BY ARJUN SUBRAMANIAM
October 8, 2013
The IAF evolved into a modern fighting force through the dedication and hard work of its Indian pioneers and their achievements in theatres of war
Today marks the 81st anniversary of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and as it showcases its full range of modern aerial capabilities at the Air Force Day Parade at Air Force Station Hindon, it is only right to rewind the clock to the halcyon early days of military aviation in India.
Early years – World War I
Flt. Lt. Indra Lal Roy. Photo: Rana Chhina
As World War I gathered momentum, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) commenced recruiting Indians as front line combat pilots. Of the five Indians who applied for a commission into the RFC between November 1916 and April 1917, Lieutenant Srikrishna Welingkar, Lieutenant Eroll Chunder Sen, Lt. Indra Lal Roy, DFC and Lt. Hardit Singh Malik saw action on the Western front. Welinkar and Indra Lal Roy perished in aerial combat, while Sen was shot down behind enemy lines and captured by the Germans — he was repatriated after the war. The image of the First World War combat pilot was often romanticised and unrealistic — the average life expectancy of a pilot was just 11 days as pilot safety was not a real concern. Lt. Indra Lal Roy was the first Indian to be decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for shooting down nine German planes in less than 14 days. Roy’s life expectancy in sustained combat was above the average — just over a month!