Memoirs of an IAF Technical Signal Officer - 3
- Category: Jets and Growth 1948-64
- Last Updated: Monday, 18 October 2021 03:42
- Written by Wg Cdr Locksley Percival Fegredo
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Sept.'57 to Sept.'58 - University course in advanced electronics.
About a month or two away from being allotted service accommodation, I was detailed to undergo a one-year's postgraduate course in Electronics at Southampton University, UK. Mary decided not to accompany me as she was expecting our third, and went home to her parents in Bandra.
This course, I learnt later, was equivalent to a Master's degree in Electronics; the level was very high; it was a serious course. The head of the Department, who also took classes, was an eminent design engineer named Prof. Zepler, of Grundig, Germany; fortunately, he was also my tutor. He was a great help, especially in the beginning, as I found myself thrown suddenly in the deep end! I could write a book about the experience, suffice to say that I finally matured as an engineer and scholar. Subjects, among others, included solid state devices, servo-mechanics, pulse techniques, micro-wave engineering and higher mathematics. Extensive practicals, which included a three-month project, tested one's grasp of the subjects covered.
I regularly found that I was extremely confused after about ten minutes into any lecture; in desperation, I would blindly take as many notes as I could, especially of equations that were developed with intermediate steps omitted. To my surprise, I found that it was relatively simple to recapitulate the lecture from the notes later that evening, completing and tidying them up when it all became clear. I would then summarize the subject every few weeks into a couple of sheets, I found this invaluable for quickly refreshing the memory before examinations.
To everyone's surprise, including my own, I got a First Class, First Rank in the final examinations.
I was first accommodated in one of the University hostels; this was probably the home of a Lord some years before. It comprised a grand building, with many smaller buildings around this. The grounds were beautifully kept, old trees and an immaculately kept lawn. The food was excellent too and I enjoyed the company, mostly made up of undergraduates, who were intent on having a great time. There were about four such hostels, each about two kilometres from the others, and every night one or other hostel raided the others. I found that I was not getting a full night's sleep and that my performance was being affected. It took me a month or so to get the Air Adviser's Department in London to agree to move me to a small house hotel about three kilometres away. I bought a second-hand bicycle to go to classes.
There were about thirty in the electronics course, most were serving Tech/Signals officers from the Army and Air Forces of the RAF, PAF (Pakistan Air Force), IAF, some Ministry of Defence civilian personnel, and one Spaniard. Prof. Zepler paired us off for practicals; my partner was Jesus' Echerdo, we got on extremely well - he kept claiming me as a relative especially when I told him that one of my ancestors was a Spanish merchant who settled in India in the eighteenth century - something my mother often told me. Prof. Zepler explained to me during one of his tutorials that he did not pair me with the Pakistani Flt. Lt. because he was afraid of bad blood between us! In fact, we became good friends; I often helped him with the class work, as he lacked a solid scholastic foundation. I was sorry for him, as he had brought his wife and baby too, who all lived in one bed-sitter somewhere, and he would not have had a lot of time for homework. It was significant too, the pride he took in running to tell me that I had got a first class also that when Professor Zepler asked those students there at the time, who they thought came first, that he had shouted Locksley. Left to ourselves, I have no doubt that countries would live in peace and readily co-operate with each other.
Mary was admitted to the Navy Hospital Asvini just after New Year's day for her confinement. The Asvini is located in Colaba, Bombay about twenty to thirty kilometres from Bandra. She had a boy on 6th January, who we named Christopher.
At the end of the Southampton University course, I was asked to go to Ferranti's in Edinburgh, Scotland to study the mathematics underlying a high-level blind bombing system that had been introduced into the IAF, but not yet commissioned into service there. Flt.Lt. Venkateshwaran, who had just completed a course at Cranfield, accompanied me. We attended lectures and were able to talk to the Ferranti mathematician who had designed the system. The training was good and I felt I had a good understanding of the theory and factors involved. Every factor that had an influence on accuracy had to be taken into account, the calculations needed to be done with extreme accuracy; to eight decimal places I think. Corrections for Coriollis effect were also calculated, as this could result in errors of up to 400 yards depending on the height and direction of bomb release! The training also included evaluation techniques, covering the aircraft instrumentation needed for trials and finally, interpretation of results.
