Friday, March 24, 2017

The Little-Known Story of the First Air India Flight in 1932, and the Legendary Man Piloting It

Most Indians remember Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, better known as JRD Tata, as the man who headed the largest industrial group in India for five decades. What few know is that he also played an important role in the history of India’s flagship carrier, Air India.
Born on July 29, 1904 in Paris, JRD was the second child of Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his French wife Sooni. Little Jehangir was passionate about flying and grew up admiring French aviators Louis Blériot (the first man to cross the English Channel by air) and Adolphe Pegoud (the first fighter aircraft ace in history).
    In his later interviews, he would often recall how he had fallen in love with flying after seeing a plane land on Hardelot beach in France for the first time. “It was flown by Adolphe Pegoud, the first man to loop-the-loop. From then on I was hopelessly hooked on aeroplanes and made up my mind that come what may, one day, I would be a pilot,”JRD would say.

JRD, who grew up in France, renounced his French citizenship in 1929 and returned to India. Twelve days after the launch of India’s first flying club in Bombay – the Aero Club of India & Burma – JRD achieved his dream of becoming a pilot.

In 1932, JRD set up Tata Air Services, the first Indian commercial carrier to transport mail and passengers within India. In the absence of proper facilities, the firm was initially based out of a small hut with a thatched roof at the Juhu Airstrip in Bombay.

On October 15, 1932, a date that made aviation history, JRD famously piloted the first-ever flight of the Tata Air Services from Karachi’s Drigh Road Aerodrome to Mumbai’s Juhu Airstrip via Ahmedabad. The aircraft was a single-engined De Havilland Puss Moth and it carried 25kg of 4-anna airmail letters.
    “On an exciting October dawn in 1932, a Puss Moth and I soared joyfully from Karachi with our first precious load of mail, on an inaugural flight to Bombay. As we hummed towards our destination at a dazzling 100 mph, I breathed a silent prayer for the success of our venture and for the safety of those who worked for it.

    We were a small team in those days. We shared successes and failures, the joys and headaches, as together we built up the enterprise which later was to blossom into Air-India and Air-India International,” JRD recalled later.
23/03/17 Sanchari Pal/Better India