On October 8th 1932, British India established its own Air Force, with the name of Royal Indian Indian Air Force. Started with just 5 Indian pilots and 4 Westland Wapiti biplanes, the Indian Air Force today stands as the 4th strongest Air Force in the world, with highly professional and skilled officers and aviators. The organization is renowned for the combat operations carried out during World War II, the Indo-Pak wars, and recent counter-terror operations in Kashmir.
Facing rivals in Northern, Eastern and North Western frontier, the Indian Air Force needs to maintain battle preparedness throughout the year. To celebrate these successful years, IAF organises ceremony every year on October 8, and thrills the public by displaying its wide plethora of armament and aircraft flypasts.
Today, we are celebrating 88th Air Force Day with pride. But Frontier Vedette would like to talk about the incident, which occurred 31 years ago. The incident that is not known to today’s population.
The 57th Air Force Day celebration at Palam Air Force Station began as planned on 8th October 1989. Aircraft engines roared in the skies. Mass number of visitors keeping their eyes on the skies for magnificent flypasts and aerobatics. After hours of demonstrations by different aircrafts, the Mirage 2000 took to the skies to conclude the show.
Piloted by Wing Commander Ramesh “Joe” Bakshi, flying the aircraft KF-102, started the agility show. Soon after a flyby over the parade ground with full reheat, the aircraft went vertical. After reaching the optimum altitude, Joe flipped the aircraft and turned straight towards the ground. Commencing a series of barrel rolls while heading to deck, the public watched in anticipation and excitement- when came the dreadful moment. Soon after completing the third barrel roll, the pilot lost his calculations and commenced one more roll. This led to an unavoidable crash as he was too close to the ground and even after pulling up the stick to the limits, he failed to climb up to altitude.
The aircraft disintegrated into several burning pieces. Nearby Movement Control Unit (MCU) building and trees took much of the impact, saving the public from the impact of the debris. However, the crash already left more than a dozen injured. Wing Commander Bakshi never had a chance to realize the mistake and eject before the impact.
This crash was the first airshow disaster to ever take place on the soil of Independent India. The Court of Inquiry (CoI) concluded it as the case of pilot error. This judgment error cost the lives of 3 people (including the pilot) and an aircraft that was worth several million dollars, which was at that time a new induction in the Air Force.
The then Air Chief Marshal, S.K. Mehra accepted that the mistake “could have been avoided”. But he assured that aerobatics would be more safe in future and people of India can enjoy the show without any fear.
“We are extremely sorry that this happened. Such things happen in aviation. The IAF has no intention of stopping aerobatics for the show must go on,” he said while interacting with media.
The crash was indeed very tragic, but such mishaps do happen. The fellow pilots of Wg Cdr Bakshi hailed him as the best pilot IAF ever had. As a part of No.7 “Battle Axes” squadron, he mastered the marvelous delta wing French aircraft and hence, was selected to demonstrate its agility at the airshow.
The Indian Air Force moved on after the incident and celebrated the successive air force day demonstrations with complete precision. And today, we are witnessing 88th Air Force Day with new state-of-the-art additions like Dassault Rafale, Boeing AH-64 “Apache” and CH-47 “Chinook”.