Touch the sky with glory

The bottom has fallen out of my world. My marvelous father has gone – and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

Some protective barrier inside our heads probably stops us from thinking of the inevitability of our own parents’ death. And so, believing that my dad would be out of hospital soon, I didn’t rush to Bangalore at first. When I finally did get there, he was gone and my brother just placed his watch in my hand. The next time I saw him was when he was draped in the Indian flag, unable to see for himself the touching send-off he received from the Indian Air Force.

They tell me that when I was learning the alphabet as a baby, A was for Aeroplane. And when I reached P, that was for Papa, Pushpak Pilot. When I grew up to be a bratty teenager, my dad still very much meant the world to me and was possibly the only one who could get some sense into my head. Oh, the lessons I’ve learned from him and his life. They’re too many to remember consciously, but I know straight off that one of them is that there’s no real option to give up. I tried that more than once, I must admit. I can’t see too great and when I tried to get my college to accept me as a psychology student (I adored psychology), they wouldn’t because they felt I would have too many problems coping with activities that required me to see as others do. I tried and tried and would come back home in despair only to be sent packing back by a dad who told me to tell them there are blind surgeons in this world. Finally, the department realized they’d never seen a more keen and persistent student and let me in. I did have problems, yes, but my dad patiently showed me that there are solutions to everything.

That isn’t the only lesson there for the taking from my dad. He was remarkably “other-oriented”. I don’t think there was ever a time when he was absorbed in himself. Not even when the discomfort of illness took over. I wish it was something I’d internalized but I can never hope to be as selfless as my father was, helping others even as he lay in his hospital bed.

I’m not sure who my dad’s first love was. The Indian Air Force or my mother. I know that one or the other of these two occupied most of his mind space. If he was offered something to eat, he would instantly look around to see what my mother would like to eat. If someone got him to cut a birthday cake he would say sure, that’s all very well but is it eggless because only then can Mohini eat it too. And as for his work, ah, it was never really work but intense involvement, immense fun, and total dedication. My dad was always thinking flying and testing. The Indian Air Force really was his family and having grown up in it, it feels like mine too. I’ll never be able to hear a non civilian aircraft without thinking of him. I’ll never be able to see the Indian Air Force’s colours without longing for just one more flying story from my father…

As I grow older I feel panicked at the thought that I won’t be able to grasp at my memories of my father. What was it he said exactly? Which precise green was his favourite colour? And why green? All the details I was impatient with as a youngster now elude me.

For the rest of my life, I will hear my father’s voice inside my head. Only, I don’t know how to listen to it without crying. Wherever he is now I know that he’ll still be upholding the Air Force’s motto – Touch the Sky with Glory.

Mala Bhargava

A tribute to a Legend

Group Captain Kapil Bhargava

K1 1961 (Kanpur -AMD)

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


May his Soul Rest in Peace

End Of An Era

GP CAPT (RETD) KAPIL BHARGAVA (21 Aug 28-17 Dec 14)

Evening of 18 December, while trying to reach his son Kishore, I rang up Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava’s mobile number by mistake and I heard an all too familiar voice telling me that the subscriber was out of reach! Well, he sure was this time and probably reaching for the stars on a second WW biplane! We had just come back home after performing the last rites for Retd Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava VM who left for his heavenly abode on the 17th of December 2014.

But somehow, as we traced our feet back to our homes a few utterings overheard during the funeral still hung in the air- We have lost an icon! End of an era! The Grand old man of Flight Testing! We probably don’t realize what we have lost today! So loving, so humble! And all of it was so very true as every Tester (as Test pilots and Flight Test Engineers are fondly known as), in town wanted to be there at that moment which actually never felt like mourning but a final celebration of an extraordinary life!

The same day obituary in the Times of India read ‘A brief period of illness ended a remarkable life, lived to the fullest, centred on others and the Indian Air Force’! What a way to capture the lifetime of probably the greatest aviation enthusiast and Tester the country has ever produced! A flyer-writer who was our link to the past, a man who regaled us with the adventures of yore and had always an amazing story to tell! The Devons, the Liberators, the Spitfires and so many other ac of that vintage used to suddenly come to life in his presence!

