By Prashant K. Nanda
Agra : A military band played 'Sare Jahan Se Achha' as the Indian Air Force (IAF) Friday bade adieu to its fleet of Canberra bombers 50 years after they were inducted and whose contribution the IAF says was beyond par.
"No other aircraft ever has served that long and as gloriously as Canberra," the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, said at the de-induction ceremony here.
"Since its induction in May 1957, the aircraft has served ceaselessly. It gave India a long-range capability during wars and other operations," Major said as nearly 100 pilots who have flown the bomber clapped enthusiastically.
"The Canberra has served the country for long and now its old. It will not be cost effective to keep the plane, which is mostly performing reconnaissance jobs in an era of satellites," Major explained of the aircraft's retirement.
The twinjet Canberra was a versatile aircraft. As a bomber, it carried 8,000-pound loads and could also be deployed in reconnaissance and electronic warfare roles.
Cruising at four-fifths the speed of sound at heights of 40,000 feet, the Canberra was the true sword arm of the IAF, enabling it to deliver deep into enemy territory if the situation so warranted.
It performed stellar service during the liberation of Goa in 1961, during the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan, as also during the 1999 Kargil conflict. The Canberra also served with India's UN peacekeeping contingent in the Congo in the 1960s.
Little wonder then, that the IAF chief termed its "the pride of the nation".
That pride was very much in evident Friday as three Canberras wove intricate patterns in the sky in a final salute to the force they had served so well.
It was little wonder that Wing Commander S.K. Mathur found it difficult to speak after handing over his Canberras logbook to the IAF chief to mark the aircraft's retirement.
"I have been a pilot for last 15 years. With the phasing out of Canberra, I feel like I have been separated from my family," a highly emotional Mathur told IANS.
Wing Commander (retd) J.M. Nath was equally nostalgic as he spoke about flying the Canberra during the 1965 war.
"The Canberra is a great machine. My romance with the bomber transcends words. The more time you spend in its cockpit, the more you love it," said Nath, a recipient of the Maha Vir Charkra, the second highest award for gallantry.
The six Canberras will be positioned at different locations across the country.
"One will be stationed at the Air Force Academy (at Dindigul in Andhra Pradesh). Another will be positioned at the National Defence Academy (Pune). The locations for the others are yet to be finalised," said IAF spokesman Wing Commander Mahesh Upasani.