IAF's 2nd Vintage Legend to fly soon

By SP's Special Correspondent
Photo Credit : Mike Edwards, Indian Air Force, Flt Lt Des Peters

November 11, 2013: With its restored de Havilland Tiger Moth painting the skies yellow for over a year now as part of the ambitious Vintage Flight programme, the Indian Air Force is looking forward to seeing its restored North American T-6 Harvard trainer fly in Indian skies by the end of this year, marking the first phase of an effort that will ultimately see a total of six vintage aircraft in fully flying condition. The Harvard is being restored under the guidance of Mike Edwards, chief advisor to the IAF Vintage Flight. The Harvard will be flying nearly four decades after its last flight in Indian service.

According to the Royal Aeronautical Society, "India has a rich aviation heritage that cannot be understated and the IAF VF brings many exciting and unique aircraft to the world stage. After a 23 years absence the IAF now have the only vintage operation in India. The first IAF Vintage Flight Tigermoth is now flying and the restoration company, Reflight, is working on the Harvard aircraft. The next 4 aircraft (Spitfire, Hurricane, Tempest and Wapiti) are soon to start restoration with more aircraft planned. When the VF reaches its peak, there is no doubt India will have the most important military-run vintage operation in the world."

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, who retires at the end of December, is said to be extremely keen that the Harvard flies in Indian skies before he hangs up his flying boots. He had the pleasure of presiding over the Tiger Moth's display at Air Force Day 2012.

An IAF officer who visited England earlier this year to review progress on the Harvard told SP's, "The Tiger Moth experience has been extremely satisfying. The aircraft is delivering excellent hours and performance, and has been a delight wherever it has flown in the last one year. The Harvard trainer is progressing well, and we have full faith that it will be a repeat performance. Mike Edwards and his team have done a commendable job restoring our historic aircraft, and we look forward to seeing the Harvard fly soon in India. It will be a magical moment for scores of aviation enthusiasts, retired veteran pilots and historians the world over."

The Harvard, developed and built by North American Aviation (now part of Boeing), was used by the Royal Indian Air Force starting in 1942 for advanced training ahead of World War II and and subsequently the IAF to train cadets. According to the IAF's official history, between March and December 1942, 10 aircrew schools were opened in India, and the first Harvard Is and IIs were delivered to No. 1 Flying Training School at Ambala, this school having been established to provide basic and advanced training for IAF pilots over a four-and-half month course. The aircraft was also deployed for training at Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Tambaram. The Harvard participated in the 1947-48 Kashmir operations. One flight of Harvard aircraft along with 20 Spitfires, six squadrons of Hawker Tempest fighter bombers and one squadron of Dakota transports made up the entire Royal Indian Air Force fleet at the time. When the Dakotas airlifted an infantry brigade to Srinagar, the Harvards joined the Spitfires and Tempests to provide crucially needed close air support to the Royal Indian Army.

In 1997, then Air Chief Marshal (Retd) Arjan Singh (he was made Marshal Of The Air Force in 2002) fondly remembered the Harvard, when he wrote for the IAF's Flight Safety journal: "During WWII, the air force was having trouble in getting recruits in adequate numbers for pilot and other training. To make people air-minded, a "display flight" was started with a distinguished pilot Wg Cdr Majumdar as its commanding officer; he was killed doing aerobatics in a display over Lahore. On his death, I took over and gave aerobatic displays with a single-engine Harvard aircraft."

The last Harvard flew in 1975 after which it was retired and replaced with the HAL-built HJT-16 Kiran Mk.1 trainer. It had remained in service for 33 years.

The second phase of the Vintage Flight will see Edwards supervise the restoration of the Hawker Hurricane and Tempest II, Supermarine Spitfire, and in the final phase, the final phase, the IAF's first ever aircraft, the legendary Westland Wapiti biplane. The IAF had initially also wanted to restore the Lysander fighter bomber, though a final decision is yet to be taken. The IAF handpicked the six aircraft from a canvas of nearly 40 different vintage planes that have served since the 1930s. Other aircraft that were up for initial consideration as part of the proposed Vintage Flight included the Vultee Vengeance, Percival Prentice, de Havilland Vampire and B-24 Liberator.

Mike Edwards, Chief Adviser to the Indian Air Force Vintage Flight, flew the recently restored Tigermoth at the 80th anniversary IAF parade last year. An ex-Royal Air Force pilot, currently flying Boeing 777s for British Airways and a vintage aircraft instructor, he has flown over 10,000 hours including the Vampire jet in De Havilland aviation, aerobatics for Avia and operating many other vintage aircraft; awarded the MBE in 2013 for Anglo/Indian relations and services to aviation. He will be directly associated with the entire IAF Vintage Flight programme.