Aviation in India – A Peep Into Its Early History – An Update

By Group Captain Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

History has a strong tendency to get revised and updated as new information emerges. Almost all the text of the earlier article came from a book by Late Mr Alka Sen, one of India’s earliest aviation correspondents. Now we have Jefferis Evans D’Angelis the great grandson of the then famous Flying Corsican, to point out that the actual first flight ever in India took place in Madras on 10th March 1910, nine months ahead of the one in Allahabad. He is correct in this claim and this post is an update of the last article. Additional; background of the intrepid designer-pilot of the past is also reproduced here to introduce his many facets to us.

Giacomo D’Angelis, a confectioner from Corsica, arrived in Madras in 1880 and opened his `Maison Francaise’. His `Kitchen Department’, he assured the gentry of Madras, was “the first and finest of its kind”. It didn’t take long for D’Angeli’s catering service to get known. His excellent service soon enabled him to open a small hotel in 1906. Continuing to prosper, this eventually became the Hotel d’ Angeli, with unmatched luxury and facilities, including an electrical lift, running hot water, etc. But with passage of time, changes of ownership and name, the hotel premises on Mount Road, Madras transformed into Bata’s main showroom in Chennai.

An extract from its own vintage archives was published by the The Hindu on Wednesday, July 16, 2003. You can read the full article for yourself on him at http://tinyurl.com/kkto3n. This recalls the remarkable feat of Giacomo d’ Angelis, popularly known as the “Flying Corsican” He had a biplane constructed, presumably to his own design. He then successfully flew it. This achievement is also recorded in Flight magazine as the following extract shows: –

Inspired by Bleriot, his fellow-Frenchman, who was the first to fly across the Channel, D`Angeli got Simpson’s to build him an aeroplane! He tested this made-in-Madras machine in Pallavaram, found it flew, then decided to offer flying demonstrations one day at Island Grounds for a fee. Crowds paid up to watch those demonstrations in March 1910 – and at least one boy was courageous enough to accept D’Angeli’s invitation to fly with him during one of his several flights that day. D’Angeli, thus, was not only the first in the South to run a modern hotel, but he was also the first to fly in South India.

This story is further corroborated by an extract from Flight of March 26, 1910. Please see the pdf image from it at http://tinyurl.com/ontxjo. This is reproduced from FlightGlobal/Archive

AN INDIAN BIPLANE.

We have yours giving us names of motor engines, for which we are much obliged, and in return we are posting you photograph of what we believe is the first aeroplane in India, which has been constructed by one of our customers, a Mr. C. D’Angelis, of Madras. The machine has been built by our friend entirely fromhis own designs, and we understand that although up to the present he has been experimenting with a small horse-power engine, the results given by this are so satisfactory that with a higher horsepower he anticipates being able to make long and consecutive flights.

E. AND A. LEVETUS AND Co.

The Flying Corsican's Plane

In view of this evidence, Allahabad will have to concede that the aircraft in Madras made the very first flight in India and in fact in Asia. Obviously, with inadequate communication facilities, this was not known to newspapers in Allahabad or Calcutta. Thus, each of these three cities claimed the first flight for themselves. But the final pride of place should now go to Madras with the first flight in all Asia by Giacomo D’Angelis on March 10, 1910.

Fortunately the rest of the history of early aviation In India can stand as it is recorded in the earlier post – so far! This can remain until more new information turns up to correct our history of the early days of aviation in India.

How I Became A WWII Casualty

By Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

This is a very personal tale of a teen age schoolboy during World War II. My father, an ICS officer, had elected the judiciary within four years of joining the service in 1929. He was determined to avoid having to implement the oppressive British rule. Most of his service was in UP towns, except for the last five years when he was a judge in the Supreme Court.

At the time of declaration of war, we were in Bulandshahar where my father was the District & Sessions Judge. In July 1940, prior to the start of the academic year, he was posted to Gorakhpur also as the District & Sessions Judge but with a significant increase in his grade. I mention this as the events of 1942 Quit India movement were very relevant to his career, of which (maybe) I will write some other time. In Gorakhpur I joined St Andrews High School in the 8th Class for the start of my regular schooling.

My ambition to become a pilot went back to 1936 as an eight year old when I saw and touched an Empire Airways flying boat at Allahabad, our home town – of sorts. By the time the WW II started, I was firm in my decision to join the Air Force. Naturally even before my thirteenth birthday, I was following the news of the war quite regularly. I read about the British capture of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city on 9th February 1941. The British forces, with large contingents of Australians, had little trouble defeating the Italians who were then the colonial rulers of the country.

The British Government decided to celebrate this “Fateh Benghazi” in a grand manner even in Gorakhpur. Apart from other events which I was unable to attend due to being too young, a fireworks display in a public park was open to every one. My parents allowed me to go for this, escorted by an orderly. The display was quite impressive. But I got a bad fright when a rocket instead of going up came sliding on the ground directly towards me. By stepping aside a bit in a hurry, I missed it by a few inches. This should have been an ominous warning sign to me. But I was in no mood to worry about it.