A short description of Coriolis force may be of interest here:
Since the globe is rotating, in the Northern hemisphere, if we look at any inertial movement from our own position on the ground it would appear to be deflected to the right. (In the Southern hemisphere, the opposite deflection occurs). This apparent bending force is known as the Coriolis force, which was named after the French mathematician Gustave Gaspard Coriolis 1792-1843 who first described the phenomenon. The projectile or moving object does not actually deviate from its path; it only appears to do so because of the motion of the coordinate system (the earth).
This also explains why in the Northern hemisphere winds tend to rotate counter clockwise and clockwise in the Southern hemisphere. In the Northern hemisphere, wind rises from the equator and moves north, it then begins to descend as it reaches higher latitudes where it is colder, then reverses and begins a return journey to the equator. In both these journeys, the wind is deflected to the right resulting in the counter clockwise rotation.
Sept '58 to July '59 - Evaluation trials of an high altitude blind bombing system.
On my return from the UK, I was posted to Air Force Station, Agra as head of the Blue Study Evaluation team to carry out computations for trials of the Ferranti high altitude blind bombing system. We had six in the team including Flt. Lt. Venkateshwaran and four Flying Officers from the Tech/Sigs branch and two Friden electric calculators. As far as I can remember, we were never given any detailed directives. We were given the survey coordinates of the Cat and Mouse beacons, and those of various bombing ranges including Babina range. Babina range appeared to be the most likely target, although the target site for the evaluation trials was never given us definitively.
Brief description of the blind bombing system
The system was based on interrogating signals from the aircraft answered by signals from the ground beacons, the aircraft equipment used the distances from the beacons to drive a pilot cockpit indicator. If the aircraft was off the pre-determined path, the indicator moved away from its reference point. By controlling the aircraft to keep the indicator centred, the aircraft moved along a pre-calculated path, this was basically an arc centred on the Cat beacon, till it reached a predetermined distance from a mouse beacon. The path then became a straight line, tangential to the arc at that point. The bomb release mechanism operated at a preset distance while the aircraft was flying straight and level - to with any luck, hit the target. Either it could be set to operate manually with the navigator pressing the bomb release button, or automatically, when the bomb would be released without human intervention. The theory was that, provided the plane was flown accurately following indications on the instruments - and in a stable manner, avoiding yaw and slip - that the bombs would hit the target
The computations involved were quite complex and took long to complete because of the extreme accuracy needed. As far as I can remember, the calculations had to be done to eight decimal places; also the Friden calculators had little or no memory, so all inputs and result had to be handled manually; inputs had to be keyed in, while outputs had to be recorded on paper. This was extremely laborious and susceptible to boredom and fatigue and therefore error-prone. In addition, because of the complexity, it was not easy to cross-check the results directly. We realised that computational errors could easily be made which could result in bombs going well off target with drastic consequences, because villages were located only a few kilometres from the range.
We therefore organised the team into two groups, ensuring that neither group had any way of knowing the results obtained by the other at any of the stages of computation. By comparing results at each stage, and making sure the correct procedure had been followed, and these figures identical, we had some confidence in the accuracy of the final coordinates obtained.
A survey of India official with his team also visited Agra at this time, to carry out some routine measurements, because accurate survey co-ordinates were crucial to our project; I got involved with his work and had a number of discussions with him. He promised to send us the latest survey coordinates for Babina range, which was firming up as being the likely target. I got this soon after, and we used this as the basis of all our calculations thereafter, I should credit some of our ultimate success to his help and co-operation.
