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|Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2017 11:04 am Post subject: 40 years ago, IAF's jumbo danced across the skies
40 years ago, Indian Air Force's jumbo danced across the skies
Jan 26, 2017
Some forty years ago, a "flying jumbo" in royal regalia used to regale spectators gathered at the imposing Rajpath in New Delhi with its deft antics.
But this caparisoned jumbo was no ordinary pachyderm. It was a small helicopter, modified to resemble a "dancing elephant" and flew over the Rajpath during the Republic Day parade.
Needless to say , its performance was the piece de resistance of the fly past showcased by the Indian Air Force on Republic Day . Manoeuvring of the copter was no mean feat. It not only required extensive practice and high skill on part of the pilot but also a high level of technical expertise as external 'attachments' were fitted to the flying machine and any laxity meant disaster.
The task was shouldered by 116 Helicopter Unit (HU), then flying the French Alouette, which was rechristened as Chetak helicopter in the IAF.
Interestingly , the modified chopper was the handiwork of a tailor in New Delhi who would arrive at the air force station a month before the actual event.
The body of the elephant, including the trunk and the legs, were made from different colourful fabric panels that were painstakingly sewn together over a period of two or three weeks. The bubble or body of the helicopter was covered with the panels, the only part that was left exposed was the tail boom.
The IAF's helicopter pilot late Group Captain Birji Mohan Datta, who commanded 116 HU as a Wing Commander, had flown the modified helicopter in the early 1970s.
Recalling the experience, Ravi Datta, wife of the late B M Datta, told TOI over phone, "On approaching Rajpath, the helicopter would swoop down to an altitude of about 910 feet in front of the dais, enthral the audience for about 5-7 minutes with its little jig, and would gain height to clear India Gate and fly back to Palam air force station."
The helicopter used to fly at not more than 60 knots, usually at about 40-45 knots, to ensure that the panels did not fly away or get entangle in the tail rotor.
The flying elephant is sadly a history but Dutta feels such a piece of glorious history should be remembered proudly.