Incidentally, I learnt a few days later that Gen Rommel came over with his Afrika Corps and captured Benghazi back from the Allies by early April! But by then I had already become a casualty of the war.

I was an active boy scout in school. One day in the first week of March, our Scout Master told us about the Government’s plans to observe a Focal Day. This was scheduled for Monday, 10th March 1941. The Focal Day was conceived to encourage Indians to take full part in the war effort, presumably to help with food, money and manpower. But the main stress was on passive air defence. We were already observing blackouts, all our glass windows had been papered over, and a sort of shelter room with emergency supplies and medicines had been set aside.

The Scout Master explained that the main intention of the Focal Day was to demonstrate passive air defence precautions and practices. He mentioned that we were under threat from the East and could get bombed at any time. As such we would see how air raid shelters should be constructed at home and used during air raids. A Civic Guard had already been raised and was identified easily by its light blue uniform and the words Civic Guard on the shoulders. The Focal Day was mainly for training the personnel of this force and to show to the public how obedience to their instructions would save lives.

The Scout Master then came to the crux of the show. He said that an aircraft would fly over and drop bombs. My ears pricked up! Any citizens who did not take refuge in the shelters would get injured and be taken away for treatment by the team acting as the Red Cross. Civic Guards would encourage citizens to get into the air raid shelters and be safe. He then asked for volunteers to play the role of citizens. My hand was up instantly. And because citizens were supplied by the school, my parents allowed me to join in.

On the day, we arrived at the large open field, presumably the sports grounds of an Army establishment. Years later, I guessed that this ground was at the recruiting centre which was very actively enrolling Gurkhas who came across from Nepal to join the Army. In it, tents had been put up as our houses. We were four of us in the tent, all boys from my own class. After the show began, suddenly the air raid siren went off. We promptly came out to look out for the aircraft due to bomb us. But just as promptly the Civic Guards pounced on us to drag us to the air raid shelters. I protested loudly but to no avail that I had come only to watch the aircraft not for hiding in a shelter. But the show was also meant to demonstrate how the Civic Guard would force citizens to take shelter despite any resistance from them and save their lives. I suppose my genuine reluctance was appreciated as good acting by the authorities!

I was frog-marched to a shelter and installed in it. The shelter was quite deep underground with perhaps eight or ten steps going down from either open end. It retained a fairly sturdy layer of the original ground as its roof. It had enough space inside for a man to stand up without having to bend. Benches had been placed along the full length of the shelter on one side for us to sit down. The first place was already occupied by a Civic Guard. I was seated at number three from the end which was not used for entry. An adult man was between the two of us.

The Civic Guard had a basket full of dark coloured spheres, slightly larger than cricket balls. These were powerful bombs (fire crackers) with fuses sticking out of them. As the single engine aircraft, almost certainly a Hurricane, flew overhead, the pilot dropped small sand bags from the open cockpit. Civic Guards nearest to the bag where it hit the ground exploded the large bombs. I suppose it was as good a simulation of bombing as safely possible. Soon enough it was our turn. The Guard climbed the steps fast and let off the cracker.

The blast of the bomb was quite powerful and we felt the hot air from it inside the shelter. The wind blowing towards us also helped greatly. I immediately requested him to let off the next one away from the entrance and place it where the wind would not blow its blast towards us. He lit the fuse of the next cracker and I do not know what happened next or why. All the bombs in the basket exploded at once. There was a large ball of fire blown inwards. The shelter was filled with the thick acrid smoke of burnt gun powder. Apparently, the Civic Guard had not even gone out of the shelter while lighting the fuse. I could see he was badly inured. There was a hole in his shirt at the stomach and through it raw flesh was visible above his belt. The skin had disappeared. There was capillary bleeding which made it look pink and red. He also lost the skin on his forearms and around the knees. But his stockings protected his lower legs. A little above the knee, there was no injury due to the half-pants preventing the blast scorching the thighs and the groin. He was moaning in pain, unable to move.

The person sitting between the two of us had disappeared. He was wearing a full sleeve shirt, trousers and glasses. He escaped the way we had entered away from the blast side and was not injured, though I believe one or two sparks had marked his skin somewhere with tiny black dots. He claimed that these could not really be called any type of injury. All other almost twenty occupants of the shelter escaped from the entry end which all of us had used earlier. Seeing the condition of the Civic Guard, I helped him out of the shelter from the other end, called for first-aid and handed him over to them. They carried him away on a stretcher.

Out at last in the fresh air, I could see the aircraft make another pass and drop more bags. The big crackers were going off all over. I started to walk towards my tent and felt cool wind on the legs. I looked own to find that the skin on my legs had also vanished. On the right leg its left side was injured but on the left leg it had gone from all sides except the back. The flesh was visible and capillary bleeding had started. The loss of skin was limited between my half-pants and socks. The knees had not been hurt. The injury was a surprise to me as the fireball had been on my right. Yet the greater damage was on the left leg with the right side of the right leg unmarked. I did not think that it was any terrible injury and reached the tent.

