander Bobby Kasbekar (retd) was celebrating his strikes at Mirpur Khas in Sindh early December 1971 when he realised that artillery fire struck his Marut, leaving a gaping hole in one of the wings. He managed to return to the airbase in Uttarlai and had the cavity fixed with the help of a pair of playing cards by intrepid engineers.

    Interestingly, Flight Lieutenant Jawaharlal ‘Brother’ Bhargav who flew the damaged Marut to Jodhpur and returned with another one to continue with air strikes against Pakistan, was taken POW after his Marut was shot down during his first sortie over enemy territory. “Bobby was on the mission the next day too, but I forced Squadron Leader ‘Joe’ Bakshi to allow me to fly with him. My aircraft was hit by gunfire and suffered multiply failures, forcing me to eject over Pakistan. I was captured, imprisoned and returned home after a year and half,” Air Commodore Bhargava (retd) told DC.

    The Maruts, according to Air Marshal S.S. Ramdas (retd), was a better machine compared to the MiG 21s. He reminisced how pilots of Maruts had silenced bitter critics among their colleagues with one contest at in Jodhpur in 1977. “Four Maruts took off from the airbase and popped up from nowhere to carryout a mock attack on the airbase. They flew away before the MiGs even realised what was happening. The MiGs couldn’t catch them,” he added. These fighter-bombers, were phased out when they were only 16 years young.

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