Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mumbai’s Pride Piper flies again - Tata Airlines - a precursor to Air India

Mumbai’s Pride Piper flies again

Piper J-4 Cub Coupe, a vintage plane once flown by JRD Tata and used to train pilots in British India, takes off from Juhu aerodrome after Rs 40 lakh restoration

December 1, 2012

A Piper J-4 Cub Coupe of the Bombay FlyingClub (BFC) - once flown by the legendary JRD Tata - was brought back into service at the Juhu aerodrome yesterday. The plane, the only one of its kind in India, it took off for the first time since 2008, following an expensive restoration.

A two-seater with a canvas body and wooden propellers, the Piper J-4 was bought by the BFC in the 1940s, when JRD Tata was on its committee, and was initially used to train Royal Air Force pilots in British India.

BFC president Mihir Bhagvati and Manoj Choudhary, its chief flying instructor, took off from Juhu yesterday evening. "It was amazing. We were very confident about the flight. We flew to Murud (120 km south of Mumbai) and back," Bhagvati said.

He added, "This plane was taken out of service in 2008, but since many people were sentimental about it,we didn’t want to scrap it. At the same time, we never thought it would be used again. So it has been a great challenge to make the plane fly."

Since the BFC has an aircraft maintenance unit, labour and expertise came free. But the components – now rare to find – had to be imported from the US at a cost of Rs 40 lakh.

The plane had been ready to fly again for some time but the BFC was awaiting permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to do so. The BFC initially wanted the flight to take place on Thursday, to mark the death anniversary of JRD Tata, but could not do so as the DGCA's permission was pending. "The plane will be used sparingly to train private pilots. It won't be used very often, however, because the father of Indian aviation used this plane," said Bhagvati.

The club now plans to invite JRD’s heir Ratan Tata for a sortie.

The Piper J-4 Cub Coupe is a two-seater sideby-side version of the Piper J-3 that was built between 1938 and 1942 by Piper Aircraft in Florida. It was Piper's first model with side-byside seating; combined with docile low-speed handling, this made it a good trainer.

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Tata Airlines - a precursor to Air India

Tata Airlines founded in 1932 by JRD Tata later became the airlines known as Air India. 

JRD Tata flew for the first time as a passenger when he was 15 in France and he fell in love with flying. So in 1930's an Englishman named Nevill Vincent suggested to JRD Tata that he should operate India's first airline, he jumped at the suggestion. Nevill was in India to make money by offering joy rides, but he spurred something more meaningful.

On October 15th, 1932 JRD Tata took off from Karachi to Ahmedabad and on to Bombay in a solo flight carrying postage mail. He landed at the Juhu airstrip and India's civil aviation took off. In 1946, Tata Airlines became Air India and in 1953, the company was nationalized by the Government of India.

In 1962, Air India became worlds first airline to fly all-jets fleet.

JRD Tata in the meanwhile re-enacted his solo flight couple of times. Once on the 30th anniversary and then again in 1982 on the 50th anniversary. 

Spanning a century of flight
From the uncertain, tentative 12-second flight over a few hundred feet at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, man soon propelled himself to fly around the world, non-stop if required, or at speeds three times that of sound within decades of that first defining moment, writes Pushpindar Singh
December 17, 2003, which marks the centenary of man’s first heavier-than-air flight, celebrates an event that has clearly given a new dimension to the destiny of mankind. The ability to fly, in safe and sustained manner, is perhaps the most significant influences of our time.
From the uncertain and tentative 12-second flight over a few hundred feet at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, man soon propelled himself to fly around the world, non-stop if required, or at speeds three times that of sound or at the fringes of near-space, all this within six decades of that first defining moment. In 1961, man went to the moon and left footprints on the lunar surface, an event whose import has not been entirely appreciated by majority of the billions on earth. Surely, with relentless evolution in technology, inherent genius and the continual pioneering spirit of man, that first adventure will be seen as tentative as that of December 17, 1903 with travel to distant planets in our solar system (and perhaps even other galaxies) becoming a reality, whatever inhibitions in physics seem to daunt that prospect presently.
Air India’s Chairman JRD Tata with his wife
Air India’s Chairman JRD Tata with his wife on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his Karachi-Ahmedabad-Bombay flight from Santa Cruz airport. The Puss Moth of the 1930s is dwarfed by Boeing 707 of the 1960s.