My lucky Sikh tent mate had somehow escaped being taken to any shelter. He had watched the bombing runs quite well. But the moment he saw my legs he vomited and then continued to retch. I could not tolerate the sight of him and came out of the tent. I was spotted by the Red Cross pretenders who pointedly helped me walk to the first-aid tent, though I did not need their assistance. The Scout Master joined us fast enough and decided to take over the treatment.

The Scout Master’s treatment was simplicity itself. He wrapped dry cotton wool all over the exposed flesh and wrapped bandages around both my legs from just under the knees to the line of the socks. By then my parents had also seen me crossing the ground first to the tent and then to the first-aid centre. My father asked my mother if I was wearing red stockings. She said that I had nothing of the sort at all. My father came to the centre and immediately whisked me away to the Government hospital. The civil surgeon was there and took charge. He said that the cotton had stuck to the flesh and had to be removed or else the wounds would turn septic. He spent the next three hours cleaning it off. At the end he applied some ointment and bandaged the legs.

While at the hospital my temperature had begun to rise. The doctor explained that this was due to extensive inhalation of smoke from the gunpowder in the crackers. According to him, this was the real danger to my life. But the fever got over after four days. The Civil Surgeon was not quite right in his instant verdict. After a week or so, there was a foul smell from both legs and they were perhaps turning septic. Some scab had formed in parts. He asked me to be brave and I promised not to cry or scream. He then ripped off the bandages, scab and all. This was my bravest act in the accident – I did not even whimper. The surgeon explained to me that if the legs did not heal they might need to be amputated below the knees. But they responded to frequent application of tannin.

It took several months for me to be able to walk again and later do a slow jog. That is when I was allowed to call some school mates and arrange a game of rounders in our grounds. My first slow run around the diamond was applauded by all of them. Soon enough, I was well again though I have marks on both legs as incriminating evidence of this injury. Once the Civic Guard and I were well, the Government, with the British Commissioner officiating as the senior-most officer in town, decided to honour us with a parade. It was a simple parade with the two of us standing in front with a squad behind us. I was called first and handed over a scroll which was a “sanad” for meritorious war work signed by the Governor of UP. The Civic Guard got a watch. As we returned to our places, he said to me that he wished he had got the sanad and I the watch. He thought that a document like that would have helped him land a Government job. I heartily agreed with him.

I no longer have this scroll. I suspect that my father with his nationalistic leanings had got rid of it. This was obviously meant to prevent me crowing about it any time in future. In fact this is the first mention of it in any of my writing so far. Perhaps some time later I will describe how my father functioned during the Quit India movement (August 1942) to his eternal credit. The consequences of the choices made by him stood him in good stead in later years. My choices landed me in the Air Force, but after a few hitches.

Old

After nearly 55 years, I managed to contact an ex-RAF officer Henry Chambers. He was with me on the same Pilot Attack Instructor Course in Leconfield, Yorkshire, UK from September to November 1953. Two years ago, he saw a letter of mine in the Daily Telegraph in UK and sent me a letter simply addressed to Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd), Bangalore India. The letter found me with only a slight local delay.

We had got quite friendly as we were two of the very few attending the course who were not out chasing skirt every evening. We discussed many things including Hindustani Classical Music and calligraphy. At his request, I had given him, a sample of my calligraphy on a sheet of a notebook, which had guide lines printed in light blue on the pages.

We never met or corresponded after November 1953 but are now in contact though email and phone calls. We found that we still had much in common to talk over.

Henry suddenly located the calligraphed piece and sent me a scan of it. The paper was yellowed and frayed at the edges and had some smudges in places. I cleaned it up to produce a neat image on completely white background which looks quite new. I then made an old age version of it.

This is attached for your examination. As I see it, it was fairly good calligraphy, though not perfect. But it was a pleasure to see it after all of 55 years.

Minus Y2K

By Kapil Bhargava

The Y2K (Year 2000 AD) came in with a bang and went out with a whimper. If you were using computers at that time, you would remember the fear and panic Y2K caused all over the world. It was believed that the end of civilisation would occur at the stroke of midnight after 31 December 1999 the moment the date switched to 2000. Everything was so dependent on computers that nothing would work after that instant. A suggested solution to call up any old pre-Y2K data was to fool the computer by telling it that it was still 1999. Educational authorities in the UK should have thought of this simple solution. They told their computers that 00 meant 2000 AD. Result: they invited a 102-year-old woman to come and attend nursery classes. Suddenly their computers did not recognise 00 as 1900. In reality, Y2K proved to be a big yawn. But wait, Minus Y2K is something else.