As I got some way into the project, I realised that although the range authorities took precautions to clear the target area of animals and herders, villages were located not too far away from the target centre. A small percentage error during initial trials could effectively become ten or so kilometres over the total distance of two hundred or more kilometres. It became obvious that we needed to support our theoretical results and assumptions with results taken from actual flights. This would not only give us confidence in the accuracy of the system, but also be valuable supporting evidence; if we were ever court martialled because the bombs caused damaged, or killed anyone
No. 106 Strategic Reconnaissance Unit was not far from where we worked. This squadron was equipped with PR 57 Canberra bombers fitted with cameras and instrumentation, such as pen recorders for photoreconnaissance work. They also had Blue Study equipment installed. Sqn. Ldr. Sen Gupta commanded the squadron, and agreed to help us in any way he could. So we decided to set up simulated bombing runs using the coordinates we had calculated. Instead of bombs, we would use photographs and calculate point of impact using the pen recorder readings to correct our results.
When the first few attempts to get all the various factors to work together failed, Sqn. Ldr. Sen Gupta and I decided to do it ourselves. I obtained authority to fly as third aircrew, and we took off on aircraft no. IP 9887 on the 7th April 1959, the flight lasted 2 hours 15 minutes. We used Babina range as target and carried out a number of simulated bombing runs - the instruments and equipment, everything worked perfectly.
On analysing the results on a large-scale graph of the area and compensating for the recorded angles of tilt and bank, we were thrilled to discover that had bombs been used, we would have consistently been within 200 yards of the pin. Not only did this relieve us of any apprehensions about the project, but also if anything did go astray during actual bombing, we had valuable evidence to support our case in the event of an enquiry.
Not long after this, without any prior intimation, a squadron of Canberra bombers flew in from Ambala (I think), and asked us for the coordinates for the Blue Study to carry out evaluation trials at Babina, they wanted to start the trials the next day! I was quite amused to see how everyone assumed we had been properly briefed and warned about the impending evaluation trials, and automatically expected us to have the equipment settings ready. I felt quite satisfied with ourselves that we knew the inefficiencies of those we were dealing with and had anticipated being suddenly pounced on with outlandish demands, and were fully ready.
The trials began with practice 25 pounders at 25,000 feet altitude and the initial results were better than anything we had hoped. The trials lasted about a week, ending with 100 pound bombs. These 100-pound bombs apparently had clean stable trajectories, and were most suitable for final evaluation of accuracy at higher altitudes such as 40,000 feet. Results varied between pilots, all were within acceptable limits, and many pilots hit the pin, or within a few yards of the pin, consistently. Mr. Harris, a Ferranti technician employed to look after the maintenance of the equipment was overjoyed too and gave away bottles of whisky to any pilots who got bullseyes.
I should make other comments that may be of interest:
The only seat available to me for the Flight I made in the Canberra bomber was located near the bottom of the cockpit area, on the right; this had a security harness only and no ejection seat facilities so I had to wear a parachute. When we were on our way, I realised that I had little chance of survival if anything happened to us during the flight. Apart from that, I had little to fear because the skill of the pilot and navigator was obvious.
About a week after this 7th April flight in the PR57 Canberra, the same aircraft, I seem to remember, was shot down over Pakistan. Krishna Menon who I think was Defence Secretary at the time, made a statement that the aircraft had strayed inadvertently over the border. The crew ejected and landed safe though injured somewhere in the Pakistan desert. Wg.Cdr. Rollo of the Pakistan Air Force commanded the local unit and headed the search party. I heard later that the IAF crew were taken to their Officer's Mess and given every courtesy that their ranks and injuries demanded. India, and the Indian Air Force were grateful for the courteous treatment given the airmen and sent Wg. Cdr. Rollo a letter of appreciation, which he still keeps among his mementos; he now lives in Adelaide. Another little snippet is that he is the brother of Claire, wife of Sqn. Ldr Sandison of the Indian Air Force and uncle of Christine Pruden in Perth, old friends of ours, we both regularly visit whenever we can.
Christopher was over nine months old when we met! I think the sudden change in environment; from a large household with one or the other aunt always there to cuddle and carry him, to our home in Agra was a lot for him to adjust. He would not leave Mary and insisted on her carrying him everywhere. The intense heat did not help either.
