The Making of the Indian Air Force

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There was a time when the British thought Indians were incapable of flying an aircraft. How wrong they were! India’s tryst with the skies began when 19-year-old Indra Lal Roy joined the Royal Flying Corps during World War- I (1914-1919). He is considered to be the first Indian fighter pilot.

A 1998 Stamp commemorating Indra Lal Roy, issued by the Government of India
A 1998 Stamp commemorating Indra Lal Roy, issued by the Government of India

When the need for a separate air force in India was felt, six Indian cadets – Subroto Mukherjee, H C Sirkar, A B Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and J N Tandon – were sent to England to train as pilots in 1930.

First Batch of Indian Flying Cadets- Subroto Mukherjee, H C Sirkar, A B Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and J N Tandon
First Batch of Indian Flying Cadets- Subroto Mukherjee, H C Sirkar, A B Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and J N Tandon

In October 1932, a new branch of the Indian armed forces – the Indian Air Force – was born. It comprised a handful of pilots and 29 technicians or 'havai sepoys'. It had four Westland Wapiti biplanes at its disposal. It was a huge milestone for India.

The British were still unable to trust Indians with flying complex machines like aeroplanes. In fact, in 1934, the Royal Air Force's chief in India, Air Marshal Sir John Steele, advocated the abolishing of the Indian Air Force. Thankfully, that didn't happen.

Westland Vapiti aircraft
Westland Vapiti aircraft

The turning point came during World War- II (1939-1945) when the British were forced to recruit Indians into its ranks. The Air Force in India was upgraded and expanded, and a volunteer reserve of civilian pilots was also raised to defend crucial ports in the Indian subcontinent.

When the war ended in 1945, the IAF's strength was raised to 200 men. In the recognition of its services, King George VI conferred on it the prefix 'Royal', which was dropped when India became a republic in 1950.

Official Logo of the Indian Air Force
Official Logo of the Indian Air Force

1st April 1954 was a massive milestone for the Indian Air Force – Subroto Mukherjee, of the first batch of flying cadets and founding members of the IAF, took over as its first Indian Commander-in-Chief.

Ever since its inception 90 years ago, the IAF has fought many wars and has engaged in several military border conflicts. It has also participated in relief and rescue operations in India and overseas.

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