Lord Rama came back to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana and taking possession of his aeroplane called the Pushpak Vimana as a war trophy. If we had the technology of flying more than 5,000 years ago and Mahabharata was fought with fantastic weapons, Egyptians must have developed even more advanced technologies some years later. Modern scientists can’t explain how the pyramids were built. The Great Pyramid of Cheops is aligned with true North within one fifth of a degree. No magnetic compass can do this for you The Ancient Egyptians obviously had very powerful computers and other technological marvels. The Minus Y2K theory, propounded by a freethinking American, Jeff Lindsay, can explain why their civilisation perished.

Minus Y2K means 2000 years earlier.than any date of importance. One such date occurred when the Prophet had to shift to Medina. It is from the emigration to Medina that the Muslim Hegira calendar began. Minus Y2K from this epochal event becomes 1378 BC. The plagues mentioned in the Bible were brought upon Egypt by Moses in that year. He was obviously the greatest computer hacker of all time. He brought the ten plagues on Ancient Egypt as terrible viruses and ruined all their hardware and software. Today’s hackers are no match to his abilities.

The full definition of all these viruses is not possible here. Simple explanations will have to suffice. Egypt’s waters ran red, as the ketchup factories’ computers could not recognise Minus 1999. They figured that the tomatoes were 100 years old and refused to process them. These were dumped into the Nile turning it blood red, just like in Bollywood movies.

The organic wastes dumped into the Nile killed the predators of the tadpoles causing the plague of the frogs. The dead fish on the banks of the river were food for the beetles to follow. The flies came from similar causes. Milk production stopped because of the Minus 1999 errors in the dairy computers. Instead of a positive flow of milk the pumps tried to put it back into the cows. Due to Minus Y2K, Egyptian computers could not predict the weather correctly and announced a huge swing in temperatures. The evening TV newsreaders said it sounded like “hail and fire”. The locusts emerged from mutations after the dumping of nuclear wastewater into the fields. Millions of giant locusts ate up all the Egyptian crops. The “darkness’ resulted from a shutdown of power stations which were not compliant with Minus Y2K. The final plague symbolised by the imprint of a hand in blood was to show who had paid their income tax and who had not.

The Pharaoh asked Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, if only he would please stop the viruses on Egypt’s PCs. But, the damage was done. Ancient Egypt never regained its technological excellence.

Managing Your New CP

By Kapil Bhargava

No, the title is not a typo. I do not mean PC but in fact a CP.
Some tips follow for handling your recently acquired CP (Child Person:
your new Baby). Similarities between your Personal Computer and the CP
may make your task easier.

The CP comes in soft packing. The stork stopped delivering these
systems long ago. Only qualified technicians (doctors and nurses)
should do the unpacking in a repair and maintenance unit (hospital or
nursing home). Amateur handling should be avoided. The packaging may be
required for future use, even though it may seem immobile for the time
being. CPs come in only two versions – M or F.

Immediately on unpacking, a CP requires drying with soft towels. This
is also a job for the technicians. They will ensure that peripherals
are connected and functioning before delivering the CP to its owners.
At this stage, the CP needs to be stored at a comfortable temperature
by being wrapped in a blanket or other suitable material. Variations in
temperatures can cause the CP to issue loud error warnings. The CP must
also be provided with receptacles for any efflux from it.

An early maintenance requirement of the CP is to be supplied energy.
Electrical sources like power cords and batteries are to be strictly
avoided. Energy is to be input as a white liquid. This is available
with the packaging itself for up to two or three years, though the
packaging itself requires careful maintenance during this period.

On the PC you face “Garbage In – Garbage Out”, known as GIGO.
Unfortunately, with a CP system, the situation is worse. You input
goodies and you still get garbage out. The output from a CP comes in
both solid and liquid forms and many grades in between. Its arrival is
informed to you via error messages, often at high volume. These can
persist till the error has been corrected and perhaps for some time
afterwards.

Receptacles for a CP’s efflux are disposable or re-usable. The
re-usable variety has to be thoroughly cleaned and dried before further
installation. Changing receptacles is not very complicated. A little
practice will enable you to handle the job as if you have been doing it
all your life. And, it will feel like it. A sensitive nose for solid
efflux detection can be of great help. Similarly a dipstick may help
determine if the receptacles are full of liquid matter.The need to
frequently replace receptacles has the further advantage that you will
not waste away your nights by sleeping, oblivious to your
responsibilities. Before changing receptacles, the CP itself must be
cleaned and dried thoroughly. Failure to do this can lead to damage to
the outer covering of the CP

The CP’s inputs have to be controlled carefully. Any opportunity for
viruses or other system hackers should be prevented by clean
procedures. If a nasty organism causes a problem, the CP should be
examined by suitably qualified technicians.

One year after receiving your new CP and each year thereafter you must
undertake special servicing. Other CPs of like vintage with their
owners are networked together for producing high volume processing.
Candles are lit to signify the number of years of ownership. Your first
CP should be networked with another, preferably of the second variety.
This helps in better operation of both CPs.

Government policies discourage owning more than two CPs.