A dreadful murder occurred during this period. While the husband, a pilot, was away from Agra on a flight, his unfortunate wife and young child were brutally murdered sometime during the night. Police dogs were called in; they located the bodies, and then traced the route taken by the murderer, who happened to be the cook/bearer, up to the platform on the Agra railway station. From this, the train that was most likely taken by the murderer could be determined with the help of the Railway staff (few trains ran through here at night). I heard that he was eventually he was found many kilometres away, living with a relative in the Aarey milk colony in Bombay, he was jailed and I think, hanged after his trial.
One can imagine the nervousness this caused in the Air Force camp, especially in the immediate aftermath before too much information was available. Agra is hot in the summer, the service quarters were recently built, and these had low ceilings, which made it an oven to sleep in at night. Most families slept on 'charpoys' (of a light bamboo structure and mobile) out in the open under mosquito nets, where the cooling breezes were delightful. After this incident, many slept in and kept the windows open and had table fans working, we also placed empty tins around the sill so an intruder would make a lot of noise if he tried that route.
Mary needed an operation herself, cancer was suspected and we were advised to have her operated in the Agra Medical College Hospital by a renowned surgeon. Since we would have to meet all expenses, the Air Force doctor tried to help us in any way he could. He arranged to have Mary's blood matched in the Military Hospital and a call was made for suitable donors. We then gave this blood to the hospital. The procedure had already begun when the surgeon asked if blood for the transfusion was available, then who had the blood typing. On being told, he insisted on Mary's blood be typed again by the hospital Blood Unit. Her blood was found to be Group AB and he wanted blood of that Group.
I phoned the Air Force doctor and raced off to the local Blood Bank, a private institution, who kept me waiting on a donor who did not turn up. The Air Force Medical Inspection room kept a database of donors and blood types. One was located, a Flt Sgt Flight Engineer who was on a training flight at the time. His aircraft was recalled and he raced off to the hospital and donated his blood in time. Sadly he died in an accident shortly after this and we never got the chance to see him and thank him.(RIP)
Shortly after the successful completion of the evaluation trials, I was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader and posted as Chief Technical Instructor (Radio and Radar) to the Air Force Technical College, Jalahalli, Bangalore - the same place where I did my initial Air Force training, only now renamed.
July 1959 to July 1962 - Chief Technical Instructor (Signals).
I was one of four Chief Technical Instructors, one for each technical branch - Engines, Armament, Electrical and Signals. As Chief Technical Instructor (Signals), I was responsible for the technical training of Technical Signals officer trainees. Besides directing and administering the courses, I personally took Telecommunication, Radar theory as well as laboratory practice classes.
The Commandant Group Captain Kripalani also appointed us four Chief Technical Instructor's to be flight commanders for apprentice trainees of the respective trades, this duty was normally filled by General Duty Pilots, but he found them too irresponsible. We were given powers of summary trial, and had to carry out detailed inspections of the billets every week. We also took part in the morning parades and the organised sports every evening. This, along with social functions at the Officer's Mess and my duties as Entertainment Officer kept me very busy. There were extraneous duties too, some of which are worth relating here:
I was selected to be the Parade Commander of the Guard of Honour for the visit of Marshal Vorashilov, President of the USSR. This was held at Bangalore airport. (Mary unexpectedly needed major surgery scheduled at the very time that I would be on parade, it was too late to organise a replacement, and the best I could do was visit her in hospital immediately after the parade, a close friend Mrs. White of the IMD family, stood in for me).
After this, I was asked to do the same duty for other visiting heads of state:
One occasion was for the Maharajah of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. While conducting him on the inspection I got a slight shock when the Air Force band played the Malaysian national anthem Terang Boang, which I recognised at once as a tune we would often dance to - 'Mamoola Moon'!
|Sqn Ldr L P Fegredo escorting Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to India.|
|Sqn Ldr L P Fegredo with the President, Dr S Radhakrishnan.|
I was also detailed as Parade Commander for the Guard of Honour for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, both when she arrived and later when she departed Bangalore.
