Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 12:45 [IST]
Last Update: Sunday, Oct 18, 2020 07:06 [IST]
There comes a time during every soldier’s move on Operational Readiness when the service exigencies of the forces demanded. It sometimes freaked them out while moving on a short notice. ATCPalam confirmed of a Russian Candid (NATO) landing for a night halt. After an overnight stay, I hurriedly packed my kitbag and reached the courier gate at 5 in the morning. To my dismay, my name wasn’t on the Green List. It didn’t even figure out on the Yellow. I got disheartened soon after the gate closed at 6 hours. The worst fear is that I might face the passage at Transit of Jammu.
Yet I didn’t lose hope as I had carried Military Warrant. I gazed out of the window at the sky for the strange route stretching the lines of Army-convoys under the threat of guns and horror. The man in blue G-suit walked over and knocked vigorously. He would be the pilot and I took advantage. “Sir, the gate is closed and I’m only left”. “Oh I see. You want to fly with my aircraft”. The Group Captain smiled and took me by his side through the wicked gate and directed COO to issue a boarding pass on priority. My patience exhausted but jubilant at last.
There were innumerable times; I came across with courier lifts. Moving on Manali-Leh highway had been uncertain following heavy snowfall. Now all-weather Atal Tunnel has come up. Russian Ilyushin was the rescuer for soldiers. Troops are dispatched by courier as Army felt pity for soldiers and treated them with compassion thereby issuing a pass. Induction of Cargo IL-76 had begun in late 80s to ease out transportation in the far-flung areas.
The military huge bird has mission from dropping paratroopers to carrying combat materials, battle tanks, airlifting disaster relief operations. It’s not an ordinary flight. Like American Air Force One, India recently owned Air India One. IAF has Soviet Union's Ilyushin - Gajraj that takes longer runways (1600m) to take off at one of the slowest speed. It’s equipped with radar warning, Jammers and guns too. High-flying airframe designed to withstand substantial damage from missiles and machine guns too.
The long list found overloaded as there were request from VayuBhawan at last moment. Getting a boarding pass is easier if one enter the main gate. Besides 200+ green lists, there were 100 in waiting. The Captain overcame it by defueling the aircraft to accommodate more passengers. The queue lined up and slim commuters separated for overload in that massive transport. That made us falling about with laughter every time IAF Police picked up one after another. I also experienced a period of another bad luck. ETD 07:30 hours was scheduled but there was delay for boarding. The captain was in a hurry as the projection time gets delayed. Wasn’t it funny picking slim guy for calculating (say 50 kg/person) capacity for ATF to defuel.
Caps were about to fly away as the turbo jet with four engines created enormous thrust towards us but we finally entered through heavy military hardware Telpher (an overhead cargo suspended from an electrically powered rail). It had no luxury inside. It’s outfitted with traditional airline-type seats but sit on the troop benches instead. A line of hard seats folded along the fuselage besides 47 ton load carrying capacity tightened between benches. A pair of benches at upstairs placed face to face. A captain, co-pilot and one navigator take the huge aircraft to destination.
Last 30 could not find a seat and stood like Mumbai local. But soon the telpher went up hydraulically, the roller conveyer made sufficient arrangement for those hapless. Final boarding announcement asked to occupy cozily. “Welcome onboard Flight xxx from Palam to Guwahati. The pre-flight announcement came in the air with poor quality sound. I felt like hearing the sound of World War I.
While the cabin got pressurized, the uncomfortable pressure blocked our ears and the flight dimmed the light and slowly took off. The higher the better, it flies faster in high altitude. The captain announcement continued …we are cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet, going up to 35,000 if we see anything big… the weather looks good…expecting to land after 2 hours 10 minutes". Unlike commercial, there was no safety briefing. There are no airhostess and refreshment too. And I dozed off quickly after a few minutes.
We experienced a quick drop in the air, falling from the sky that caused our stomach to flip. It was air pocket. It does not technically exist. When a plane on autopilot encounters varying airflow, it happens when warm air rises and cooled air descends. The air temperature was minus 54°C that we felt it from fleshy buttocks. I felt the Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 in real sense.
Boarders faced bumpy ride over the clouds of Himalayas. The plane over an escape flight path flew over a river and smaller hills. The flight finally approached the path between the mountains of Leh airport. With no seat belt, it touched down safely but with a hard landing. Combatant military helped to resist such snags in my courier days. The Russian Courier has indeed endured through our times.