A restored Second World War-era Douglas DC-3 Dakota aircraft arrives in India today to join the Indian Air Force’s heritage squadron.
But the aircraft’s journey back to India has been far from smooth. Journalist Shiv Aroor writes about it in this piece, published first in February this year.
(This piece was published in February this year.)
A historic week begins for Indian aviation. After years in suspense, this week the Indian Air Force (IAF) will receive as a gift a refurbished flying vintage Douglas DC-3 Dakota aircraft for its heritage squadron.
The aircraft, repaired and made flight-worthy by Indian Member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Coventry in the United Kingdom (UK), will be delivered to the IAF in a few weeks. This week, Chandrasekhar will ceremonially hand over a ‘gift deed’ to IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa in Delhi, IAF sources confirmed.
The Dakota, named Parashuram, will bear the tail no V P 905, the same as the first such aircraft in Indian service that transported troops of the Army’s 1 Sikh Regiment to Srinagar on 27 October 1947 as part of the Jammu and Kashmir operations just weeks after India’s independence. Chandrasekhar’s father, Air Commodore M K Chandrasekhar (retd), was a Dakota pilot in the IAF. It is on behalf of the veteran pilot that the gift is being made.
Livefist learns that the IAF will take delivery of the aircraft in the UK, with dates and the event still being firmed up. The aircraft will be ferried to India across eight days with multiple stops tentatively by March this year, IAF sources familiar with the project said. And for Chandrasekhar himself, the coming week will be a culmination of a journey that has been far from easy.
Quite apart from the challenge and expense of bringing a virtually scrapped 1948 vintage Dakota (from Ireland in 2010) to fly-worthy status, Chandrasekhar’s proposed gift was initially turned down by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government seven years ago on grounds that there were no ‘rules’ or ‘protocols’ that allowed the acceptance of such gifts. Chandrasekhar made a second attempt in February 2013 to get the government to accept the gift towards preserving India’s aviation history, but was turned down again. When Chandrasekhar revived the offer to the new government in 2014, the Ministry of Defence under then minister Manohar Parrikar readily accepted.
“I wrote to the Government in 2011 expressing my desire to gift the restored DC3 so that we could preserve a slice of our aviation history, but they turned it down,” Chandrasekhar wrote in an April 2016 Facebook post. “However, I am glad Manohar Parrikar has accepted my renewed offer and soon the DC 3 Dakota painted in the #IAF colours will be part of its Vintage fleet. In today’s world we risk losing so much of our history if not preserved – for instance #INSVikrant was sold as scrap!”
The IAF has been known to be keen on adding the Dakota to its vintage flight, which currently includes a de Havilland Tiger Moth and a T-6G Harvard.
With ‘VP 905’ set to arrive in weeks, it’s virtually certain that it will fly at the Air Force Day festivities in October this year. Aviation experts and enthusiasts have also marvelled at the idea of the Dakota flying at the Flying Legends airshow in Duxford, UK or Royal International Air Tattoo 2018, both in July. Word is awaited on whether the IAF will consider postponing the ferry back to India in order to participate in one of these shows.
The Dakota has been fly-worthy for a while now – the team restoring the aircraft had actually been hoping to deliver the aircraft to the IAF in time for a public sortie to mark the seventieth anniversary of the 1947 air operations in October last year or the Republic Day flypast last month over Delhi. It is understood that delays within the IAF have slowed delivery so far, though things are finally on track.
“My association with the history and traditions of the armed forces stems from my childhood and so it was painful to learn around 2010 India’s DC 3’s housed in the Sulur Airport Base near Coimbatore were sold as scrap,” Chandrasekhar says.
Remembered by IAF pilot veterans variously as the “finest” and “most forgiving” aircraft in the world, Dakotas entered Indian service shortly before independence in 1946, going on to play a crucial logistics and transport role during hostilities that broke out shortly after. Going on to play an indispensable role in the 1962 and 1971 wars, Dakotas flew their last missions in the eighties, finally retiring in 1987. The IAF has scrapped all of its retired Dakotas, with an intact airframe from the IAF museum gifted in 2014 to Bangladesh.
This piece was first published on Livefist and has been republished here with permission.