One of my last Guard of Honour duties was for Shri Radhakrishnan President of India.
(I should pay tribute here to Cpl. Prasad, our drill instructor during my initial training in 1950. He was a pleasure to watch when he gave us demonstrations, and he taught me to enjoy the precision and theatre associated with parades).
The AFTC amateur photography club had a number of enthusiastic apprentices as members, they were extremely adept at positioning themselves for capturing candid shots on these occasions, and they generously presented me with photographs that we treasure now in our retirement.
Mary is an exceptionally gifted pianist, and because our frequent moves made acquiring a piano impractical, noting the well-equipped laboratory, I decided to design and build her an electronic organ, which could be boxed and easily transported. I researched this project and found many references in electronic journals available in the College library.
I was meticulous in keeping records of every purchase I made in case anyone thought that I might have misappropriated service equipment. I spent a lot of money on magnetic laminations and wire for the many coils that were needed; these were the bulkiest and heaviest components in the design. The design included filters for at least ten voice stops and included vibrato and tremolo as well. I was able to complete and test all the circuits required, but was posted to Jodhpur before I could make the keys and other parts for the keyboard. Before leaving Bangalore, I did have time to test various materials to serve as contacts when each key was pressed but found nothing with the flexibility, or with the contact qualities needed. I decided to explore the market, and was successful during a trip to the UK a year or so later. However, I did not have an opportunity to complete this project for another two or three year.
My father had decided to retire at last, and spent a holiday with us; the main purpose was to visit Whitefield, a suburb of Bangalore that had been an enclave for Anglo-Indians for many years. Winston Churchill is reputed to have spent time there in the twenties. My parents decided to buy a bungalow with spacious grounds and a number of mature trees, including mango. The Catholic Parish church was a five-minute walk away, and the community had an active social life with a well-established 'Settlers Institute'. Concerts and dances were held every weekend. My mother was an accomplished musician and played the piano and violin and my parents quickly became part of the Whitefield community.
July 1962 to July 1963 -Air Force Station, Jodhpur.
I was posted to Air Force station Jodhpur, first as Station Signals Officer and then after about six months as Officer-in-Charge Flight Signaller training school also in Air Force Station, Jodhpur. As Station Signals officer, I was responsible for all communication activities - especially technical control and administration of airfield and airborne radio and radar services. Most of the duties were of a routine nature.
There was a waiting period of about four months for married officer accommodation; fortunately, one of the 'Rao Rajahs'  had just built investment bungalows for a reasonable rent.
However, my stay here was cut short as I was detailed to undergo a course on the Ferranti's Airpass II, an interception radar system for fighter aircraft. I was asked to go to Delhi to undergo compression chamber tests for high altitude flight, which I performed satisfactorily. I was declared medically fit for the course and left India for Ferranti's, Edinburgh.
The background to all this was a decision taken some months ago by the Indian Government to design and build their own defence systems. I remember, as far back as the early fifties, dissatisfaction with the flow of spares urgently required for equipment purchased from Britain because India opposed British action in the UNO. At that time, I think it was the attempt by the British, French and Israelis to retake the Suez Canal from the Egyptians. Over the years this strategy to be self-sufficient and independent, extended to many other fields; worldwide specifications would be issued for recognised manufacturing companies to tender for projects to be started in India. These projects would then become the nucleus for a family of related industries that would grow out of these beginnings. A couple of examples are - a watch factory by the Japanese, and a machine tool company by the Swiss, both in Jalahalli, Bangalore.
In my case, the Ferranti airborne radar was intended for fitment on the Mach 2 fighter aircraft being designed and built in the Hindustan Aircraft Company, Bangalore.
