SHORTS AND THE CHICKEN
In Bhuj 1977-1985, you couldn't get four things:
- Maidservants. All males were in Dubai, so females were on jobs usually doing male jobs.
- Chicken, made up for at times by poaching partridges/sandgrouse
- Clear sheets for slides (A Fg Offr Bhandal used the cellophane wrapper of a Peter Scot whisky bottle to make slides for a presentation to the AEB).
The MiG-21 trainer in those days were peculiar aircraft and
the going version was the Type-69, an advancement over the Type 66A and the
Type 66 of 1962-67. Some Sqns had re-equipped with the latest version, the Type
69B, but we temporarily had three, two Type 66A and a new Type 69B, which had
come about a week ago. At a 15 Sqn do on a Saturday, we opted for chicken since
the Station Commander, Gp Capt Bull Fernandes was flying down to Jodhpur in a
trainer that morning for a 2-hour conference and we always got 15 dressed
chicken from Jodhpur on rare occasions such as these. The Type 66/66A s had a
vacant brief-case sized slot in place of the radar in its short nose, as it had
no combat radar but a much smaller version designed for air-to-ground ranging. Small
packages could be stored there safely. Sqn Ldr Shorts Arvind Kumar(37-39th
NDA), RIP, opted for this trip to log some ferry hours.
On landing, Shorts was to rush to Jodhpur Market and buy dressed chicken and ferry them back in the Type 69 nose slot. What he forgot to check was the nose cone of the trainer, since he had assumed that all trainers had that vacant slot. Unknown to him, the Type 69B going to Jodhpur had no vacant space, as some advanced avionics equipment (!!) had been relocated there.
The MiG-21 fleet had a compass called KCI. The Pilots' Notes warned pilots against slaving the KCI (aligning the KCI to a gyrocompass in the wing) more than once on the ground. In the air, you couldn’t unless you had flown 30 minutes. In the Su-7, differently built, you pressed the compass button quite regularly. Shorts and Bull taxied out normally, with Shorts having slaved the KCI after start-up. Bull was ex Su-7s, so he, out of habit, slaved the KCI while taxying out. On line-up, Shorts saw a drift of one degree in the KCI and noted that deflection so he could allow for it in the air. Bull was unhappy, so he slaved the KCI again, without telling Shorts.
The visibility at Bhuj was 100 km, but less than 5 km as you reached the desert en route, due dust haze. Shorts set course for Jodhpur, but was a mite surprised to see Kandla and Jamnagar at a slightly different aspect. He told Bull, who promptly slaved the KCI. By now, the compass was out by 10°. So, if you held the planned heading, you were drifting 10 degrees West. Into Pakistan!
Having done this trip many times, Bull was vaguely uneasy and Shorts got lost. They missed the hitherto unmissable Mt Abu! Ultimately, Jodhpur radar recovered them, some 60 km NW off track. Bull had a grim look on his face as he Bull pushed off for the conference.
Shorts soon left for the city, looking for 15 dressed chicken. Departure was scheduled for 1230 and it was only 10.00 am. Shorts checked back at 1115 if departure was as planned, only to be rudely shocked that departure would be 1200. Getting the chicken bloke to give you 15 dressed birds took time. He scrambled back by 1140, as he had to stow the standard issue blue helmet bag with the chicken in the VCR-sized slot in the MiG-21 trainer's nose.
That's when the shit hit the fan. This Type-69B had no slot in the nose. Shorts had no option but to take the bag into the cockpit and squeeze it below and behind his left elbow. Bull hopped into the rear seat saying," No more xxxx-ups, pal!"
Everything went well and the trainer got airborne. Jodhpur radar kept a tab on them till Jamnagar radar took over, finally handing them over to Bhuj radar. Shorts was all set to join circuit. He was a bit of a pedant, so he always flew the circuit at 450 kph, with repeated near misses on circuit as most other blokes were at 500-600 kph. As he was about to roll out on DW at 450 kph, he felt something tugging at his left sleeve, near his elbow. He looked down to find one ruddy chick alive. It popped out of the bag and started fluttering around the cockpit. Shorts was screwed-he had only two hands and at 450 kph, you couldn’t fart around in the cockpit. The ac was bucking at very low speeds. Bull screamed from the rear, “Wtf are you up to?” Getting no response, he shouted, “I have controls,”and rammed the throttle open. Shorts got his breath back after a wild wrestling match in the cockpit, finally shoving the bird under his harness and was allowed to take over controls.
He was grounded for ten days, but we rescued him by sending him off to ORP at Naliya next day. Dinner that night was excellent, savoured by all except one hapless ferry pilot.