ONE-ZERO, OVERHEAD

The R/T in Air Traffic Control crackled, “Blackjack Tower; One-Zero, Two Minutes”. And there was panic! The SATCO (Senior Air Traffic Controller) had just enough time to respond “Call Overhead” before he grabbed his telephone and called up the Station Commander. In minutes, the news went round the Station. The AOC (Air Officer Commanding) Operations Command was descending (literally) on us for an inspection. ]

This was Air Force Station Adampur in 1957, a remote airfield in the heart of the Punjab, where 27 Squadron was based. There was only one Operational Command at that time, covering the whole of India, commanded by the legendary 38 year-old Air Cmde Arjan Singh, DFC. He was a typical “operational” officer who believed in absolute professionalism. He was not impressed with the usual superficial spit-and-polish carried out in preparation for an inspection. All he expected was smartly turned out personnel who knew their job and carried it out efficiently. He did not like any fuss made over him and insisted that everyone went about their duties in their normal way.

He visited our operational base without any warning, flying in by himself, in a single-seat fighter aircraft (Vampire Mk52). His distinctive callsign was “One-Zero”. And his R/T call to our ATC was the first indication that he was just two minutes away.

Then followed the standard R/T calls, “One-Zero, Thirty Seconds,” to which ATC responded, “Clear Downwind”. And then, as we looked up at the sky, we could see his aircraft running in to join circuit. Another crisp R/T call, “One-Zero, Overhead,” a smart peel off, and he could be seen on downwind, lowering his undercarriage and calling, “One-Zero, Downwind, Three-Green”. ATC responded, “Clear Finals”. He made a typical old time fighter pilot curved approach, called, “One-Zero, Finals, Three-Green,” ATC responded, “Clear to Land” and he touched down on the dumbbell.

During this time, there was a flurry of activity all over the Station. Everybody was trying to get everything as shipshape as possible, in the very limited time available. The AOC Ops Command taxied into the squadron dispersal, undid his straps and eased his large and impressive silver overall-clad frame out of the cockpit, to be met by the Station Commander and Squadron Commander. An open jeep with the AOC’s flag pulled up close by, the AOC politely told the Corporal driver to go back to the MT (Military Transport) Section, he himself got behind the wheel and drove off all alone.

For the next few hours the AOC drove himself all over the Station, still in his flying overalls, visiting every nook and corner, from Airmen’s Mess to Bomb Dump, from Squadron Dispersals to Air Traffic Control, from Orderly Room to MI Room, from Ops Room to Guard Room, observing the routine functioning of various sections and stopping to have an informal word with officers and airmen at each place. He even visited the DTLs (deep trench latrines — we had only “dry sanitation” those days)!

He then drove back to the squadron dispersal, had a few words with the Station Commander and Squadron Commander, in the latter’s office, and then joined the officers in the crew room, for an informal chat and a glass of tea, after which he climbed back into his single-seat Vampire and flew back to Delhi. There was no ceremonial reception, no guard of honour, no fancy car, no silver tea service, no cups and saucers, no formal dinner, no unnecessary fuss. He did not bring a Staff Officer with him, or even an ADC. All he wanted was to personally check on the operational preparedness of the Station.

Those were the days, my friends! We knew we had a Boss who meant Business. And we did our very best to never let him down. He nurtured our Air Force for the next 12 years, till he retired as the Chief of the Air Staff in the rank of Air Chief Marshal in Aug 1969. Later, after he was awarded the lifetime serving rank of Marshal of the Air Force on 26 Jan 2002, he continued to keep a benign watch on us.
And even now, he is, and always will remain with us

Air Cmde K. Sanjeevan is a veteran Engineer of RIAF & IAF . He took part in the Sino India conflict of 1962 and the Indo Pak War of 1965. As the technical officer of Helicopters and fighters, he was involved in many aviation developmental activities and is the author of the book ‘Memoirs of a Spanner’.

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