Some background information: The Indian-built fighter was first proposed in the mid 1950's, at this time aeronautical engineers were being trained at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and in addition, India had the Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) in Bangalore. HAL's experience in aircraft production was in building the Vampire and Gnat fighters under licence. For this project however, it was recognised that an experienced proven design team would be essential. The Air Force issued the design specifications and eminent German aircraft designers were assembled from all over the world as many had left Germany after the Second World War.
Dr. Kurt Tank, assisted by another eminent design engineer Mittelhuber, headed the group of about twenty German design engineers and began working on the project in the late 50's. Prototypes of this fighter, the HF-24, first began to emerge from mid 1961; these were designated as a series - starting with HF001. The HF-24 was originally intended to carry missiles and 30mm cannon for air-to-air combat, and rockets for air-to-ground attack. The Ferranti Airpass - air interception radar and pilot attack sight system - was selected as having the needed qualities and was in service in the RAF.
July 1963 to Dec 1963 - Courses at Ferranti Edinburgh.
I spent six months at Ferranti's first studying the technical aspects of Airpass 2 radar equipment, and then working on the operational aspects of the weapon system. Details escape me now, but the aim of the equipment was to provide an intercepting fighter an optimum route to engage an intruding bomber as it crossed into friendly territory. Ground controllers would guide the pilot to within twenty miles or so of the intruding bomber which was sufficient for the radar to 'lock on'. Thereafter indications in the 'pilot attack sight system' guided the pilot on an optimum course to arrive within a cone of about 5 degrees behind the enemy bomber where heat seeking guided missiles would be most effective.
One of the basic problems, appeared to be the need to ensure compatibility with the fighter's design parameters, among others, the 'zero lift line' was one parameter that was crucial - or so I remember after almost forty years. The equipment was different in this respect from other 'stand alone' aircraft equipment, which were generally easily interchangeable between different aircraft. There was therefore a need to carry out evaluation trials on a prototype model of the new fighter and to determine what modifications were needed to correctly mount the equipment on subsequent production models.
The evaluation techniques that we studied were based on those used by Ferranti engineers for introduction of the equipment into the RAF. I was impressed at how simple and clever these methods were. The techniques evaluated quite complex aspects of performance in a comprehensive but relatively straightforward way. At that time books on range trials were being published which used highly sophisticated techniques mainly in the USA, based on computer technology and communication systems. The British on the other hand, used comparatively straightforward methods, which would be achievable at low cost in a short period, with few possibilities of failure due to equipment malfunction. The final testing phase involved a number of tests using a drogue dragged by another aircraft, and air to ground rocket trials.
I met Mr. John Chapman during the early period of our training, when we studied the radar system and its maintenance; he was in charge of the Airpass radar maintenance workshop. He also lived a street or two away from the bed and breakfast accommodation I used, so I got to know him and his family well and he took us on sightseeing tours around Edinburgh once or twice He was to play a significant role later in my life in Australia.
I also used this period in the UK to obtaining reliable 'contacts' for the electronic organ keyboard I had begun building. I located an enthusiast and through him found the type that had been developed and proved successful on a number of organs that had been built.
Dec 1963 to Dec 1964 - work on planning evaluation trials of Airpass 2.
On my return from Edinburgh, I was attached to the Air Force Project Team (AFPT) located at Hindustan Aircraft Limited, Bangalore. Gp. Capt. Zahir who had one member of each of the four technical branches to assist him, headed the AFPT; I became in effect another member of that team and worked with the permanent Tech/Signals member, Flt Lt Krishnaswamy. I also had discussions with Sqn. Ldr. Albuquerque Tech/Elec who was attached to HAL to look after IAF interests in the various projects being undertaken. I also remember going to Air Headquarters, New Delhi for a conference called by the Director of Operations, Gp. Capt. Moolgavkar to finalise the detailed testing programme so that financial approval could then be obtained.
