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Monday, November 24, 2014

An Unparalleled and Daring feat of an Air Force Flying Cadet, RB Menon who lost the Opportunity to be an Air Force Officer

I wish to congratulate Somdev Rao Madala of 25th NDA course 'F' Squadron to have narrated a true life anecdote of his course mate, Flying Cadet, RB Menon, Ex Cadet from 25th NDA course, 'K' Squadron, undergoing final flying training at PTE, Allahabad, during 1963-64 period, to be commissioned in the Indian Air Force. I also appreciate Somdev for having briefly narrated the circumstances which led Menon to embark upon such a daring and adventurous but uncalled for action careerwise, as to annoy his bosses so much, for which he had to lose the opportunity to be an officer in the Indian Air Force.

Here I am placing the NDA days Photographs, both of 25th NDA course viz Cadet RB Menon 4225-K (The Performer) and Cadet Madala Somdev Rao 4141-F (The narrator)

  Cadet RB Menon 4225-K

Dear all Course mates,

One of our course mates who should find place in the memory-lane of the extraordinary and the remarkable of our 25th NDA course 'K' Squadron is one, unassuming and quiet, RB Menon; who proved that there are people who can reach beyond the beaten bureaucratic mindset, by showing that he has the guts and the grit to take off a HT-2 aircraft and go under the bridge over the Ganges. Even the instructor, who was ordered to follow him; reportedly, had difficulty to follow him under the bridge, obviously scared? Was he? Menon, our worthy course mate, repeated the feat thrice, perhaps to prove that it was not a freak, and that it was a very calculated and measured feat.

I had the opportunity, officially ordered, to be his escort until he was cleared from the Air Force Station, Allahabad. Therefore this reminiscing for permanent record of achievement of one of our course mates.

The collection of parachute from the cadets cloak room and walking towards the HT-2 aircraft, starting of the engine, taking clearance  from the Air Traffic  Control Tower(ATC), taxiing to the Take Off point, lining up for the takeoff, finally a smooth takeoff; it was all so normal that it was too perfect to be suspected. The adventure started thrilling the early morning moments of the elements over The Triveni Sangam, only when the aircraft was seen doing the extraordinary; IE, descending lower than the permitted limits and going towards bridge. One instructor who saw the unusual, reported to the ATC; who ordered the instructor to keep following the unauthorized flight. In the early sixties our aircraft surveillance radars were not that advanced to trace and track air-crafts. The instructor-aircraft had the responsibility to follow our course mate, Menon's aircraft and keep reporting its movements. The ATC had the responsibility to keep track of both of them.

The highlight of our Menon's achievement becomes noticeable when we learn that ATC kept on ordering the instructor-aircraft to follow wherever Menon's aircraft is heading to, even though towards the bridge. The instructor repeated that Menon is descending dangerously lower towards the sea-level and proceeding towards the bridge. The ATC was duty-bound to repeat its instruction to the instructor to keep following and not to lose track of Menon. We cadets could not contain our boasting boost when we learnt that the instructor conceded that he would not be able to go under the bridge even though our Menon, a flight-cadet is daring to do the seemingly impossible feat.

Group Captain Philips, the then Commanding Officer (CO) of Air Force Station, Allahabad; arrived and joined our group (probably, less than 10 minutes, since it was early hours of the morning) of cadets who were waiting to see how Menon would approach for landing and of course carry out the landing. Finally, Menon appeared on the final approach for landing well lined-up with the runway and was, surprisingly, steadily descending. The very first appearance of the final approach gave us a feeling of assurance that Menon had the control of the situation. It was a smooth landing. We all sighed with relief. Menon parked the aircraft at the appropriate place; got out of the aircraft, did 'after-landing-checks', unlocked the parachute and slung it over his shoulder, walked towards flight-Cadets rest-room, in front of which we were all standing. As Menon approached the CO and saluted, Gp Capt Philips ordered Menon to Clear-out of the station within 24 hours; and ordered me, (who was unwittingly standing next to the CO), to do escort duties for Menon.  

Here, the providential play.

Menon was generally a reticent person. He was in 3rd battalion and I was in 2nd in NDA. It was only in 3rd year we interacted in the Air Force Bay. He was ahead of us in matters of aviation knowledge.

