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Updated: October 7, 2013 16:48 IST

Touch the sky with glory

MURALI N. KRISHNASWAMY
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Defenders of our skies. Photo: R.V. Moorthy
The Hindu Defenders of our skies. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

October 8 is Air Force Day. A day to celebrate the defenders of our skies.

Here’s what happened on October 8, down the ages:

1604 - a supernova called Kepler’s Nova was sighted for the first time;

1818 - two English boxers were the first to use padded gloves;

1822 - the famous Galunggung volcano in Java erupted…

One can go on about remarkable events in history. But in 1932, much before independence, this day was especially important for India. It was when the Indian Air Force was established.

It’s that time of the year again — to recognise the contributions of those men and women in blue, in the air and on the ground, and marvel at their magnificent aircraft. Over the years, the IAF has developed to become a fit and sophisticated war machine. The IAF started as a small fleet with a few Wapiti biplanes, RAF officers and sepoys. It’s been a long journey since then.

Today, it is among the top air forces in the world with a series of achievements and a highly trained force.

In 1954, Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee took over as the first Indian Chief of Air Staff.

Just a little earlier, during World War II, the IAF saw action.

Between 1955 and 1971, the IAF upgraded its fleet. It was also the time for wars in the neighbourhood, especially with Pakistan. The IAF also participated in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Between 1972 and 1990, the IAF introduced a number of aircraft types. It was also when Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian cosmonaut to venture into space as part of an Indo-Soviet space programme.

Significant changes

From 1990 to the present time, the IAF has seen its most significant changes. Women were inducted into the force, there were a number of peacekeeping missions, an around-the-world microlight flight to mark the IAF’s 75th year, and when “Operation Safed Sagar” was undertaken. Here, the IAF gave air support to ground forces during the Kargil operation. In another move, the IAF began to upgrade its weapons systems and also induct western built aircraft into its fleet of largely Russian built fighters. In addition, there were missions with the air forces of friendly countries like the U.S., the U.K., France, Singapore and Oman. It also announced plans to induct the next generation of fighter aircraft.

This year started off with some of its most important missions. First, the IAF demonstrated its fire power and capabilities in the day-night exercise “Iron Fist” in Pokhran, Rajasthan. Its leading Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter was the star of the show.

To celebrate this valour and humanitarian spirit of its personnel, the IAF celebrates Air Force Day on October 8. The parade that day is to show the country that the air warriors are real daredevils who can perform not only in the air but on the ground as well, and to celebrate ‘a journey of years filled with wars and victories; of years filled with tears and joy and of years filled with hope and happiness.’ It is conducted annually to publicly pledge the continued dedication of the IAF in its service to the nation and to reassure all countrymen of its vitality and preparedness. The day begins with messages from the top leaders of the country who recognise the IAF’s contributions, and the giving away of service honours and medals. The day is also celebrated to mark the significance of October 8, 1932, when the Act to establish the IAF came into effect, as also the commissioning of the first six IAF officers. The stunning air show is a combination of a display of all weapon systems, a demonstration by parajumpers, drill formations and flying displays by a range of aircraft. Truly, touching the sky with glory.

In other countries

A number of countries hold an annual armed forces day in honour of their military forces. Argentine Air Force day is on August 10. Croatian Air Force Day is on December 12.

Memories preserved

President Dr. Rajendra Prasad presented the President’s colours to the IAF on the occasion of its 21st birthday in New Delhi on April 1, 1954. About 1,500 officers and airmen, representing every IAF unit in India, were drawn up for the colours presentation parade.

The IAF is the second service to be presented the President’s colours. The Indian Navy received them earlier.

The IAF Museum in Delhi gives us glimpses into its magnificent history.

The IAF’s motto “Touch the sky with Glory” is from the Bhagavad Gita, where it aims to fight enemies by using air power to defend the nation.

The other side

It was a time too when we saw the IAF display its humanitarian side, living up to its slogan “People first, Mission Always”.

In June, Uttarakhand bore the brunt of nature’s fury as flash floods and landslips caused enormous damage. Called “Operation Rahat,” the IAF formed an air bridge using its helicopter and transport fleet. Its Russian helicopters and advanced “Dhruv” light helicopters (ALH) were supported by the newly inducted American-built ‘Super Hercules’ C130J aircraft in transporting people to safety and in bringing fuel and relief material. This was done in coordination with the Indian Army, the Border Roads Organisation, the National Disaster Response Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and other paramilitary forces.

In South India too, in July, the IAF air-dropped relief and food material in flood-affected Karimnagar. In August, as the Cauvery surged to life with monsoon flood waters, in a dramatic rescue, the IAF sent in its ALHs from the Sulur air base in Coimbatore to Hogenakkal to pluck to safety four men caught in the swirling waters. And again in the same month, it created a record when it landed its “Super Hercules” aircraft at Daulat Beg Oldie, one of the world’s highest air fields.

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