Some personal details Because I was only attached to AFPT and not on their permanent establishment, I was not entitled to any amenities; I had to make my own arrangements for married accommodation. This was something to which we were accustomed and took in our stride. As I have mentioned before, my parents had settled in Whitefield, fortunately only about ten kilometres from HAL, so we stayed with them for a short while till we found a house to rent. We enjoyed this period, because Whitefield is unique in India as the only successful attempt by Anglo-Indians to colonise. We discovered many old friends and made many new friends. Among these, I must mention the Shillong family; Dr. Don Shillong was the Whitefield General Practitioner, and his wife Kathleen acted as his nurse. We became close friends; they eventually settled in Melbourne and we have enjoyed many visits to each others homes seeing our children grow to adulthood.
After three months, our property owner warned us that she needed the house we had rented - "Blue Haven", for her daughter and two granddaughters as the marriage had broken down. We then decided to move into Bangalore Cantonment, this would also solve the problem of transportation of our three children to school from Whitefield, a distance of about twenty-five kilometres. We found a delightful bungalow in Rest House Crescent through Dr. LaFontaine who became our neighbours - at that time real estate agents were almost unknown in India and accommodation was obtained mainly by word of mouth. We had a very happy social life here, the Newtons', Jones', Alexanders' , all Wing Commanders, lived within a twenty minute drive, also a number of civilian friends, the Van Ross's, Whites and others.
In addition to the weekly get togethers we did a few week long excursions into the Madhumalai and Bandipur game sanctuaries a few hundred kilometres away in the foothills of the Nilgiris (Blue mountains).
Dr. LaFontaine got me working again on the electronic organ project. He was a keen handy man and in a few weekends, we made a complete keyboard and fitted the silvered contacts that I had bought while in the UK. The assembled organ was a great success and it made us very happy to see the pride shown by Dr. LaFontaine at the success of the organ. He contacted and invited accomplished pianists to give the organ a workout, and he personally enjoyed every admiring comment that was made. We treasured his friendship and help.
After a lot of study and work had been done to get evaluation trials underway, I was interviewed by Gp Capt K Srinivasan, who was the Tech/Sigs member of a review board which had been set up to re-examine the role of the fighter. The final decision that emerged was to drastically modify the role of the HF24 fighter, this made the Airpass system inappropriate to its new function My part in this project therefore ended and I was posted, this time to a position in Bangalore, so we did not have to travel to another city.
However, I learnt a lot about control systems, which supplemented the courses I did in Southampton University. This knowledge and experience would play a major part much later in my life in Australia. A number of other apparent coincidences enfolded in the next three years that were crucial to our decision to go to Australia:
As I write, thinking about the turn of events, I can see the hand of God behind all the apparent coincidences and interactions with others. Life can often seem chaotic and the chain of events meaningless, but hindsight is wonderful for seeing God's providence in action.
Jan 1965 to Jan 1966 - Command Signals Officer.
I was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and posted to Air Force Training Command as Command Signals Officer. This was a senior staff assignment, and a new experience. I had a lot of assistance from the junior Signals staff officers and NCOs who worked with me. Air Cdre Goyal was C-in-C Training Command at the time. I would go on regular inspections of the signals facilities of the various stations in Training Command and meet the Unit and Station Commanding Officers to get an assessment of the performance and problems the unit signal officers experienced. The work was generally of a routine nature but I learnt a lot about how the Air Force was organised.
One of the main features about this posting was that I got married officer accommodation almost immediately. This was a palatial building with three-foot or more thick walls and forty foot ceilings, one of the old colonial bungalows. It was situated on a large block of land with outhouses for stables, and servants, ten in all I think. The house was in Convent Road, a few minutes walk from Brigade Road and South Parade, where all the main shops, banks and entertainment were located. This was typical of life in the Air Force at that time, boom and bust; a palace one day and a hut (if you were lucky) the next.
Jan 1966 to July 1966 - Officer Commanding No. 5 Ground Training School.
Although the normal period for a posting is three years, after six months in H. Q Training Command I was posted as Commanding Officer No. 5 Ground Training School. This unit trained all the radio and radar based airmen, such as radar mechanic fitters, radar operators, radio mechanic fitters and radio operators. Due to a quirk of history, this unit also carried out training of mechanical transport drivers (MTD's) and Musicians.
