Former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Hrushikesh Moolgavkar, known best for the introduction of safety standards in the Indian Air Force, passed away on Thursday at the Command Hospital where he was admitted on March 29. He was 94.
He is survived by his son Dr Prakash Moolgavkar and daughter Jyoti Rai. The last rites will be performed at Muktidham at Golibar Maidan on Saturday at 5 pm.
Moolgavkar was appointed Chief of Air Staff on February 1, 1976. One of his major achievements was flight safety, where he personally implemented the new measures and brought down the accident rates for the first time, to within International Safety Standards.
During an official visit to Washington DC, he was presented the Legion of Merit (Degree of Commander) for having “contributed immeasurably to Indian-American friendship, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and the Indian Air Force”.
Air Chief Marshal Moolgavkar was acknowledged to be an ace pilot throughout the Indian Air Force and flew until the day he retired. In his entire career in IAF he had flown 67 different types of aircraft including fighters, trainers, jets and proto types and right from the Tiger Moths and Hurricane to MiG-21 and Sukhoi-22s.
Born on August 14, 1930, in Mumbai, Moolgavkar was commissioned into the Royal Indian Air Force on November 30, 1940 in the rank of an acting Pilot Officer and was sent to the war zone in Burma after a short training where was with the No 1 Squadron, flying Audax, Lysander and the Hurricane Mark II aircraft.
While in Burma, he had a near fatal accident on January 15, 1945. His Spitfire MK V aircraft crashed on take-off due to sudden engine failure. He had injured his spine and managed to get special permission to come back to Mumbai to be treated by his father, the well-known surgeon Dr S R Moolgavkar. He was immobile in a cast for six months, after which, he was up and ready to get back into the cockpit of a fighter aircraft.
Known for his flying abilities, he was especially chosen to lead the fly past on our First Independence Day. Then Squadron Leader Moolgavkar led a formation of Tempest II aircraft just over the Flag Posts at the time our Indian National anthem was being played and our National Flag hoisted on August 15, 1947.
On the next day, he led a similar Fly Past, trailing the tri-color, over the Red Fort. Indeed, a proud moment for all Indians.
In 1948, Wing Commander Moolgavkar, all of 28, took charge of the No. 1 Operational Wing in Jammu and Kashmir.
Here he distinguished himself, leading all the major operational sorties himself. During a bombing mission, he hit compressibility (speed of sound) in a Tempest aircraft. For his exceptional gallantry and leadership he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.
He was one of the first pilots to fly India’s first Vampire jets, the first propeller-less aircraft. He was put in charge of bringing the Toofanis from France to India. He was also responsible for setting up new airfields at Rajasthan and Gujarat and New airbases, including the one at Pune.
In 1971, he was posted to Delhi as the Commandant of the National Defence College, the only Commandant not to have done the NDC course.
In 1973, he became AOC-in-C, Western Air Command at New Delhi and received his Param Vishishth Seva Medal in April 1975.
After serving 38 years in the Indian Air Force, he retired in August 1978. After declining Ambassadorial and other positions, he and his wife Tara Moolgavkar settled down in Pune.