Aviation in India – A Peep Into Its Early History

By Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

In 2003 the whole world celebrated the centenary of powered flight. But we Indians have to wait till 2010 to observe the centenary of flight in India. After the flight of the Wright Flyer, it took just seven years, almost to the day, for the first aircraft to get airborne at Allahabad in UP. There was hectic activity to bring planes to India and show them off in December 1910.

First off the block was His Highness the Maharaja of Patiala. He sent his British Engineer CW Bowles to Europe to look at the new art or science of flying and bring a couple of planes back with him. Bowles returned to India in December 1910 with a Farman biplane made in England and a Gnome-Bleriot monoplane fitted with two seats. Apparently in Europe, France was the first to get into the business of flying. The Farman was also a French design but built in England by a Thomas Holt, recognized as the father of the aviation industry in England, in collaboration with Farman Brothers of France. Fortune did not favour Patiala and neither of these aircraft became the first to get into the air.

In early December 1910 a party from Belgium and two from England also came to India with several aeroplanes. Their idea was to showcase flying and naturally exploit any business opportunities that might arise out of the demonstrations. The first of these to land in India was from Coventry’s Humber Motor Company, famous for its cars especially used by the police in UK. It included a leader, Capt WG Windham, two pilots – one French and one English, and two mechanics also one French and one English. The Humber Company asked the team to proceed to Allahabad immediately after it landed in Bombay by a merchant ship. This group with all its packing cases set off for Allahabad with the intention of demonstrating the aircraft at the Industrial & Agricultural Exhibition due to be held there shortly. It arrived on December 5 and assembled the planes in five days at a polo ground right next to the Exhibition Grounds. A local newspaper reported the first flight in India as follows: –

“The first actual flight was successfully attained by Mr. Davies in a ‘Bleriot’. On the 10th of December Mr. Davies had the machine ready and early in the morning circled the polo ground at a height of twenty five or thirty feet” The paper added, “Thus Allahabad has had the distinction of giving the lead not only in India, but also to the whole of Asian Continent in connection with the latest of scientific wonders”.

The aircraft ready to fly weighed five hundred pounds without the pilot and cost £ 550/=, just under Rs 7,500/= at the rate existing then. Surely this amount was affordable by many people at the time.

The second aircraft flew the next day, December 11 1910, under the control of the French pilot Henri Pequet and carried the first air passenger in India. He was one of the sons of the Maharaja of Benares, obviously an intrepid young man. But The Statesman of Calcutta, a newspaper still very well respected, published a different version of the flights in Allahabad. Its issue of December 18 reported that Henri Pequet made the first flight in India on December 17. According the paper, Pequet flew the biplane over the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna (Sangam) and also over the Allahabad Fort. The newspaper expected regular display flights to begin on December 20 over the Exhibition Grounds and continue displays till January 6, 1911. The possibility of joyrides being given was also mentioned. By then it was estimated that a total of five hours of flying had been accumulated covering almost 50 miles. Henri Pequet was paid £.50/= per hour of flying, provided each flight lasted longer than two minutes. He is today recognised, especially by knowledgeable stamp collectors, as the pilot to carry world’s first airmail from Allahabad to Naini just across the Yamuna, and back to Allahabad. He carried 6,000 odd letters and postcards, many of which were addressed to celebrities worldwide, including King George V in England. If you can find one of these postmarked covers or stamps with the words “First Aerial Post”, you can sell it today for the price of a flat or a house.

Calcutta, the capital of British India before it was shifted to Delhi, was not far behind in making aviation history. But perhaps news at the time did not travel between cities fast enough. The Statesman of December 21, 1910 said that the second flight in India was at Tollygunj, a suburb of Calcutta on December 20. Baron de Caters flew the Bleriot monoplane over Tollygunj Club for fifteen minutes. The same day the Baron flew with a lady passenger, Mrs NC Sen, who thus became the first woman in India to get airborne. The paper had also claimed that Mrs Sen was the first woman in the world to fly in a plane. But this claim was quite wrong, as by then in the West it had become fashionable for society ladies to casually drop their news of having dared a ride in a flying machine.

For December 28, Baron de Caters organised a flying display at Tollygunj. This attracted almost all the able population of Calcutta willing to forego work or other pleasures for a day. The Baron did the first few flights in the Farman, gave rides to two ladies and several gentlemen. While this was exciting enough, the next day, December 29, Jules Tyck set two national records in his Bleriot. He became the first to fly over the city, including directly over the Government House. The second record was set when he climbed to all of 700 feet above ground level. Calcutta was in for more excitement.

On January 6, 1911, a huge crowd gathered at the Maidan to witness Henri Jullerot display his Boxkite developed by the British & Colonial Aeroplane Company of Bristol, England. The crowds were reported the next day to have been in excess of 100,000, perhaps even more than seen now-a-days at Eden Garden for one day international cricket matches. Seats at the Race Course’s Grand Stand of the Maidan were exorbitantly priced at Rs 5/= each! The flight was cheered with gusto. But the show concluded fast enough as the Boxkite had to be dismantled and taken to Aurangabad by train to demonstrate it to the Indian Army.

