The Crotchet’s Corner

My perspective about all things inconsequential

Flying in comfort?

Today’s aircraft are pressurized, air-conditioned, and very comfortable to fly in. Thousands of travelers feel comfortable wearing T shirts as they settle into their seats, watch inflight movies, enjoy a meal, have a nap, and walk out when their destination arrives, without any stress.

It wasn’t always this way, though.


Then and now

During World War II, the China National Aviation Holding Company (CNAC) that was part-owned by Pan Am, flew hundreds of sorties, over the eastern Himalayas (referred to as the Hump, those days) from India to China. The Hump was a crucial route for CNAC and the Allied forces for ferrying supplies and equipment into China during the war.

Life was not easy for the (mainly American and British) pilots and the other crew. Operating from primitive air strips in eastern India, the non-pressurized aircraft had to reckon with Japanese fighter planes, high mountains, and unpredictable weather, on the way across.

Flying the DC-3 aircraft in those conditions was not comfortable either.

I quote Donald McBride, one of the CNAC pilots who flew the Hump during the period 1943-45, who wrote about the conditions.

“You would get in the airplane down in the jungle. It would be 150 degrees (I am sure he meant Fahrenheit) in the airplane with all the windows open. We didn’t mind for the first 10,000 feet because that sucked out the hot air.

The first thing we did when we got in the airplane was to take off our clothes down to our shorts, shoes and a pair of gloves. You could not touch the controls without gloves. They were too hot. After you got up to about 10,000 feet, you’d start putting your pants on. By the time you got to 15,000 feet you were putting on a fur-lined flying suit. At 20,000 you were freezing to death. I’ve seen it 55 below (must be Fahrenheit again) up there. You had a lot of things to contend with.”

That was then, and the intrepid pilots and other crew members worked in all those conditions.

We take flying comfort so much for granted today.




November 19, 2016 Posted by | About this and that, Aviation | , | Leave a comment

Flying in those days …

When we think about commercial aviation in India, our mind immediately turns to the large carriers such as Air India, Indian, Jet Airways and Kingfisher, as well as the budget carriers such as Spice Jet, JetLite, IndiGo, Paramount, etc. And, if we cast our minds back a few years, we will, perhaps, remember some other carriers that have now folded up such as East West Airlines, NEPC Airlines, Archana Airways, Damania Airways, ModiLuft and Vayudoot.


When commercial aviation began in India many decades ago, after the end of the Second World War, there were many small operators, some of them regional, such as Deccan Airways, Bharat Airways, Air India, Himalayan Aviation, Kalinga Airlines, Indian National Airways, Air Services India, and Air Services of India. These were merged, nationalized, and brought under the fold of what became known as Indian Airlines Corporation. Simultaneously, Air India was set up to serve travel overseas.


What is little known is that some of the small “airlines” continued to operate non-scheduled services, carrying, in some cases, passengers to remote areas, and in others, carried cargo. Some of them even flew to overseas destinations such as the Gulf.


The non-scheduled operators included Jamair, Pushpaka Aviation, Jagson Airlines, MDLR Airlines, etc. Some small operators such as Jagson Airlines continue to fly even today, though, sadly, most have long since disappeared.


As a child, I lived about two kilometres from Safdarjung Airport in New Delhi. This used to be the city’s civil airport several decades ago till the new, larger Palam airport was built. It was later used primarily by the Delhi Flying Club and a few private aircraft owners.


Each morning, those days, I used to wake up to the loud sound of a DC-3 Dakota aircraft taking off – the deep-throated roar of the two engines at full throttle was distinctive. I am not sure, but I think it was used as a charter. The aircraft belonged to Jamair.





Jamair was formed in 1946 by James B Muff and Eddie Quinn backed by Maharajah Jam Sahib Nawanagar of Jamnagar. Moving to Calcutta in 1948, Jamair operated air supply missions in the North East Frontier and Assam, as well as a Calcutta-Bombay scheduled service. It ceased operations in 1977.


My first ever flight was a joy ride on a Jamair DC-3 (VT-CZC) on 2nd October 1969. The flights were offered to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s 100th birth anniversary. The 15-minute “ride” cost 15 Rupees, and involved a take-off from Safdarjung Airport, a relatively low level (7,000 feet, perhaps) swing over parts of the city and over the river Yamuna, and back for a bumpy landing.


On 5th December 1970, I woke up, as usual, to the roar of the Dakota taking-off, and dozed off for a few minutes. About half an hour later, word came from some neighbours that an aircraft had crashed near INA Market. I grabbed my bicycle, pedalled furiously towards the market, and on getting there, was horrified to see the DC-3 lying on the ground, it’s front end smashed. It was VT-CZC, the same aircraft in which I had my first flight. I was to hear later that the aircraft lost power as it took off, the cause being fuel starvation to one of the engines. The brave pilot had manoeuvred the stricken craft and brought it down in a small patch of land right beside the crowded market. There were four casualties, the pilots included.





It was a sad moment, and the sight of the broken Dakota lying on the field plays in my mind to this day.


We take commercial flying for granted today. In the process, though, we forget those intrepid pioneers who brought aviation to the country.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | About this and that, Aviation | , , , , | 5 Comments


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