Veteran IAF pilots relive 1971 photo, image goes viral

April 30 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 4/30/2019 11:28:11 AM IST

 Months ahead of the India-Pakistan war broke out in 1971, it was just another day at work for the five young pilots at IAF’s 22 squadron in Kalaikunda as they moved around camouflaged nets and concrete blast pens in their black overalls and bikes, preserving themselves for the action.

Realising the similarities in their appearances and the Jawa bikes, they decided to capture the moment in the camera. The five Gnat pilots happily posed for a photograph with one hand on the petrol tank and a cigarette casually dangling from the lips of one of them.

None of them had a clue that the picture clicked nearly 50 years ago will go viral in the social media in 2019. 

IANS spoke to Wing Commander Sunith Soares, Air Vice Marshal A.K. Shyam, group captains P.M. Velankar and Ashok Bhagwat (all retired) -- who were traced by Jawa Motorcycles and were made to recreate the photograph with only one difference, the missing fifth man in the 1971 picture -- group captain V. Pashupati who is no more. 

A fifth bike was placed with only a helmet in a missing man formation, an Air Force way of honouring a fallen pilot.

“It was in 1971, we knew war would come up, there was little flying and most of the day we would just sit around trying to waste time as we were preserving for the hour,” recalled Sunith Soares.

“There was a big shot coming to visit us so we decided to stay in our overalls which was jet black. We did not even have a squadron crest so we called ourselves Hell’s Angels inspired by the US group of bikers wearing black jackets and riding Harley Davidsons, and wore the patch on the sleeve,” he said explaining how they related to the gang of brave bikers who he said was “just like us”.

The Hells’s Angels became Sabre Slayers by the time the war ended as the formation in which Soares was flying shot down three Sabre jets of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in what came to be known as one of the top five battles of modern jet era. The squadron was later officially crested as “Swifts”.

Air Vice Marhal Shyam recalled that he was only 21-year-old when the picture was taken. 

“I used to drive around in my Jawa in the squadron as did all other pilots. I bought the bike from Jamshedpur. On that day (when the picture was taken), it just occurred to us that all of us had same bikes so we decided to take a picture. 


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