IAF personnel on parade in front of an Il-76
IAF personnel on parade in front of an Il-76, India’s largest aircraft

The supersonic, fighter plane Jaguar Maritime of the IAF
The supersonic, fighter plane Jaguar Maritime of the IAF
Back on earth, aviation was still in its infancy when it crossed the Atlantic and the Europeans quickly demonstrated their mastery in designing, building and flying early aeroplanes, more akin to contraptions of light spars, piano wire and fabric. Travelling further east, it was the sub-continent of India that quickly attracted these pioneers and in December 1910, barely seven years after the flyer’s flight in America, the first aeroplanes had arrived in India.
British-fabricated, but French and Belgian flown, Bristol Boxkites, Farman biplanes and Gnome-Bleriott monoplanes were assembled and demonstrated at Calcutta, Allahabad, Secundrabad and Patiala. But for the paucity of funding at that particular time, the world’s first military aviation arm may well have been formed in India during 1913, a year before the Great War began. 1914-1918 spurred rapid development of fighting machines over the skies of Western Europe.
The few intrepid Indians who volunteered to fly with the Royal Flying Corps in 1917-1918 distinguished themselves in aerial combat and were the first of many hundreds of Indian fighter pilots who donned flying kit and were engaged in action during World War II when India was threatened with invasion from the east.
The small but war-trained Royal Indian Air Force was, tragically, partitioned in August 1947 but is today, after the seven decades since foundation in 1932, regarded as the world’s fourth largest in size and certainly one of the most committed in terms of continental responsibilities.
Of some 2400 aircraft in current military or civil services in India, over 70 per cent of them are in markings of the Indian Air Force, a reality which is reflected on the pages of this book. Other air arms, including those of the Navy, Army and Coast Guard, together total about 450 aircraft, leaving just about 300 on the civil register, including all the wide bodied jetliners of Air India and Indian Airlines, light sports aircraft with the flying clubs and helicopters of various operators. For a country of the geographical size and diversity that is India, this relatively small number is a sobering fact. Civil Aviation in India has not grown commensurately with the geo-political, industrial, economic and strategic needs which can be supported by a large and healthy aircraft inventory.
India’s aircraft industry, which is virtually synonymous with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has provided the backbone of India’s air defence requirements since the mid-1950s with production of Vampire jet fighters, Gnat light fighters and Jaguar strike fighters from its Bangalore Complex while the MiG Complex, centred at Ojhar near Nasik, has produced hundreds of MiG-21 variants, followed by the variable-sweep MiG-27 fighter, and is now preparing for production of the fourth generation Sukhoi Su-30MKI. Basic and advanced jet trainers, light and medium helicopters, with their power plants and avionics are also on the production programme.
Tiger Moth, the most-7loved training aircraft with flying clubs
Tiger Moth, the most-7loved training aircraft with flying clubs

Super Constellations provided for slumberette sleeping bunks
Super Constellations provided for slumberette sleeping bunks

Air India’s Boeing 707 being ceremoniously escorted by Gnats
Air India’s Boeing 707 being ceremoniously escorted by Gnats
However, HAL’s involvement with Civil Aviation programme has been limited to the Avro (HS) 748 in the 1960s and later the Dornier 228 from the mid-1980s. There has been little success in meeting the needs of the civil airlines which is unfortunately a reflection on the defence bias of this public sector undertaking which is part of the Department of Defence Production. The only pure civil aviation programmes are those modestly undertaken by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) with their Hansa and Saras programmes. It is hoped that the 30-odd flying clubs and allied institutes under the Aero Club of India will be majorly revived with these Indian-developed and built aircraft.
The fact is, the Aero Club of India was established several years before the Indian Air Force or the first civil airlines had come into being. The first flying clubs were virtually the cradles from whence came India’s pioneer aviators and fighter pilots. Expansion of the IAF post-1962 was largely possible because of the role played by various flying clubs which also trained naval and army aviators.
Civil Aviation in India is now at crossroads with the dramatic declaration of an "open skies" policy by India’s Prime Minister in October, 2003 which would virtually allow the airlines of Asia to fly in and out of cities of their choice in India and in reciprocal manner, allow the various public sector and private airlines of India to fly to these Asian destinations. The near future will reveal how prepared Indian Airlines, Air India, and any other new incumbent airlines, were in accepting such a challenge.
There were some de-novo aircraft projects undertaken by HAL in the 1950s and 1960s, with primary trainers, basic jet trainers, light utility aircraft and jet fighter-bombers developed, produced and into operational service. However, the "lost decade" of the 1970s widened the technology-gap and it was only from the mid-1980s that new design and development programmes were cleared and, with this, came expansion and modernisation of the infrastructure. In the second century of aviation, such new generation of Indian-designed aircraft will become familiar shapes in the skies above the country. through various sections, the evolution and status of the multiple aviation organisations in this region on the world, focussing on the personalities, aircraft types and events which have contributed towards making this an inspiring legacy.
— Excerpted from The History of Aviation in India Spanning the Century of Flight by Pushpindar Singh