Sunday, May 30, 2021

Accidents happen, but IAF chief flying MiG-21 Bison shows leaders lead from the front

The Indian Air Force recently lost a young warrior in a MiG-21 Bison accident on 21 May. On 27 May, No 23 Squadron—‘Panthers’ as they call themselves—flew a ‘Missing Man’ formation over the base led by the Commanding Officer. There were two reasons for this: One, to honour the departed warrior, and two, to honour a tradition. 

The tradition is that after a fatal accident the first sortie in the Squadron is flown by the Commanding Officer (CO) himself – indicating that while the Squadron grieves for the departed comrade, life must go on and the Squadron must get back to its assigned task. This particular Panther mission had an additional significance. Flying in the formation was Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria himself, who is also the senior-most Panther in service. Besides joining the CO and the Squadron personnel in the tribute, it also showed his faith in an aeroplane that has had a not-so-good reputation these past few years. 

The CO, of course, was living up to the tradition that Commanding Officers lead from the front.

The aviation horizon is widening and with advances in computing power, aerodynamics and engine technology, newer and fancier aeroplanes are appearing on the flight lines; notwithstanding the advances being made, certain traditions are unaffected and define military aviation. And, upholding these traditions is that one man at the apex of a flying unit, the Commanding Officer. ‘Old man’ to the rest of the clan that occupies the crew room, he (and very soon, a she) sits on a pedestal of his Unit’s history written in sweat and blood (literally) of officers and men who served earlier in that Unit. Accidents happen, as much as one would like to wish them away, and unfortunately some result in fatalities.

When a ‘fatal’ happens in a Unit, it is a loss that cannot be described in words. The guy with whom you had a drink the previous night in the bar, or who was perhaps sitting next to you in the formation briefing that was done before the sortie, or your buddy with whom you rolled and did front rolls in the National Defence Academy – is gone. Just like that. It’s a situation that no CO wants on his watch – but it happens with some, and blessed are those whose tenure is accident-free.

30/05/21 AVM Manmohan Bahadur (Retd)/Print

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