Had Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon been alive today he would have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passing out of his course along with his fellow officers at Air Force Academy in Dundigul, near Hyderabad. However, the lone Param Vir Chakra awardee of the Indian Air Force will form part of the memories of the 97th General Duty Pilots course and 36th General Duty Navigators course when they meet on Sunday (June 4) at Hyderabad to mark the 50th anniversary of getting commissioned in the IAF.
The members of this course consider themselves special because of Sekhon and the fact that he was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest gallantry award while deployed at Srinagar airfield in the 1971 war. Special tributes will be paid to Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon by his fellow coursemates who intend to reminisce about the time they spent together while under training.
As many as 168 pilots and 27 navigators had passed out on June 4, 1967 out of which 71 laid down their lives in combat operations and on active duty including flying accidents. Tributes will be paid at memorial at the Air Force Academy by the members ofe course in honour of those batchmates who lost their lives while answering the cal of duty.
Out of all the fellow officers who served with Flying Officer Sekhon, Wing Commander GM David (retd) is the one who saw him off on his last sortie when he took on four attacking Pakistani F-86 Sabres on December 14, 1971 in his Gnat aircraft. It was in this action, while chasing off the Pakistani attackers singlehandedly, that Sekhon’s aircraft got damaged in enemy firing and he dies in the ensuing crash.
Recalling Sekhon, Wing Commander David told The Indian Express that both used to stay together in the same block. “He was an excellent human being, not given to boasting or false bravado. His only passion in life was to fly the G Bird (as the Gnat was known) to the best of his ability”. David added that Sekhon was so tall that he barely fitted into the Gnat cockpit even with the ejection seat in the fully down position. “We suspect he cheated on his height a bit so that he would be accepted on the Gnat,” he said jocularly.
Narrating the sequence of events of the action in which Sekhon earned the Param Vir Chakra and he saw as an eyewitness, David said that the F-86 Sabre was known to turn better than the Gnat. “I think that during the battle, Sekhon may have proved everyone wrong because he held the turn with the Sabres even with his underwing external tanks laden with fuel. He shot the first Sabre with his wing tanks on. He jettisoned his external wing tanks, and using the superior power of the Gnat to close in to shoot at the second Sabre. He must have been overwhelmed by the closeness of the Sabre in front of him. All along he was aware of one of the escorting Sabres manouvering to shoot him. He thought that he would get F-86 in front before he got shot. That was the unflinching courage of the man and his supreme confidence in his machine,” he said.
Wg Cdr CS Grewal (retd), who was a room mate of Sekhon during the academy days, recalls him as a quite person who was always polite. “He would call every body ‘brother’ and was most affable. After our initial training we parted ways as he went for advanced training to Kanpur. We are proud that 50 years ago he passed out with us and today we remember his sacrifice for the country”.