By: Muhammad Afzal
It was a beautiful clear day and the enchanting landscape of Chamb was all aglow in the early morning sun. Three days had passed when Pakistan launched its big offensive in the area as a measure of retaliation against Indian wanton attack on Azad Kashmir posts in Haji Pir and Kargil. The enemy forces were on the run and Pakistani troops were advancing fast on Jaurian.
Flt. Lt. Yusuf Ali Khan was on a routine patrol mission over the area with Flg. Off. Khaliq in another Sabre fighter bomber. They had been circling over the region at a height of about 25,000 feet for the last half an hour to safeguard the land forces against enemy aircraft when suddenly Khaliq's voice broke the radio silence.
"Leader, four bogies closing in,right, half a mile turning...."
Yusuf glimpsed a gaggle of dots getting bigger as they made a diving turn towards him. Four enemy Gnat fighters were closing on them. He got ready for a fight and told Khaliq to jettison his drop-tanks (spare fuel tanks used for increasing range of aircraft. They are dropped to increase maneuverability and speed of aircraft in combat).
Instantaneously Yusuf pressed a button and felt a mild jerk as the drop tanks left his Sabre and went down hurling in the empty space below. He banked sharply and maneuvered to get behind the tail of the rear most enemy aircraft. As the Gnat appeared on his gun-sight and was moving in for a kill Khaliq called out: "Leader, my drops are not going." Khaliq was now at a serious disadvantage as he could not manoeuvre fast with drop tanks on.
"Never mind! Stick around with me," replied Yusuf.
But with less speed Khaliq could not keep up with him and was left far behind.
Yusuf was now alone fighting against four Gnats. He maneuvered fast to stick to the tail of the enemy, who cut sharply several times to elude Yusuf and tried to get on his rear but the seasoned Pakistani proved too much for him. Yusuf remained on his tail and slowly the enemy aircraft started growing bigger and bigger in his gun-sight. It was a point-blank range. The moment he pressed his trigger his Sabre shuddered. He heard thuds of landing bullets in it.
He turned his head and saw two more enemy Gnats, about 1500 feet behind, closing fast on him with leader's guns blazing away at him. He yanked back on his stick and broke hard into the enemy. The turn was violent and he felt the Gs slam him into the seat (G is a gravitational effect which can cause momentarily blackout or loss of vision during high-speed manoeuvres.
The enemy overshot. Yusuf put his nose down and kept turning behind the aircraft ahead of him. He looked into the rear-view mirror and saw that his left elevator was shattered. He kept his Sabre in a tight spiral when six aircraft engaged in a dogfight were circling behind one another. Firing occasional bursts the enemy aircraft tried all tricks of the trade to corner the crippled aircraft, but Yusuf, a hardened fighter, eluded them. The macabre game had continued for some time when when , perchance, he looked to his left and, to his horror, saw that an enemy Gnat was sitting right behind Khaliq at about 200 feet range. He yelled on the R/T. Khaliq broke hard right and the Indian overshot.
By this time the spiraling circus of death had descended to 1500 feet, moving fast towards the ground. Suddenly the enemy broke up, abandoned the combat and flew towards their country. Khaliq was short of fuel and he left for home. Yusuf decided to give them a chase; pressed the throttle and dived after them but found, to his chagrin, the Sabre viorating and not fully responding to his controls. Reluctantly he abandoned the chase, leveled up and set course for home base.
Incidentally, an F-104 Starfighter of the Pakistan Air Force came on the scene and caught up with the Gnats. This instilled so much scare in them that one of the Gnats force landed near Pasrur in Pakistan territory. Its pilot, Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh Sikand, officer commanding of an Indian fighter squadron, was captured. The Gnat is at present one of the most prized war trophies of the PAF.
Once on course homeword Yusuf started checking his instruments one by one. The hydraulic pressure was showing zero. He pumped his brakes to test their effectiveness but it was useless. He looked in his rear-view mirror and saw that the elevator was completely shattered. Until then Yusuf had not bothered to establish contact with the ground station. Now he tried but there was no response. He tried other channels but nothing happened. His radio was also gone.
The crippled aircraft now flew overhead at the home base; Yusuf lowered his undercarriage; the left one was damaged. He tried to use the emergency lowering system; but it didn't work. For the first time the valiant fighter pilot felt a little bothered. Being low on fuel he descended down slowly and flew over the runway at a height of about 300 feet, waggling wings to attract the attention on the ground. With prayers on his lips he approached the runway cautiously and the aircraft touched the black asphalt stretch with a thud. He heaved a sigh of relief as the Sabre rolled steadily and came to stop at the barrier. It was a miracle. The ground crew who inspected the machine were amazed. The experts, who came to see, looked, scratched their heads and went back. None could think of any reason why this aircraft had remained airborne. By all laws of aerodynamics, it should have gone down, the moment its elevator was shot off. It was a true example of faith and determination on wings.
However, everyone on the base was amused when they heard on All India Radio that some Squadron Leader Keelor has been awarded with Vir Chakra for shooting down Yusuf's Sabre.