Akashganga: The Unsung Backroom Jumping Jacks – IX

Sunil Kumar Banerjee

Sunil Kumar Banerjee

Commissioned in the Indian Airforce (IAF) in 1978, Sunil Kumar Banerjee took premature retirement in the rank of Wing Commander. Military Combat Free Fall Instructor for over a decade and have made over 1000 parachute jumps over different Dropping Zones. He is the Founder Member of the elite “Akashganga”, the Indian Air Force Team and was featured in the Limca Book of Records for pioneering work in Canopy Flying in India.
Sunil Kumar Banerjee
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Into the melting pot of trial and tribulations at ADR&DE the baby-faced but stylish, dexterous and skillful Ajoo, our very own whiz kid brought his medicine chest of magazines and manuals, of rigging lines, fabric pieces, to repair and restore the bruise and boils of the hurt canopies. There was no formal training or in the science of parachuting, its design or  from idea to consummation. The PJI leader had to fit himself to the situation he found himself to be in and learn while on the job. Luck, bravado with a lot of unheard prayers had made this vocation romantic and spicy. Hans and the latter with a hands-on rigger had their own square beauties bred and groomed in their homegrown stable. These they tended and tested. They carried out research of the many types of parachutes that could be created, developed and flown: from man and material dropping parachutes, to ejection seats of supersonic aeroplanes. Ajoo had an impossible task to perform with a team of cobblers, blacksmiths, plumbers and tailors, even some countryside photographers, who passed off as scientists: a kind of low level “Jugaad” (reverse engineering) was at work to produce exotic aerial vehicles and weapons. All that they were adept at was to use a measuring tape; snap scissors and kick start some antique sewing machines. The Archimedean formula was an import of a parachute, measure, cut, size, stitch, and Eureka! The aerial umbrella, Parachute (a prototype) – the latest and best in the world. Sunil talks about the ingenuity of the unsung backroom jumping jacks, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

talked of the handful Dhartiputras (“officers” and Ustads), who had to move to some away destinations like Aerial Research and Delivery Establishment (ADR&DE) under Defense Research and Development Organisation at Agra, Ordinance Parachute Factory,(OPF) at Kanpur and to that hush-hush facility under the Cabinet Secretariat at Charbatia and Sarsawa. While most non-commissioned Ustads spent their entire career as PJI’s once drafted the officers selected as volunteers from different non-technical streams had to return after their stint to their parent branches for continuing to serve the Indian Air Force. Indeed, very special services were rendered in these establishments.

OPF

While at OPF parachutes were manufactured indigenously, ADR&DE studied, designed, developed and funded research and subsequent manufacture of parachutes and related equipment among other things. In the secret facility called Aviation Research Centres, under the Research and Analyses Wing (R&AW), the Union Ministry of Home advanced military and civil clandestine missions were planned and executed. To win before the war was their motto. Sanjaya instinctively started to speak in a whisper. The CIA, in the late 1960s, decided to launch an ELINT operation along with RAW and ARC to track China’s nuclear tests and monitor its missile launches. The operation, in the garb of a mountaineering expedition to Nanda Devi involved celebrated Indian climber M S Kohli, who along with operatives of Special Frontier Force and the CIA – most notably Jim Rhyne, a veteran STOL pilot – was to place a permanent ELINT device, a transceiver powered by a plutonium battery, that could detect and report data on future nuclear tests carried out by China. Famously too, a Bay of Pigs kind of insertion and mutiny inside Tibet was reportedly planned with trained exiled Tibetans through covert support of the Americans. It was from here that the rescue mission to evacuate the family of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the then Chief of Bangladesh was planned during the coup as also the raid on the Golden Temple during Operation BlueStar.

RAW_India

It was here that Dhartiputras, the likes of Anand, Dhingra Gomes, Palat and Tiwary who had sharpened their understanding and knowledge of airborne operations, both covert and overt. It was here that swift and fast flying canopies from great heights using oxygen, night vision goggles, advanced lightweight weapons and compasses in the still of the night with foreign help was first tried and tested away from the prying eyes of the public or the military in general. Dhritarashtra kept stroking his flowing grey beard, sometimes head hung or shifting positions in his improvised royal seat as he heard through the shadowy, but classified details. In Kaliyuga the laws and strategies of war had become so different, he thought to himself. The pursuit of Dharma and its definition was so confused and convoluted. The exchange of knowledge and skills between sovereign states and different non-state actors, their use and execution, however, like the Asuras, were devious and secretive though the system of “Guptachars” and Espionage was also a matter of statecraft during his times. A new system of Varna amongst the warriors was at work where money in the guise of ideology was the legal tender of trade. Conquest of territories and imposition of power, however, seemed to have the same logic as of yore.