Obviously, just like the armed forces the world over, Indian Army was quick to realise the military importance of new technology such as the flying machines. The Boxkite was assembled in open ground next to the Aurangabad railway station. Perhaps world’s first reconnaissance flights took place in it on January 15 and 16 to report on the forces opposing a Cavalry Brigade. The pilot, Henri Jullerot sat on the spar of the leading edge of the lower wing with his feet on a rudder bar. The observer, Sefton Branckner sat close behind, a bit higher and with his feet around the pilot. The reconnaissance sorties were highly successful. But except for a few generals, including the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army and the Chief of Staff, most army officers did no think that the aeroplane had much use for them except perhaps for limited reconnaissance of enemy positions. This attitude persists till today, only slightly moderated due to introduction of aviation within the army itself.

Meanwhile Baron de Caters and Jules Tyck took their aircraft around the country and gave displays at many towns. The show in Bangalore was on February 3, 1911 and in Madras on February 18.

The First World War soon interrupted any progress of aviation in India for a while. Two Indians distinguished themselves in this war. Inder Lal Roy joined the Royal Flying Corps in April 1917 at the tender age of just over eighteen years. After receiving his training and the King’s Commission, he joined No.. 56 Squadron in France but was shot down in December. He was given up for dead but gained consciousness surrounded by dead bodies. After recovery he returned to flying and shot down nine German planes before losing his life in his last air combat. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), the first Indian to receive the honour. The other famous Indian pilot was Sardar Hardit Singh Malik, who had also joined in April 1917. He was wounded in November but returned to flying in time for the defence of London. He was demobilised after the war and had a really distinguished career as a diplomat. He was, not long ago, the senior-most citizen playing golf at the Delhi Golf Club.

The Royal Air Force inaugurated its first station in India at Ambala. But the Indian Air Force (IAF) was launched by an act of the Governor General on October 8, 1932. The A Flight of No. 1 Squadron came into existence on April 1, 1933 under the command of an RAF officer on deputation. Its senior-most Indian officer was Pilot Officer Subroto Mukherjee who later became IAF’s first Indian Commander-in-Chief as an Air Vice Marshal and then took over as the Chief of Air Staff as an Air Marshal. His successor was Air Marshal AM (Aspy) Engineer.

Aspy Engineer had started his flying career rather early. He and RN Chawla were the first Indians to fly a De Havilland Moth from India to England. They left on March 3 and arrived on March 20,1930. Aspy’s return flight from England was to contest for the Aga Khan Prize of £ 500 for flying between the two countries in either direction. JRD Tata took off in a Gypsy Moth on May 3 from Karachi for England. They crossed each other at Aboukir in Egypt where Aspy was in some trouble due to problems with some spark plugs. JRD helped him out. Aspy arrived in India when JRD had just reached Paris. Presumably because he took longer, JRD Tata came second to Aspy who won the Prize. But JRD was never a loser. After protracted negotiations with the Government of India, he started his airmail service under the name of Tata Aviation. He piloted the first carriage of mail from Karachi to Bombay on October 15, 1932. The initial efforts at passenger carriage in India were limited to British owned or funded airlines, such as the Indian Trans-Continental Airways and Indian National Airways. But as the need for more air travel facilities became paramount, permission was given to almost anyone wanting to start an airline. This resulted in a profusion of quick start airlines, which competed with each other perhaps by cutting fares and down time for maintenance. Soon enough the situation became untenable. Eventually the Air Corporation Act of 1953 was passed nationalising all airlines. Air India International took over the international traffic and Indian Airlines Corporation the domestic. While the two national airlines still operate, the domestic scene changed once again as a result of economic reforms. The prospects of passenger and cargo traffic in India can only be described now as rosy.

Meanwhile in December 1940, Seth Hirachand Walchand launched Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) with the help of an American and the State of Mysore. Dr VM Ghatge, India’s first aircraft designer soon joined the company and designed the G-1 Glider, the first such venture in India. However, due to World War II, the G-1 did not get used and Dr Ghatge became the first to start teaching aeronautical engineering at the Indian Institute of Science. He rejoined HAL after independence and designed India’s first powered aircraft the HT-2. In time, HAL became a Corporation with several Divisions in the country. The first fighter aircraft designed in the country was the HF-24 though a German team led by Prof. KW Tank largely managed it. Many aircraft types have been produced under licence and in large numbers. Lately the country has come into its own in designing aircraft, engines, avionics and accessories. The success story of indigenous designs restarted with the ALH, now named Dhruv, a helicopter for all the defence services and also meant for civilian use. This has been followed by the Light Combat Aircraft and the Intermediate Jet Trainer.

India has so far produced transport aircraft only under licence from foreign sources. These include the Avro-748, Dornier Do-228 and the Partinavia. But now National Aerospace Laboratories is developing the Saras, a twin turbo-prop commuter aircraft. HAL is also likely to embark on the development of a 100-seater aircraft with capabilities for other roles, perhaps in collaboration with Russia.
The prospects of aviation in India are on the right path and should gladden the heart of any aviation enthusiast.

