Wing Commander Driver: “Every time I heard the sound of a jet engine, I missed it terribly”

Retired Wing Commander Dinshaw Driver served in the Indian Air Force for 21 years from 1967

to 1988. Along with serving in Madras, Bidar and Ambala, he also served in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. After taking voluntary retirement in 1988, he flew the Chief Minister's aircraft in Odisha, and then worked at a civilian airline in Delhi, before retiring and moving to Mumbai in 2011. He is not particularly active in any veteran organizations, and cherishes his time in the IAF for the sense of discipline it instilled in him, the thrill of having complete control over an aircraft, and especially for the food he enjoyed there, whose quality he believes no hotel can match.

What were some of the reasons that motivated you to join the Indian Air Force?

I had an elder brother who started flying in Lucknow. I used to go with him as a young kid, and soon developed a love for aeroplanes. I wanted to drive something fast, and the Indian Air Force was the only way to achieve that. Moreover, I wanted to chase girls and this was a way to go about that. So it was my ploy (laughs) and girls did fall for it.

Sir, do you remember anything about your initial training process? Was it a difficult process?

We had to go through the National Defence Academy. It is not really a matter of how difficult it is, but how much attention you pay during class. At that time, there was none of this mad rush, and not a lot of competition. It was a massive difference from the life I had led earlier. We had to lead a very structured life, there were some set protocols we had to follow. We were checked every morning for clean handkerchiefs, uniforms, polished shoes. Everything was very fauji. We could only start eating when the senior most cadet started, and stop when he stopped. It was tough getting accustomed at first, later it became second nature. Before sleeping, someone used to knock at our door to say ‘Good Night’ just to check everyone was in bed. There used to be a movie every Saturday- lovely movie and lovely sound system! There were huge cafeterias too, which used to cater to 1000 cadets. The food was absolutely five-star, it never ran short. There were days when I used to eat only aloo parathas and ice cream. The icecream used to come in huge jugs of 10-litre capacity. From 5th term, the emphasis shifted from academics to training. We split based on the Forces, we formed our own gangs. After NDA, we went to flying school. We went through three phases- three aircrafts. The first was HTT, the trainer aircraft, the second was the Harvard (Texan), and then the Vampire. There were a lot of my batchmates who couldn’t make it to the last stage unfortunately. Fear was an integral part of this- fear was what made us rational. It was instrumental when one is a part of something involving flying Fighters.

(Wg Cdr Driver with a Vampire aircraft)

Where all have you been posted throughout your career?

I have seen India from north to south, east to west. Basically, wherever an aeroplane could go and it could go anywhere. I was placed at bases in Pune, Hasimara, Kumbhirgram, Jorhat, Halwara, Ambala, Bhatinda, Tambaram and Bareilly. It was pretty much the length of the country, and we used to go for different exercises all over. We had to be familiarized with all India. And with those speeds, it didn’t take much time to cover complete India.

Through all of this, which aircraft would you say was your personal favourite?

They were all personal favorites, they were just wonderful friends. Getting in an aircraft and strapping up is like putting on a backpack. Everything had to be planned. Even for a short 30 minute flight, it was like pieces of chess- every person does different things, and one person would give one call, the other would give another call. It was a very set and put-together piece, like an act, and sometimes, during the training sessions, we had to break the pieces apart. Overall, it was great fun and extremely thrilling.

You were a part of the 1971 India-Pakistan war. How was that experience?

War is an expensive process, especially when it comes to aeroplanes. I was a part of a 6-day operation in the 1971 War, and it was very scary. Thrilling for a few seconds, but a lot of fear too. Airborne encounters are usually very short, a matter of a few seconds. The aircrafts would be using too much gas very quickly. The aeroplane I flew would use gas at 600kgs/minute. Can you imagine the amount of fuel I used to carry in that little fighter? At that time we didn’t have flying tankers, and thus no possibility of mid-air refueling like we have today.

Sir, was there any good luck ritual that you followed every time you flew an aircraft?

Oh, I didn’t want to burden God. We honestly had no time to indulge in this. The only thing was that I didn’t like to fly on the 13th of the month, however I flew if I had to. But I never flew on Friday, the 13th. There were a lot of good luck stories, unbelievable. There was a friend, whom we used to address as thanthan Punjabi. During the 1971 Ops, he was flying a fully loaded Hunter. As soon as he was airborne, the engine quit. He landed and the regular fireworks displayed. Nobody could move, the aircraft was loaded. We knew there was no way he could be saved. We went up to the aircraft after it finished exploding, and there he was, smoking his Charminar cigarette! Even today, he doesn’t remember what happened- how was he saved.

Are you a part of any veteran organizations or do you attend any reunions with your batch mates?

Yes, in fact, we just went to Pench before the pandemic in February. We are very good friends, having been together through thick and thin. We started off as so many, we are very few now. Time has taken its toll. We stay in touch and keep asking each other, “Are you alive?” (laughs).

Do you recall any particularly humorous incident during your service?

One immediate sign of emergency was smoke in the cockpit- it indicates fire. If you notice a wisp of smoke, you report it. During one session, this one friend observed smoke. In his state of panic, instead of saying ‘smoke in the cockpit’, he said ‘cock in the smoke pit’! He never got rid of that joke. His life was made miserable because of it.

Was there any particular post you cherished the most?

I really enjoyed being a flying instructor at Bidar, in 1976-77. I especially loved teaching new guys how to fly- they had never flown before. It was the basic HTT trainer. It was tiring, but satisfying. It is one thing making mistakes, and another finding out the other guys’ mistakes, and correcting it before it gets serious. Taking the decision of whether a guy is upto the job or not was tough, but that was the way it was. Overall, it was really interesting.

What changes do you observe in the IAF today from the time you served?

We used to fly fighters with one engine, now they have twin engines- it instills a sense of safety, we didn’t have that luxury. Flying today is like flying a bunch of integrated computers. It is important to keep abreast with the ever-evolving technology now. For instance, the Rafale which has come in, is an absolute electronic marvel. It can be in communication simultaneously with you, the ground, the refueller and the RADAR watcher. It does some work autonomously and some in collaboration with somebody else. Flying today is terribly complicated, hats off to them for coping!

After retiring from the Air Force, you flew a civilian airplane. How was that experience different for you?

In both cases, they were just aeroplanes. The civilian aeroplanes were slower and they took their time. It was the kind of aircraft that wouldn’t run away with me. I still missed the Force. Every time I heard the sound of a jet engine, I missed it terribly. Whenever one landed in Bhubaneshwar where I was working, I would always be there to pat the aircraft. Even today, whenever I hear one, I know that's a bit of my life flying past. It’s hard to explain the thrill, the experience, the sheer joy of flying an aircraft. It was poetry in motion.

Do you recall the day your service ended?

Yes, very distinctly. I had become too old to fly, and I did not want to work at a desk. Working with people was not something I wanted to do. From a very easy relationship with my aircrafts, it became a very protocol based relationship with people, and hierarchy stepped in. When I was with the squadron, there was always a lot of gapshap, samosa and chai. All that ended. The thought of sitting at a desk was too upsetting, so I quit while I was ahead. My passion was flying. I wish there were fighters all the time, but I got too old for them.

(Wing Commander Dinshaw Driver after retirement)

Do you have any message for Defence aspirants today?

Join, join, join! You will enjoy it. It’s a beautiful service for boys and girls. It's a tough life initially, of course, but once you get used to it, there is great fun.