Cockpit lesson from war veteran: Fly high, fly safe.
When 21-year-old Flying Officer Tejas Kawale visited Air Chief Marshal (retd) Hrushikesh Moolgavkar, 91, at his Koregaon Park residence on Monday morning, the contrasts could not have been starker. Seventy years separated the two fighter pilots, and while Tejas had flown only the Kiran Mark II trainer jet, the former air chief had flown 67 aircrafts in his long and distinguished career.
Kawale was presented the prestigious sword of honour at the Air Force Academy in Dundigal, Hyderabad, on June 18. He also bagged a total of seven prizes, including the president’s plaque for standing first in the overall order of merit.
Giving important tips about flying a supersonic jet, Moolgavkar told Tejas: “Remember the basic parameters of speeds that are prescribed in your pilot’s manual. Get all doubts about the aircraft you are flying cleared by seniors. It is always prudent to try out variations only after you have attained a height of 10,000 feet. The higher you fly, the safer you are in a supersonic jet.”
When pressed by Tejas to speak about his Mahavir Chakra winning effort in the Kashmir operations of 1948, Moolgavkar spoke about how he had unwittingly managed to touch the speed of sound when he took the Tempest II in a steep 20,000-feet dive. “I felt the entire aircraft shudder. Upon landing, I noticed that the wings of the aircraft were wrinkled. My discussions with senior pilots made me realise that I had almost touched the speed of sound,” he said.
However, the most important lesson that Moolgavkar shared with the young Tejas was the importance of not giving up in the face of adversity. The former air chief recalled how he had crashed a Spitfire aircraft during World War II in Burma. “After recovering from a vertebral fracture and reporting to duty, I was told that I could not fly fighter aircraft anymore. I protested and threatened to resign from the air force. I stuck to my guns and my seniors relented. If you believe something strongly, do not give up. Only then will you succeed,” Moolgavkar said.
The former air chief even gifted a copy of his biography, Leading from the Cockpit to the young pilot. Tejas told DNA: “I am overwhelmed by my interaction with Air Chief Marshal Moolgavkar. I have learnt a lot. I will internalise everything and his book will be my guiding light in the years to come.”