Author’s Note: Events of early aviation history in India mentioned in this article have been gleaned from the book “Glimpses into INDIAN AVIATION HISTORY” by Late Mr Alka Sen. He was the doyen of aviation journalists in India and started his career with Indian Aviation, India’s first aviation magazine in 1929. Later he became the Editor of Skyways and finally restarted Indian Aviation – Civil & Military in April 1986.

Flying Tales

By Gp. Capt. Kapil Bhargava (Retd.)

As you can guess by my rank of Group Captain, I was an officer in the Indian Air Force (IAF). Flying was my first love. I had tried to join the Air Force in 1944 when I was only 16. But on my father’s orders, I had to wait till I completed my BSc and also India became independent. I served in IAF from 1948 to 1976 and worked as a test pilot for seventeen years, including in six aircraft factories in UK, Egypt and India. I had the most wonderful time flying and managed to pilot more than seventy aircraft types of trainers, fighters, bombers, transports, and helicopters. I also did some gliding and once I piloted a flying boat off the sea.

This Flying Tales section of the KBHARGAVA.COM site will contain some personal writing on aviation. Around eighty of my articles have been published in magazines in the UK, Germany and India. Hopefully, some of these might interest visitors to this site. Comments (including adverse ones) and questions on these will be welcome. But I may not be able to supply further information about historical articles. I have not kept good records about these or have access any longer to the sources of my information.

With best wishes,
Kapil Bhargava
Email: kapil at kbhargava dot com

Brickbats to Bouquets

By Group Captain Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

Flowers are beautiful and give us unstinted pleasure. Right? Wrong, if you go by the names we call them. Let us start with our national flower. If you call it padm(a), you are OK. But, address it as pankaj and you are referring to its origin born in slime. (Pankajs of the land, please excuse no slur intended. It is a beautiful name, meaning lotus).

When we were small. we found antirrhinum a difficult word to pronounce. The flower was the snap dragon. You could make its mouth move by gently pressing on its jaws. We never figured out why it was the dragon and not a more harmless puppy. The name of the flower comes from Greek to mean like the nose. The Brits at one time called it the calf’s snout!

The nasturtium is so called because it makes you wrinkle up your nose in disgust at its pungent smell. Latin is to blame for this one: nasus meaning nose and tortus to mean twisted. The mother language is also to blame for calling some beautiful flowers carnations. The name derives from carna (flesh) to carrying out a carnage. Some names are just simplifications. The dianthus is pinks even if it comes in a myriad hues. The gladiola is named after gladiolus sword like. A gladius was a small sword that gladiators used to hack each other in Roman days. This time the flower bears this stigma because of the shape of its sharp leaves.

Who is a pansy? Answer: a homosexual man or boy, or one with effeminate characteristics! How then have we named a pretty velvety flower with it? The flame of the forest never sets it on fire. That privilege is reserved for human interlopers (picnickers) and arsonists. The scourge of our lakes is the hyacinth introduced gratuitously by a royal personage during the Raj. The lady liked its flowers so much that she imported the weed into the country. She had no idea that there was nothing to control its unlimited growth. Now a beetle is being tried for the job. The name of the of the plant (and its red flowers) comes from Greek. The plant sprang from the spilt blood of Hyacinthus, a beautiful youth whom Apollo loved but killed accidentally. Those were obviously naughty times!

Probably the worst epithet is reserved for the most beautiful flowers. Orchids grow almost anywhere in the tropics but not in deserts. They come in beautiful shapes and colours. Usually their one leaf is larger than the other two. But just look at their name. It comes from the Greek orkhis due to the testicular shape of its roots. As a result, in the middle ages, Europeans thought of the orchid as an aphrodisiac.

William Shakespeare had more sensitivity to the feelings of the orchids. In Hamlet when he describes Ophelia’s drowning with flowers all round her, he refrains from mentioning them: “There with fantastic garlands did she come,/ Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,/ That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,/ But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.”

It is not only Miss Blandish who does not get orchids. Some half men meet the same cruel fate. In medical terms, orchidectomy means the surgical removal of one or both testes.

Happy New Year Again & Again

By Group Captain Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

As a schoolboy in a small town in UP, I remember the preparations for Holi. The family retainers dug a pit and buried an earthenware pot in it. This was at the spot where Holi fire was to be lit a few days later. Gradually, firewood and other items, such as broken cots, tables and chairs to burn on Holi night were piled up over it.

On being questioned, our oldest servant told me that Samvat 1999 (year of the Vikram era) had been buried in the pot and was to be burnt as having perished. The twenty-first century of our own Samvat would begin after the new moon about two weeks later. Till then I had not realised that Holi had a direct connection with our own New Year. I have often wondered if Holi is in fact the celebration on the last full moon of the year to welcome the new one, the mythological story of Holika trying to kill Pralhad notwithstanding. The current Vikram Samvat 2065 began on 7th April 2008 (Ugadi) for Karnataka and Andhra. But if you missed it, never mind, there are a number of new year days yet to celebrate. After all, you can calculate the year from any date, just like your own birthday!

