Inbound for Landing

We gazed in awe at two supersonic fighters, taking off to get information from the runway.
Inbound for Landing

Kamal Baruah


We gazed in awe at two supersonic fighters, taking off to get information from the runway. It‘s the Jamnagar Air Force base; we had our days of aviation in early 2K. Besides intense wargames of over a hundred sorties per day, the airfield owned by the IAF  permits both commercial and private flights. Until recently, the airport handled just six scheduled flights on a normal day from Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and back. Besides,  it’s been a premier fighter base for the IAF ever since 1951, witnessing a long history.

The combat aircraft launched from this air base have contributed immensely to inflicting damage in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1965 and 1971 Wars and also to the liberation of Diu in 1961. Its helicopters and transport aircraft were used in peacetime operations during the Bhuj earthquake in January 2001, the tsunami in December 2004, and flood-relief operations in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. During the evacuation of Indians from Yemen in April 2015, a C-17 Globe master was sent to Djibouti from its base.

Recently, Jamnagar turned into a temporary international airport for Ambani’s pre-wedding bash, handling over 300 private and chartered flights. The place made headlines over the “band baaja for baaraat” that created a hassle for the airport operations staff when business magnates like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg graced the occasion. Were they wanderlusting to travel to India for a big wedding? Shockingly, the celebration broke the internet.

It was an affair full of glitz and glamour with Bollywood stars aside from pop star Rihanna’s amazing performance with her distinctive and versatile voice. Invited guests were fabulously banqueted and loaded with gifts, and they had a good time witnessing such lavish affairs. Fat, as any hardcore foodie would tell us, is where the flavour is. Were those three days of weddings so hip? I wonder how a single terminal could handle more than 150 passengers at a given time when thousands of guests arrived for the Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant wedding celebration.

Meanwhile, I recall one occasion when we were early in our aviation days for hectic early-party flying activities. It was another sizzling summerday; we were swamped and felt beat after handling a Russian Sukhoi SU-30 at Service Bay on a hot tarmac. In the meantime, while sipping coffee, a pilot of a chartered flight used its call sign to establish contact with our Air Traffic Controller through radio communication “VHF” on a designated frequency, stating his intention to request permission to land.

Pilots need to follow a specific procedure to ensure that ATC can properly identify and track the aircraft on radar. ATC considers various factors, such as runway availability, air traffic congestion, and weather conditions, before granting or denying permission. It was shocking before disclosing relevant information such as current position and altitude; the flight went on descending to its own altitude, designated flight path, and speed towards the white stripes before any “affirmative” clearance for an approach and landing from the tower controller.

We were all chickened out for a moment. It was no sweat; the aircraft touched down its wheel on the runway without additional guidance, such as wind direction and runway conditions, to ensure a safe landing. After a forced successful landing, there was a shocked silence. This is wack! The controller murmured. The flight was in hot water. Fortunately, all the flying activities of the squadron came to a standstill during that time. Later, it became the subject of much IAF-fling gossip.

Such was the time when there was only one chartered flight: “Dornier” from Reliance used to land at the JGA (IATA Code) airstrip for their employees working in refineries in the morning and subsequently take off in the evening. No biggie, no sweat. As the passengers were out of there, we were on a roll to see India’s billionaire very often. Gujarat’s Jamnagar sprung to life in recent times, and I was stuffed but parched as the guests dressed up in elegant evening cocktail attire and were being treated to chilled, refreshing drinks. It was another mesmerising occasion at Jamnagar, turning its airport into an international tag for such a short stint of ten days, while IAF went beyond its usual protocols, permitting access to its sensitive technical area.

The Dornier-228 probably acted in haste without understanding the situation. The flying of one and a half hours from Mumbai to Jamnagar and back was Reliance’s extravaganza, when they picked their destination, the departure, the arrival, and their crew. We were hyped to receive the chartered flight then.

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