Into this melting pot of trial and tribulations at ADR&DE the baby-faced but stylish, dexterous and skillful Ajoo, our very own whiz kid brought his medicine chest of magazines and manuals, of rigging lines, fabric pieces, to repair and restore the bruise and boils of the hurt canopies. Sanjaya underlined that the Dhartiputra selected for this rather creative job was never based on any stringent qualities or expertise. There was no formal training or education in the science of parachuting, its design or development from idea to consummation. The PJI leader had to fit himself to the situation he found himself to be in and learn while on the job. Luck, bravado with a lot of unheard prayers had made this vocation romantic and spicy. Hans and the latter with a hands-on rigger had their own square beauties bred and groomed in their homegrown stable. These they tended and tested. They carried out research of the many types of parachutes that could be created, developed and flown: from man and material dropping parachutes, to ejection seats of supersonic aeroplanes. Actually, off the record I must admit, Ajoo had an impossible task to perform with a team of cobblers, blacksmiths, plumbers and tailors, even some countryside photographers, who passed off as scientists: a kind of low level “Jugaad” (reverse engineering) was at work to produce exotic aerial vehicles and weapons. All that they were adept at was to use a measuring tape; snap scissors and kick start some antique sewing machines. The Archimedean formula was an import of a parachute, measure, cut, size, stitch and Eureka! The aerial umbrella, Parachute (a prototype) – the latest and best in the world. You had to give it to Ajoo though and his kind for having jumped them! It was a legacy inherited and like all good soldiers passed onto the next man in the Russian roulette of sorts – the complete inventory with the mumbo-jumbo of research, intact. I hear, they still make newer parachutes and they jump them, too. Bless the lord, for mercies unknown.

Ajoo in his first test jump with Ram Air’s experienced an unfortunate malfunction because of the highly negligent rigger to have left a safety pin unremoved during the last stages of packing. Providentially, a wise colleague Mann had cautioned him of the need for untoggling of the securely fastened one to the reserve parachute before he was about to exit the aircraft, just in case. The resultant, Ajoo experienced a malfunction, cut away his main canopy, fell stable and manually opened his reserve. All was well and added very matter-of- factly to the many stories of occupational hazards! This hair-raising experience and brush with death as it were had been documented in an issue of the then, Sun magazine by Group Captain Gurbux Singh, titled as, “Five Seconds to Death”. It is quite another thing though that this was the place where Kalam saw his dream of missiles, rockets and bombs.

In the meanwhile, Gomes at PTS presided over the goings on. Impatient, but full of innovative ideas he wanted the squares to dominate both the civil and military skies. He valued research, systematic training and the necessity of the injection of the youth and freewheeling ideas to spur development. He impressed upon, urged and pleaded the new fledgelings Deo, AK and Chordia to push the frontiers of knowledge with lectures and new curricula for the smooth induction, training and consolidation of advanced ram air canopies. Classes on aerodynamics, the science of stall and flare, and the techniques of height, speed, a radius of turn, wake turbulence and brakes in the landing circuit were initiated. The manual of StratoCloud had become the Bible though still esoteric, abstruse and occultist for the simple minded Ustads. The pedagogy of making the complicated to be made simple was still to be mastered and the new were to keep up or give it the seriousness that it deserved. For the moment though the seductive spell of the squares had cast its delicious shadows.

sanjaya

Sanjaya looked up. His master was lost deep in thought. Sanjaya sat beside enjoying this momentary period of quiet contemplation not for once aware of what thoughts besieged the self-pitying patriarch. Dhritarashtra, never known for his intellectual , however, for once reflected on the methods and ideas of Varuna, one of the frontrunners of the Secret Services of the Devas to presuppose the dialectics embedded in Sun Tzu’s pithy maxim, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first, and then seek to win”. The river breeze added to the evening a chill one could have done without. Little did he know that the sun had taken leave for the day and Indraprastha was getting ready with the rituals of welcoming another night!

©Sunil Kumar Banerjee

Photos sourced by the author from the internet.

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