Quite a few people believe that the Samvat starts on Diwali night. This tradition originated from Gujarat and was adopted as the start of the business accounting year by most Indian businessmen, particularly those of Bombay. For these people Samvat 2065 will begin on 28th October. You have plenty of time to get ready for revelry. Punjabis count the same Samvat 2065, but it will begin on 14th April, the day after Baisakhi which has a very special significance for the Sikhs. Two or three other states also start their new year on the same date. Most Parsis will celebrate their own new year Papeti on 23rd or 25th August. Their year 1 started when they first landed in India in Gujarat by ships and sought refuge with the Raja of Sanjan. Parsis who came to India by land have their own separate New Year’s Day a few days earlier.

Perhaps the oldest calendar still in use is the Buddhist. Its year 2552 will begin at the end of May, while Jains will welcome the year 2535 at Diwali. In this profusion of New Years, the year 1930 started off the Shaka Samvat, National Official Calendar. This is a rare purely solar calendar, and is observed almost totally by being ignored. Most other calendars are based on the lunar cycles adjusted to the seasons, and hence the position of the earth in its orbit, by adding or dropping days (tithis) and sometimes adding a whole month (mal-maas). The Hejira Muslim year counted from the emigration of the Prophet to Medina, began this year as 1184, on the first day of Muharram on January 18, 2008. This is a purely lunar calendar with no adjustments to realign it with the seasons.

Finally, a few words about the so called real New Year’s day of the westernized Indian intelligentsia. There is no clear evidence of how the Anno Domini relates to the date of birth or Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At one time even this Christian era began on 1st April. In memory of this, many financial years including ours still begin on that date.

Those who continued to wish their friends and relatives Happy New Year on 1st April, gave birth to All Fools Day. They were the fools for not knowing that the year had changed its first day. On top are other problems. Pope Gregory dropped thirteen days to re-synchronise the dates with the seasons. There were riots against his having robbed people of these thirteen days of their lives. Even today the Greek Orthodox and Coptic churches celebrate Christmas on 6th January.

So, if you did not frolic on a New Year’s Day for 2008, never mind. There are many left yet to rejoice in. Happy New Year, again, and again, and again.

A Nose For Business

By Gp. Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd.)

Scientists tell us that if your nose is firmly blocked and if you are blindfolded, you can’t tell if you are eating apples or onions. Obviously, the apple must be crisp otherwise its squiffiness will give it away. During my test pilots course in England, a doctor from the next-door Institute of Aviation Medicine took some students for a few quid. At the school’s bar, he challenged anyone to name eight different types of liquor blindfolded with a clip on his nose. The contestant was allowed to select any drinks he liked. If he lost, he had to pay one pound to the doctor and bear the cost of all the drinks.

Many people chose very different types of liquors like whisky, beer, wine, crème de menthe etc. The idea was to make them so different that spotting them would be easy. Everyone who tried ended up making the good doctor richer.

“Which?” magazine in UK educates and protects consumers. Once, it ran a trial for tea tasters. Four different brands of tea were brewed for the tasters to identify. All of them got these right. One taster was even able to identify if water had been drawn from the hot water tap and if milk was poured before the tea. His advice for anyone wanting to enjoy tea was simple. Sip a little, hold it in the mouth and breathe through the nose. You get the real flavour of tea then.

But even with the best noses some tasters fall down badly. Candid Camera on the TV tricked several wine tasters in one show. It put out four identical glasses with the same red wine in each of them. Then it asked professional tasters to rate the four in order of their quality. Not a single expert discovered that he was trying the same wine. Everyone had a laugh at their cost – all’s fair in TV and war.

Wine tasters never swallow the wine they test. They just get a little in the mouth and breathe deeply. A really good nose is a must for this business. Surprisingly, the professionals can tell where the wine was produced. They are also able to identify the fruits that have gone into it. All this is very impressive. The trouble comes when they want to describe the wine. The language of these experts has now become really bizarre. A wine may be called naughty, pretentious, risqué, arrogant, or even transcendental. The next time you watch a wine taster on the telly, listen carefully to his words. You might pickup some new terms to impress your true love.

Talking of love brings us to the most important use of the human nose. Women try to attract men with the most seductive perfume they can find. According to the ex-CEO of a famous perfumery, this whole business is bunkum. He explained that perfumes produce no effect on a man’s libido. Sexual signals are passed by odourless pheromones. It may still be the nose that detects them. An Indian doctor in the UK has recently discovered that men can detect when women are fertile. Pheromones secreted mainly from a man’s underarm produce remarkable results in women.
Before you throw away your soaps, powders and deodorants, beware. Women are put off fastest by smelly armpits.