After Menon was put under a sort of arrest and I was to be his escort until he was cleared from the station, we had to spend time together and inevitably the discussion of the cause and effect of his action. The cause, though he did not spell out in as many words; but at the same time, he did not leave me in unfathomable doubt: that he did not get what he thought that he deserved; ie, to be one of the first flight cadets to be sent on the 'SOLO' (the first flight a flight cadet is sent to fly without the instructor). He decided within himself to show to the world that if his instructor does not recognize his merit and enable him to go as one of the first to fly solo, then he would himself show to the world what he can. 

Here, I am presuming, since the time Menon was ordered by Gp Capt Philips and until the time Menon walked out of the Air Force Station, Allahabad, that I was perhaps one of few persons who would have interacted with or shared what he did with me, which was due to sheer providential play. With emphasis added, I would certainly welcome if someone corrects me (with authenticity or without!)

Here is how he carried out his plan:

Menon was one of us, who was daily transported in a 3 tonner Lorry from Allahabad, where we were staying tents in cold winter months, to a neighboring satellite airfield, Phaphamo, when we had to cross the Ganges over a bridge. He said that he noted the length of the bridge. Hypothetically '1000' feet. He counted the number of pillars that supported the bridge; say '10' pillars. Then the distance between the pillars would be: '100' feet. He knew that the span of HT-2 (wingtip to wingtip) say for our discussion, was '20' feet. So there was ample clearance, horizontally. Similarly, he calculated vertical clearance. What was more appreciable was his knowledge that morning hours are turbulent-free over the sea water as he would have to fly just a few feet above the water. (Pardon for the indulgence, this is just one point that only the flyers would appreciate that flying almost touching, but yet flying without touching, is a subjective experience.) Menon should find a very remarkable place in the historical records of the exceptional course-mates of 25th NDA, not only for the point that is mentioned above, about being accurate in flying through the bridge just above the Ganges waters; but also for several other intelligent moves he made, (which the reader would appreciate shortly) to make that flight successful.

Air-traffic Control would not allow any aircraft to move out of parking area unless everything connected with a flight is not as per laid down rules. Every aircraft has to take permission for every movement of the aircraft within its control area. Therefore, Menon used the Code-reference of hie instructor to move out of the parking area; taxied out (moving out) of parking area, sought permission to line-up for take-off, and took-off as if there was his flight-instructor; but he did it all alone.

The consequences of his action were very clear in his mind. He was obviously prepared to take on what is to come. On my inquiry, he revealed that he was not that well off financially at home. He was aware that he cannot hope for any good career-oriented job. He said there are a few close associates (did not spell out their relationship), but they were close enough to be dependable upon joining him either in designing some fishing boats and such machines as motor-boats etc, which have a perennial demand  in his home-state. Kerala. His dream project, he expressed, was to design an aircraft with the engine behind the fuselage, unlike the conventional design. He was full of novel ideas of designing, and design-drawing too, which he was good at. One could see the pleasure in his face when those drawings were observed and discussed upon by others, let alone if appreciated.

In legal technical terms and analysis, to my mind, he could not have been convicted for any serious sections of law; because he neither caused any damage to any governmental property, nor any such defiance any specific order that was served upon him. Having dabbled in law in later part of my life, I am only indulging in unsolicited, probably one may call it a wishful thinking for a dear course-mate, about whom I would like to learn the latest, if anybody can.

I hope that I have done a reasonable job of sharing what I should, as I thought I may have been one of the few who had the opportunity to witness personally what is not the run of mill stories of adventure; yet so simply done and yet so simply forgotten.

With fond regards to the course-mates;

Somdev Rao Madala, 4141-Foxtrot.   















Please do not miss the comments received from various course mates below this write up.

There is a more descriptive and authentic detailed write up on RB Menon's adventures in Bharat Rakshak at 
http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/1950s/Balan.html

3 comments:

  1. An excellent narrative based on true events It is unfortunate that the Airforce lost probably a hot ace pilot ,Such brave hearts require lot of protection in peace time so that they become force multiplers in war. Enjoyed the narrative .very well written

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  2. This is so much very nice information that I have seen. Thanks for your service with this info. It is very inspirational.

    Venkat
    www.borewellshyderabad.blogspot.com

    Borewells in Hyderabad

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  3. I worked with Balan for a couple years in the early '90s and I remember him telling this amazing story. I lost contact with him, but would enjoy talking to him again.

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