Group Captain Kapil Bhargava
A tribute to a Legend
From Wing Commander I M Chopra a Good Friend.
My friend Kapil is no more. He passed away on December 17, 2014 after a brief illness. It was extremely sad and I felt tremendous grief for someone I knew for over 60 years. I first met Kapil in Jodhpur as a cadet in 1950 when I joined 55th Course. Kapil was in 53rd course. Those days odd number courses were trained at No. 2 AFA Jodhpur and even number courses at No. 1 AFA Ambala. Juniors were in awe of the seniors so interaction was generally confined to salutations. Kapil was commissioned on October 14, 1950. He received the Flying Trophy in his course. Next I met Kapil in England in January 1957 when Bobby Dey (Air Marshal P K Dey) and I arrived to join the 16th Empire Test Pilots Course (ETPS) at Farnborough. Kapil and Sudhakaran had just graduated from the 15th course. Sudhakaran was a brilliant officer and a flier and recipient of the Sword of Honour. Unfortunately his career was cut short due to the fatal crash in Gnat doing hot weather trials at Kanpur. Early 1950 Kapil completed PAI (Pilot Attack Instructors) course in the UK.
Next I met Kapil in Egypt. Kapil was deputed to Factory 36 located at Helwan about 35 kms from Cairo which was making HA300 for the Egyptian Air Force by a design team headed by the great Willy Messerschmitt. I was deputed to Factory 135 located at the same place which was making the E300 engine for HA 300. The team was led by Mr, Brandner (an Austrian) who made several turboprop engines in Russia after WWII. The engine was to be fitted on the right side of the aircraft while leaving the Orpheus on the left. A HF 24 was modified for this purpose and positioned at Helwan for E300 development. This aircraft was designated as HF24 MK1BX. There was also thinking of using this engine for HF24 which needed a more powerful engine and India would have liked Egyptian Air Force to use the aircraft with this engine. I was in Egypt for about 3 years and Kapil longer. I got to know him well there. We discussed almost daily the British /US MIL aircraft and engine specifications used for clearance of aviation systems. I then realized how well he understood fight testing and was incisive in failure analysis. It was an education for me. We made a good team to face the German, Austrian and Swiss engineers. We were very ably assisted by Gp. Capt. C S Naik (later Air Marshal) who led the HAL team maintaining HF24. Kapil mostly handled the HA300 issues. Messerschmitt lived in Spain and occasionally came to Helwan to review the HA300 project. Kapil was forthright with his comments on ignoring the safety aspects. Meserschmitt had to reluctantly agree to make the changes suggested. I think 3 prototypes of HA300 were constructed. At least 2 aircraft were fitted with Orpheus engine as E300 was not ready. I think the first prototype (V1) was flown by Kapil sometime in mid-1984. Kapil flew the first flight with the E300 engine of HA300 I think in 1970. I flew 140 developments the on theMk1BX. Due to goodwill of Kapil, I got to fly 3 flights on HA300 with Orpheus in 1968. As a quid pro quo Kapil flew a few flights on the 1BX. Both the HA300 and E300 projects were closed down due to lack of funds after the Arab- Israeli war of 1967.
When we met in England Mohini wife of Kapil was with him and Mala their first child was a small baby While in Egypt I met Kapil and Mohini socially often and our friendship prospered. We had many get together especially on New Year eve etc. Mohini provided great support and the home was full of brightness and joy. Mala, Kishore and Meena were growing up in the right environment. The children are all now in successful careers. Mala is working for a reputed magazine Business World, Kishore is an adviser in IT with important clients and Meena is in commercial business.
Later on Kapil was Station Commander Jodhpur. He was not promoted to Air Commodore rank and he immediately put in his papers for retirement. He retired on November 16, 1976. I was shocked at this decision of the top brass of IAF. They lost an invaluable “GEM”. His positives outweighed the negatives if any he may have had. He had the courage of his convictions to leave the IAF he had served so well with commitment and boldness. He was disappointed but perhaps not bitter if his demeanor was an indication as such is the hall mark of individual with inner strength. After a stint with commercial firm he joined HAL as Executive Director, Flight Safety. Air Chief Marshal L M Katre who was then Chairman of HAL felt Kapil was the most suitable person to help investigations of accidents cogently and honestly identify responsibility. He was extremely efficient in this job and was praised by all his support staff. I had given up test flying in July 1980 and was then in management. I met Kapil on several occasions in connection with accidents. He retired from HAL. Kapil was recipient of his first Vayu Sena Medal in 1962 for the first flight on the Avro 748 manufactured at BRD, Kanpur.
Kapil was one of his kinds having great skill in test flying backed with knowledge of design requirements. He excelled in his job from a cadet to an Executive and has put the bench mark for flight testing at a great height. The young flight testers who follow will have to exhibit similar commitment to get near it. I am delighted ASTE have conferred the first “Life Time Achievement in Flight Testing” Award.
He settled in Bangalore. I also stayed in Bangalore after retirement from HAL. We used meet on several occasions on official and social functions and I was glad to keep in touch with him. Later on when my mobility became limited, we spoke on phone for 15-20 mts. always at least once a month. It was always a stimulating experience. We discussed aviation, politics, economic policies, and problems facing the country. We agreed on most issues but disagreed on some. Kapil was repository of knowledge and when finding some matter on Internet was not easy I called him. He could easily give advice on computers, mobile phones, IT etc. If he did not have the answer, he had the humility to agree to try and get it. It was my great privilege and honour to have his friendship. I am sorely going to miss him.
In conclusion I would sum up Kapil Bhargava the Legend in six words
“HE WAS A TRUE HUMAN BEING”.
May his Soul Rest in Peace