Armed Pegasus: The Early Years

Somnath Sapru

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Barely seven years after the Wright Brothers flew for the first time a heavier than air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA, in 1903, the first crates containing two Boxkite aeroplanes landed at Karachi. In December 1910, they flew in the Indian skies for the first time, heralding the coming of the air age to India.

It was, however, in early 1916, with the pressure of war on, that the British government decided to send military aeroplanes to India. Prior to that, a flying school had been opened in early 1914 but due to the war, it closed down. Thereafter, the miniscule presence of the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force (RFC/RAF) in India (mostly in the North-West Frontier area) steadily increased and served right through the Twenties and Thirties, until World War II began and beyond it up to 1947.

This was the period when the tactics and organisational structure of the new service gradually changed through innovation and emulation of the other two services until the Indian Air Force (IAF) came into existence in October 1932. It was in this period that there was a demand for Indians to be recruited into the RAF. The British flatly refused but eventually conceded that a separate service for India should be established.

However, this period of nearly 20-25 years saw the slow but steady growth of the organization and formulating of rules, regulations, uniforms, rank structure, methods, tactics and utilization of the changing technology that brought better and more powerful aeroplanes for use. While Britain has its own history of the RAF, India does not have any history that explains the how, why and where of the operations in India. And once the IAF was set up, it naturally followed the pattern on which the RAF had been set up.

For the past over sixty years, the IAF has its own history but does not have any detailed account of how the RAF was managed and the introduction of many operations and actions that laid the foundation of the IAF. From the logo on the aircraft, to squadron histories, the constant upgradation of technology and adoption of the RAF’s customs and traditions, these were not recorded. This book is an attempt to place on record the facts and events to show how the Air Force was set up and by trial and error, reached the heights of glory of today’s IAF. This narrative is in the nature of describing the base on which the foundation was gradually laid and subsequently expanded.

Somnath Sapru With over 39 years of experience as a journalist and author, Somnath Sapru has, over the years, specialised in writing on military aviation. His earlier book “Skyhawks” was on the four Indian pilots of World War I who flew with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in Europe.
He was earlier the Defence Correspondent of the Deccan Herald, and Indian Express, Bangalore, later at the Indian Express, New Delhi and at The Pioneer and finally at the Indian Express, Chennai, as Editor. He covered the activities of the three services of the armed forces extensively and specialised in the history of military aviation in the country.
He has been given professional awards such as the Asian Journalist of the Year Award in 1988 and earlier the Jefferson Fellowship in the US in 1979. He served as a Special Correspondent in the Indian Express and as the Editor of The Pioneer, Lucknow and New Delhi, for six years and as the Regional Editor of the Indian Express, Chennai, for five years.
His published works cover a variety of subjects such as communication studies, country profiles such as of Japan and biographies but his overriding interest has been military aviation. As a follow-up on this book, “Armed Pegasus”, two more on related subjects are under preparation —“IAF-Combat Lore” and “Only Angels Can Fly”.



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