Sunday, July 15, 2018

RAF 100: Incredible Indian pilot with a taste for adventure

Former Newham and Gravesend resident Mahinder Singh Pujji was born in Simla in the Punjab in 1918, the son of a senior civil servant in the British Raj.

He fell in love with flight after joining the Delhi Flying Club in 1936 where he learned to fly before getting his first job with Himalayan Airways.

In 1940 he was one of the 24 Indian pilots to arrive in Britain after volunteering for the Royal Air Force (RAF).

He joined No 43 Squadron flying Hurricane fighter aircraft.

He trained in combat and received his pilot’s wings with 17 Indian colleagues. Within a year 12 had been killed in action.

But Pujji managed to survive being shot down twice during dog fights with the enemy – crash landing on top of the white cliffs of Dover one time. He said his turban saved him by cushioning the blow.

Pujji returned to India after the war but was invalided out of service with the Indian Air Force after surviving tuberculosis.

By the 1950s he was flying gliders taking historic figures including Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and US president Dwight D. Eisenhower up into the clouds.

He emigrated to Britain in 1974 where he worked as a Heathrow Airport air traffice controller.
15/07/18 Jon King/Newham Recorder

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