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VIEW: Sajad Haider Saved my Life - i think. UNPUBLISHED (so far)

There is a story behind these carelessly uttered, yet delightfully cryptic words, one that will not figure in Air Cdre Sajad Haider’s part memoir, part expose - Flight of the Falcon. It happened more than a quarter of a century ago during a simple routine training exercise carried out to groom operational pilots to be pair leaders before they moved up as section and finally flight leaders. Now, all operational pilots are expected to lead a flight of 2 in mock combat missions to qualify as pair leaders. In late 1969, a fresh operational Flying Officer (F/O) from No. 14 Squadron stationed at PAF Base Dhaka, was detailed to fly a check sortie (the clearance test) with the redoubtable, (then) Wing Commander, Nosey Haider. Their mission was to carry out a low level airfield strike. A Mig-21 silhouette, painted in the apron at a satellite airfield provided the target for their planned low level ingress followed by a simulated gun attack.

The F/O remembered that the navigation was on track, pull-up point - a bit close and attack angle - steep. Roughly translated, this meant that it would have been lunacy to continue with the maneuver. Rather than abandon the attack, the audacious F/O pressed on, as failure to bring accurate gun attack camera cine (film) was not an option – for him anyway.

‘Pull Out’, screamed Haider as the F/O merrily continued with the attack profile past prescribed safety regulations and a collision with ground became imminent. The scream had its effect. The F/O pulled out, after completing the simulated attack, but not before busting the minimum recovery attitude of 300 feet by a wide margin and coming perilously close to becoming a statistic.

On their return, Haider simulated engine rough running emergency with the still alive, much shaken yet unrepentant F/O, who then assumed the position of leader. ‘Pull up’, ordered the young F/O authoritatively, and announced the requisite emergency engine recovery steps.

‘No improvement’, was the answer, followed a little later by a doleful, ‘engine seized’.

‘Eject’ ordered the F/O since no emergency field was nearby.

‘Ejection seat not working’, came the glib reply.

The F/O’s frantic suggestion to prepare for a crash landing was complacently met with ‘frozen controls’.

An exasperated F/O racked his brains, and finding it empty, bade his doomed comrade farewell with a hearty ‘Goodbye to you then’.

There was an ominous silence.

Nosey called off the simulated emergency and assumed command of the formation. The rest of the flight was uneventful. The de-brief was very eventful. The young F/O was hauled up for the unceremonious send-off given to his Squadron Commander. ‘Gentlemen! Did you know this ****** fellow was sending me off to hell’, Nosey sputtered in mock anger. The F/O remained unfazed, stood his ground and maintained that he had no options left and could he (Nosey) suggest an alternative?

Nosey could not.

The F/O was pulled apart for violating the minimum pullout height and reminded that without Nosey’s timely warning, he - (the F/O) - would have been the one being bidden an untimely – but well deserved farewell. Though the F/O’s film camera, on assessment, showed that the attack was considered to be accurate, he was nevertheless grounded for 3 days for busting the minimum limit. The F/O was, however, cleared as a Pair Leader. “An idiot who puts his life on the line to achieve the mission, even a simulated one, has the germs of a true fighter jock- provided he lives long enough” – was Nosey’s parting shot.

Or words to that effect.

As recounted by Air Cdre (R) Jamal Hussain, the unfortunate young Flying Officer in this story, who did survive long enough to command an elite Fighter Squadron and a Fighter Base in the PAF. He is presently pushing boundaries as a media Defense Analyst. And, remains unrepentant to this day.

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