Take two pilots, both course-mates – Flying Officers – each with nearly 300 F-6 hours to boast about. One an Abdalian, the other an Alamgirian. One a Cobra, the other an Arrow. Not quite sure who is the harder one to crack. Put the two in a cockpit, and yes, believe this one – ask them to fly a ‘mutual’ low-level sortie. Only a Flight Commander of yester years could get away with this kind of scheduling!
I and my course-mate Asif Rehman (AR) ended up in the Flying Instructors’ School in 1978, both not quite 24 years old. (Instructors don’t come any cuter these days.) We were both protégés of the hottest and fiercest Squadron Commanders the decade had seen. Chaudhry’s boys thought they were the only ones who could dip a wing in a well and do a steep turn. Khattak’s chaps thought that boundary layer fences were sissy add-ons to an otherwise perfectly designed wing. The former shot 26 out of 25 bullets. The latter declared they must be tipsy for such a score. The only thing they agreed about was that the “bottle and throttle” ditty was just a nursery rhyme.
With that sort of fighter background, we were raring to show off our skills to each other. I patted the left side of the dainty little T-37; AR kicked the right one. He did one better when he hoisted his hulk onto the seat without using the foot notch. As a cadet, he could mount horses without stirrups, I recollected.
With rapid-fire checks for take-off, we barely contained our eagerness to teach the other what low flying was all about. I took controls, did the “falling leaf” over Jehangira and got down to the reeds. A nerve wrecking run till Tarbela had taught him the lesson, I thought. At Tarbela AR grabbed the stick, scratched his head (read helmet) and pumped the throttles past the pitot tube. Intense and silent, except for much needed gasps of oxygen, he started descending – from where I had left – slowly and gradually. I was starting to tense up but wasn’t allowing the slightest hint. A boatman ducked down in his vessel as we whizzed past. To psyche out AR, I swore loudly that I’d drown the boatman on the way back.
Lap Two ended at Jehangira from where it was my turn again. Obviously, this run had to be lower than the previous two, if ever I considered my self to be a honourable pilot. A successful turn-about in a courtyard full of school children did the trick. Back over the Indus, it was the same thing again – only lower. If the height didn’t unnerve AR, the staccato tap of my fingers on the glare shield sure did, because I had begun to pick up a puzzling groan in the intercom. I was trying to act cool but God knows there were shivers down the spine as changeover for the fourth lap took place. AR too did his bit to psyche me out. Coolly, he rolled the sleeves over his well-built arms, let out a rare prayer and recklessly plunged the poor bird further down. Fifty feet it was, but he promised to show me the flare-out height. “Follow me on the controls”, he charged. Only too eager to stop this Russian roulette, I took controls. The sooner we both had our hands on the sticks, the aircraft viciously yanked upwards. To this day we are embarrassed to admit who really pulled up! But we both agree that it was the most spine-chilling ride of our flying careers.
Boys, here is a lesson form an old hand. When young blood and inexperience come together, it is a potentially dangerous situation. Throw in a two-man cockpit with two grunts and it can well be catastrophic. Risalpur has been a macabre proving ground for many a kid instructor. My word, it’s not worth it!
© M KAISER TUFAIL
This article appeared in PAF's Flight Safety Newsletter, issue no: 1/1998.