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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Marut bravehearts set to mark Golden Jubilee of first flight


 A snapshot taken during Marut's first flight in June 1961.
Bangalore is gearing up to host the two-day Golden Jubilee celebrations of the first flight of HF-24 Marut. The event is being held near Old Bangalore Airport on June 17 and 18. Below is a well-written piece tracing the Marut story that came in the shape of a press release.  
The Marut spirit: In 1956 Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee, with strong support from the Minister of Defence , Shri Mahavir Tyagi, pushed for an indigenous fighter/bomber aircraft. A well known Focke - Wolf designer, Prof Kurt Tank, was approached to design and develop the aircraft. He arrived in India, with his team of 18 engineers, at what was then Hindustan Aircraft Limited. The enormity of the challenge can well be imagined. Hindustan Aircraft was woefully short of qualified staff and almost all the required facilities. Tank built up an initial team of around 80 who rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
By early 1959 a full 1:1 scale wooden glider was ready. This glider towed by a Dakota, was launched on 03 Apr 59 with Gp Capt Roshan Lal Suri at the controls. The glider flew a total of 86 sorties, 83 by Gp Capt RL Suri and the last three by Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava who feels the “HF-24 is perhaps the last fighter aircraft to have been tested in the shape of a 1:1 scale glider.”
The HF 24, rechristened as the Marut, was a sight to behold – a treat for the eyes. Sadly, till the end of its days, it was immersed in controversy over its engines and that was a problem that remained insurmountable till the very end. Yet, to see it, was to love it.
On 17 Jun 61, with Gp Capt Suranjan Das at the controls, the HF-24 Tail number  BR 462 took to the air. The first official flight of the Marut was on 24 Jun 61. On 10 May 1964 the first Maruts were handed over to the IAF.HAL built 129 single seaters and 18 trainers from 1964 to 1977.
The first Marut squadron was formed on 01 Apr 67 at Jamnagar when No 10 Sqn, was formed with Wg Cdr VK Murthy as the first Marut Boss. In early 1969 it moved to Pune and there it was split vertically to form No 220 sqn. The pilots, who flew it then, fondly remember it as a stable and wonderful weapons platform. In Dec 70 both squadrons moved to Jodhpur – which became the Marut hub.
By mid 1971, with upheaval in the neighbourhood, both squadrons were tasked to operate six aircraft detachments from Uttarlai. There they were greeted by a well known and familiar face, Wg Cdr VK Murthy, the Base Commander. At dusk on 03 Dec 71 saw a B 57 of the Pakistan Air Force pepper a neat pattern over the complete runway leaving it seriously damaged. The complete station was mobilized to clear the parallel taxi track and through tremendous effort and teamwork, by 0500 the first strike aircraft were airborne.   The basic role was interdiction and support to the army. A spectacular attack was made on the first day itself when a huge ammunition dump at Ghazi Camp was destroyed. Elsewhere, the Maruts used their devastating firepower on Pakistani troops, vehicle concentrations and transportation systems in Naya Chor sector and along the Rohri - Khanpur railway line.
The Maruts also encountered occasional air opposition, though not a single aircraft was lost to aerial combat. In fact Sqn Ldr KK Bakshi and Fg Offr KP Sreekant had a spectacular encounter with four sabres. Both Maruts jettisoned their tanks and turned into the sabre formation and in the ensuing melee Joe Bakshi closed in and shot down one of the sabres which was seen by Sree trailing black smoke.
The squadrons ended the war with four Vir Chakras and a Mention in Despatches.
The third and last Marut squadron was 31 Squadron that converted in Mar 74 and then moved to Jodhpur from Hindon. All three squadrons remained there till the very end. Interestingly, Flt Lt Sudhir Batra also recalls that on 22 Sep 79, he ejected from a Marut Trainer, while on a ferry and also became the first Marut squadron pilot to clock 1,000 hours on type that day.
The meltdown started from Jun 80, when the Daggers of 10 Sqn stopped Marut flying. They were followed a year later by the Desert Tigers, 220 Sqn. The Lions of 31 sqn finally wound down in March 1983.  The last sortie of the aircraft was flown on 08 Oct 1984 on the Air Force Day by Wg Cdr Vikram  Pethia. A beautiful and versatile aircraft retired gracefully. She now rests, in all her majesty, on display at the Air Force Academy, Dundigal.
Put three squadrons of the same type in one station and you could expect a riot breaking out every other day. Not with the Marut crowd – their bond was special. Certainly, there was very healthy competition, yet what were truly amazing were the bon homie and the spirit of togetherness that existed. It was their enthusiasm, ‘josh’ and camaraderie that furthered the Marut saga.
No story of the Marut is complete without mentioning the men involved. Their phenomenal spirit is impossible to put into words. From the designers, production personnel, test crew, maintainence personnel to the operational pilots all contributed in substantial measure to the Marut saga. Marut was the ‘wind spirit’ - the men involved with her were the heart of that spirit.
(Posted by Abraham V. Kuruvilla, Tarmak007 intern from Madras University.
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