Military summary | Earning ‘Wings’ at the ripe age of 41: Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh | Chandigarh News

Seventy-four years ago, a 41-year-old group captain in the Indian Air Force (IAF) finally earned his ‘Wings’, which meant his qualification as a pilot. The man, who flew an aircraft he designed and achieved this feat at a relatively old age, was an engineering department officer, Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh.

Singh is a unique personality who is unparalleled in his professional achievements as an engineer and aircraft designer. Singh’s achievements are all the more significant since he started his Air Force career at the lowest rank.

short article insertion
Unconventional way to obtain flying qualifications

But before we discuss these achievements, we must go back to the morning of April 15, 1950, when Harjinder Singh, along with young officers, about half his age, stood in line to receive his ‘Wings’ from the then Commander-in-Chief of the IAF, Air Force. Marshal (later Air Chief Marshal) Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman. The commissioning and wing presentation parade was held at the No 1 Air Force Academy, which was then based in Ambala, when Singh was serving as the Commanding Officer of 1 Base Repair Depot in Kanpur.

A statement issued by the then government noted: “By earning his ‘wings’ at this relatively ripe age, Group Captain Harjinder Singh adds another record to the many he has set in the IAF since he began his service career in the IAF . in the early 1930s in the lowest rank, then known as ‘Hawai Sepoy’. An aeronautical engineer by trade, he recently started teaching himself to fly on an airplane he built from scratch.”

While commanding one of the most important and largest IAF stations of that time, the 1 Base Repair Depot in Kanpur, where most of the IAF’s operational and trainer aircraft were maintained, Harjinder Singh devoted every minute of his time, after had been busy with his office duties in order to complete his training to become a full-fledged service pilot.

Festive offer

His Senior Administrative Officer, Squadron Leader (later Group Captain) ED Masillamani, Vir Chakra, who was a qualified flying instructor, assisted him in his ‘advanced flying’ phase. Incidentally, Masillamani earned his Vir Chakra in the 1948 Kashmir War when he flew as a Flight Commander and later as CO of the 7 Squadron, attacking ground targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with great success.

The official statement notes that in qualifying for his ‘Wings’, Group Captain Harjinder Singh has completed the curriculum of all ground and air training, which is required of student pilots at the flight training institutions before they can earn their flying badges. This was an unconventional way of obtaining the flying qualifications, but it is a credit to the flexibility of the senior officers of the IAF who officially recognized this achievement.

From the technical university to the sky

Born in Hoshiarpur (Punjab) in 1909, Harjinder Singh completed his engineering studies from Maclagan Engineering College, Lahore. After Partition, the successor to this technical university in Indian Punjab is the Punjab Engineering College (PEC), Chandigarh. Fittingly, Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh donated the aircraft he designed, Kanpur-1, to PEC in 1967. Today it is housed at the IAF Heritage Center in Chandigarh.

Considering his technical background, Harjinder Singh could have joined the IAF at a higher level, but he chose to join the newly formed service at the lowest rank. Through sheer merit and hard work, he ignored the prevailing prejudices against ‘non-technical Indians’ and worked his way up to become the first Indian IAF corporal, the first Indian sergeant and the first Indian non-commissioned officer. His rise in the service continued until he became the Station Engineering Officer at Peshawar Air Force Station, with over 1,000 engineers under him.

Harjinder Singh was commissioned as an officer in 1942 after his return from the first air operations in Burma, where as a non-commissioned officer in charge of the ground crew, he received immense praise from the late Wing Commander KK Majumdar, who then commanded No 1 .IAF Squadron.

In 1948, Harjinder Singh took over command of the IAF Base Repair Depot, Kanpur, from Group Captain (later Air Vice Marshal) Dewan Atma Ram Nanda. Harjinder was appointed as Air Officer Commanding Maintenance Command in 1955 when that Command was formed. Upon promotion to the rank of Air Vice Marshal, he was appointed Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Maintenance Command after the command was upgraded.