Although 1994 was the first time I came across Gp Capt Bhargava, I learnt from the old timers that he was a permanent feature as a Guest Lecturer in the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment, the flight test establishment of the IAF, despite his retirement from the Air Force in 1976. No training course was considered really complete without his talk on flight-testing which had all the elements of a Chuck Yeager autobiography! Well he sure was our very own Chuck Yeager! I still remember going back home rather despondent after attending his talk as to why I was subjecting myself to the horrors of the ‘stability and control’ précis whereas this old man could so easily ‘guestimate’ the same by having one distant look at the inadequate size of the fin of the Ajeet trainer prototype taxiing out!


Well, he was indeed good at guessing! We all were aware of his frail health this season as he refused many a social invitation. But this time when he gave me a call from the hospital, he made a specific mention that he had passed my phone number to his family members, just in case they required any sort of help. His premonition or guess was spot-on and the he really did not recover from the high-risk surgery that the doctors had advised!

Gp Capt Bhargava’s father was an ICS officer in the British Raj days and he spent his childhood in Bulandshahar and Gorakhpur. The aviation bug bit him rather early in life and he was commissioned in Oct 1950 in the 53rd Pilots Course. He flew Spitfires and Vampires before attending the Empire Test Pilots School in UK to graduate as one of India’s pioneer test pilots.

In his test flying career with the IAF, besides production test flying, he flew the first flights of the HAL Pushpak, the HS-748 ‘Avro’ and the Messerschmitt HA 300 Fighter designed by Egypt. The first flight of the HS-748 earned him one of the first Vayusena Medals awarded to the IAF – in 1962. He was also the first commandant of ASTE (then A&ATU) and served as the Station Commander of Jodhpur. After his career in the Air Force, he was with the Flight Safety Directorate of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore before retirement.

Gp Capt Bhargava’s long spell in Egypt were full of interesting challenges as he worked with the Egyptian Air Force to build and test fly their own aircraft. His family still remembers how he would fly aerobatics over the Nile river. But the most exciting was the day when he got airborne in the Messerschmitt prototype for the first time. His colleagues took over the ATC and Cairo television broadcast the flight live. It was an intensely emotional for the Egyptians who thanked him repeatedly and in tears!

Apart from that, the greatest number of his entertaining and spellbinding stories were about the No 7 Squadron. Those were probably the years he enjoyed the most, though it’s difficult to choose. His family, friends and acquaintances always thought of him as being synonymous with the Air force. Every waking moment centered on the Air force, long after he left it formally. In truth, he never did leave! His articles kept gracing the pages of publications like Air Forces Monthly, Air Enthusiast, Flypast, Air International and Indian Aviation for many years. His talks in various seminars were pure gold and were so eagerly awaited. His wonderful wife Mohini would often jokingly accuse him of bigamy as aviation was indeed his first love! He also led his daughters Mala and Meena to become so intensely involved in the whole thrilling world of flying at a young age that they would often listen in to flying exercises being executed through a VHF radio!

A keen blogger, he kept himself abreast with the latest technologies till his very last and would often invite youngsters to help him with his IT stuff. Some people also don’t probably know that he was a wonderful statistician and could conduct a two hours extempore class on statistics any time. But more than any other attribute, his will to help out people in need really stood out. One of my last conversations with him was from his hospital bed just three days before his final goodbye when he was desperately struggling with his own deteriorating health wherein he requested me to help sort out the pension papers for the kin of a long departed colleague!

The Indian aviation world is indeed a lesser place in his absence. We at ASTE are so happy that we were able to confer the first ‘Life Time Achievement in Flight Testing’ award to him just a few months before his demise. No one deserved it more to be the first recipient! ! He was indeed a very happy man, a learned man, a very kind man and a truly great man! They don’t make aviators and gentlemen like him anymore! It is said that a man stops feeling immortal when he loses his parents! Suddenly the world of flight-testing seems mortal and we know why!


AVM Rajeev Hora
Commandant ASTE
21 December 2014