Course mates of the 58 Pilot Course of IAF, with an average of 91 years, will celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of their commissioning on August 30. A total of 31 cadets, 30 from the IAF and one from the Indian Navy, had been awarded their wings on August 30, 1952, out of which 23 have passed away, some in service and some in retirement.
Among those who will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of their commissioning will be Wing Commander Moreshwar Woman Tilak, Wing Commander Ravinder Lal Badhwar, Air Vice Marshal Denzil Edward Satur, Squadron Leader Ronald Charles Mariano, Squadron Leader PK Chitnis, Air Vice Marshal Cecil Parker, Group Captain Sohan Lal Tandon and Air Vice Marshal MK Rudra.
Incidentally, Wing Commander Moreshwar Woman Tilak, who went on to become a test pilot at HAL and later in Australia, had been awarded the Jodhpur Sword of Honour for Best All Round Pupil and Nabha Trophy for Best in Ground Subjects. Wing Commander Ravinder Lal Badhwar had been awarded the Patiala Trophy for Best Service Pilot.
Wing Commander Tilak and Squadron Leader Mariano are now settled in Australia while Squadron Leader Chitnis is settled in the UK. Well-known defence website Bharat-Rakshak.com notes that out of the 31 Pilots who earned their wings from No. 58 Course, 14 were sent for fighter training and 14 for transport training.
It is worth noting that the course had initially gathered for training at No. 1 Air Force Academy then located in Ambala in 1951, which later moved to Secunderabad. A total of 51 cadets formed the strength of the course out of which only 31 managed to earn their wings.
Air Vice Marshal Cecil Parker has penned an emotional letter to the surviving course mates of 58 Pilots Course, a copy of which has been provided to us by one of the course mates. Some excerpts of the letter are reproduced in this column with permission.
Air Vice Marshal Cecil writes, “On 30 August, 2022 our pilots’ course will mark its 70th anniversary….. On that date, however, I am certain our memories will go back to March, 1951 when 51 of us young lads met up in No 1 Air Force Academy Ambala to form No 58 Pilots Course and learned to manage on a stipend of Rs 40 per month (from home) for the next 18 months! Barely had we commenced flying training when we were all sent home for a month while the academy relocated to Begumpet in Hyderabad. We spent nine months in the rear cockpit of the Tiger Moth followed by another nine months in the front cockpit of the Harvard. Standards were high and on 30th August, 1952, only 30 of us (plus the naval aviator) won our wings and were commissioned by (then AVM) Subroto Mukherjee and allotted permanent service numbers from 4331 to 4360”.
He further writes that 17 of the course mates went off to Transport Training Wing (TTW) Agra to convert on to the Dakota and thereafter flew the Devon, Liberator, Canberra, Avro, Viscount, IL- 14, AN-12 aircraft and Chetak helicopter. “13 of us, along with the Naval aviator, reported to CTU Hakimpet for our fighter conversion on Spitfire and Tempest aircraft and thereafter flew the Vampire, Toofani, Mystere, Hunter, Gnat, Mig and Jaguar. As QFIs we instructed on HT-2, Prentice, T6-G, Iskra and Kiran trainer,” writes Air Vice Marshal Cecil Parker.
The pilots of the course actively participated in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars. The course produced two test pilots, 15 commanding officers, 11 QFIs, one air attaché, one MVC gallantry awardee and four air officers.
“Our PC joined the IAF in its formative years and was instrumental in the transition of our air force from pistons to jets, subsonics to supersonic, single/twin engines to multi-engine and fixed wing to rotary wing before the last of our course mates to retire, did so in 1988. Including the loss of our naval colleague we lost seven course mates in flying accidents from 1952 to 1988. As on date a total of 23 coursemates have preceded us, some of them were close personal friends whose families continue to remain in touch. All of us surviving course mates (average age 91 years) are now on short finals to the last touchdown at an unknown runway. We have served the country and our air force with distinction and dedication. Who knows our next lives may well commence with a celestial reunion of No 58 Pilots Course,” the letter states.
The Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) mentioned by Air Vice Marshal Cecil in his letter was awarded to none other but himself in the 1971 war while serving as CO of No. 20 Squadron flying Hunters. The citation of his gallantry award notes that he led many deep penetration missions into enemy-held territory attacking strongly defended targets. While returning from one such mission, his formation was attacked by enemy Sabre aircraft and in the ensuing fight then Wing Commander Parker shot down one Sabre and damaged another.
In another mission, he led a strike on the enemy oil refinery at Attock and severely damaged it in face of heavy anti-aircraft fire.
One pilot of 58 course died in an AN-12 Crash in Chandigarh on July 16, 1963. Bharat-Rakshak. Com notes that Squadron Leader Vashisth was killed with five others during night flying while serving with No. 25 Squadron. The aircraft crashed downwind during night flying and the circuit pattern of Runway 11 was changed to right-hand post this incident, the website adds.
Wing Commander Moreshwar Waman Tilak of the course was actively associated with the development and flight testing of Marut and Kiran Aircraft at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The IAF must celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of the 58 Pilots Course by felicitating all the surviving course members and recognising the service to the nation by members of the entire course.