It was a large establishment with about thirty officers, a hundred technical NCOs, some civilian teachers and a few hundred trainees. I cannot remember details now, but I was warned by some well-meaning soul that a suicide had taken place some months before and that I should be on my guard, and may need to look at the prevailing culture there. The suspicion was that it might have been due to either bullying, or dishonesty by one or two junior NCO staff who instead of mailing home the money given them by the trainees kept the money themselves.
I was determined to root out any inappropriate behaviour. The first thing I realised was that trainees, who were at the bottom of the pecking order, had a lot of red tape to overcome before they could air their grievances. Therefore, I got the Adjutant to publish a weekly notice in the Daily Routine Orders that the C.O was freely available to anyone who wanted to talk to him during the free period just before classes commenced, without the need for an application.
I also instituted a surprise interview with the trainees when they had completed their training and were on the point of going to their new postings. I selected one from the top and one from the bottom of the class. I thought that this had a good chance of getting at the truth of what they thought of the standard of training and of the treatment received during their training.
I also regularly played organised games of hockey with the NCOs and trainees almost every evening, although I would have done this as a matter of course normally, but in these circumstances, I made an extra special effort to win their confidence. I must have done something right because I was always surprised to hear a cheer go up from the trainee bystanders every time I did something commendable on the hockey field.
I should mention the Training Command Swimming Championships for that year; this competition involved contestants from every unit in Training Command, and was open to all ranks. Air Force Station, Jalahalli, hosted the event that year and obtained permission to use the Hindustan Machine Tool Company swimming pool. This was an Olympic size pool with two springboards for low and medium diving. The Unit Warrant Officer of my unit, No. 5 GTS, who was in charge of sports and fitness asked me to participate, because he said the Jalahalli team was weak especially in the freestyle and diving events. It was short notice and I had not done any training, although I played games regularly and was fit, so I agreed. I am not sure how swimming lanes were allocated, but I was dismayed to find that I was allotted the end lane in the 100 metres freestyle. This is notoriously the slowest lane as it get the effect of the waves from both the middle lane as well as the reflections off the wall - modern competitions have lane-dividing rigging which prevents this phenomenon occurring. Anyway, considering the difference in ages, I thought I should have got the middle lane, which is the fastest, as I was almost forty years of age whereas the other competitors (all junior airmen) were in their early twenties and had no other duties other than training for the meet. Anyway, I am still proud that I came second, but believe I might have come first if lane allocations had been reversed. To compensate for my disappointment I came first in the diving, and as a member of our Jalahalli station team won the medley and freestyle relay events. It was heartening to hear the cheers from the airmen.
Sometime during this period, Group Captain Srinivasan of Air Headquarters interviewed me about joining a new development project to develop airborne communication equipment that was being planned and that he would lead.
The background to this project was the allocation of communication frequencies to Civil Aviation and military users that had yet to be implemented by the Air Force for MIG fighters because they did not have suitable equipment. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to which India was a member, had decided that VHF (100 to 150 MHz)was to be used by civil aircraft and UHF (220 to 400 MHz) used by military aircraft. The Indian Air Force meanwhile had decided to use Russian Mig fighters and these aircraft were equipped only with VHF communication equipment because the Soviet Union, not being a member of ICAO, did not have to comply with the UHF requirement. The Indian Air Force then found that they could not purchase the UHF equipment they now needed from any Western nation because of the fear that the technology would be transferred to the USSR. The only alternative open was local design and development. A project team was being created that would use the facilities available in Bharat Electronics Limited Jalahalli. The Air Force team would work on two projects, the UHF transreceiver and an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder for the MIG. It was an excellent opportunity for me to do the sort of bench work and design that I craved; I readily agreed to play whatever role was offered. I should mention that it was the first and only time that I was ever consulted before a posting.
13. Rao Rajah - reputedly, this is a title given to the Rajah of Jodhpur's children and their descendants through one of his concubines, rather than through his official wife.