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The History of the DC-3( Dakota) with the Indian Air Force

Updated on December 11, 2017

The Selection of the Dakota

The Indian Air force after its inception in 1932 was a poor cousin of the Royal Air Force. Even during the war it only had a subsidiary role as the entire operations were handled by the RAF. The IAF was also not given any responsibility for the transportation of supplies to China over the Himalayas in the supply chain as it did not have any transport aircraft. This airlift was handled by the USAAF and RAF.

At the end of the war, the British government thought that a transport squadron was needed for the IAF. A survey was conducted and The Douglas DC 3 and its military variant the C47was selected. One reason for this was the abundance of these aircraft as thousands were available and had proved themselves in all theatres of the war. The Douglas company churned out nearly 1800 variants of this aircraft.

The basic version was the DC -3 also called the Dakota. The plane was powered by 2 piston engines and could seat 28. fully armed troops. It had a top speed of 150 MPH and a range of a thousand miles. It thus could fly non-stop from Delhi to Karachi. More important the aircraft had a very low accident rate and in a way, at that time it was the best plane for the IAF. The plane was inducted in 1946

Induction into No 12 Squadron

In 1946 No 12 Squadron was created at Karachi and was allotted 10 Dakotas. The start was not auspicious as just as the aircraft had been ferried to Karachi, a tropical storm burst on the scene. The severity of the storm took everybody by surprise and one DC -3 was lost beyond economical repair. The reason for this was that as yet there was no hanger for the Daks and the planes were parked in the open. Later it was sold as salvage.

The other 9 aircraft weathered the storm and the training schedule of the IAF pilots commenced on them. With partition looming over the sub-continent and the chance that British rule would end No 12 Squadron was moved out of Karachi to India. Later Karachi became part of Pakistan

First Military use of the Dakota

India achieved freedom on 15 August 1947 and immediately trouble loomed over it. The Pakistan army aided by a irregular militia consisting of tribesmen from the frontier invaded Kashmir. The Maharajah of Kashmir Hari Singh immediately acceded to India and signed the instrument of accession. He also requested for Indian troops to fight the invaders who had neared the capital Srinagar.

On 27 October 1947 a DC 3 with 28 troops from the Sikh regiment led by Lt Col Rai were flown to Srinagar. At that time it was not known whether the airfield had fallen to the enemy, but a calculated risk was taken. The first troops took up positions and signaled that more troops were required. The 9 Dakotas now began a 24-hour airlift and slowly Indian troops were built up and the airfield was secured.

The Dakotas rose to the task and gave yeoman’s service in this air bridge to the valley.. not a single DC 3 was lost and the machine proved itself as a hardy plane. Later It was also used to ferry supplies to Leh, the highest airfield in the world at a height of 12000 ft. The first aviator who flew a Dakota and landed at Leh airfield was Air Commodore Mehar Singh. He landed at an improvised strip on 24 November 1948. The Dakota handled very well even at that height and is a testimony to its designer and manufacturer

Air Commodore Mehar Singh with his Dakota
Air Commodore Mehar Singh with his Dakota

Further use of the Dakota

After the end of the Kashmir operations, more Dakotas were procured by the IAF and the main supply lines in the North and East of India were handed to the Dakotas. Two squadrons no 43 and 49 were incorporated in the east specifically for supply forwarding troops. This was just the beginning and after this, the Dakota became a standard transport aircraft of the IAF. The Dakota squadrons were based at Jorhat and Kumbhigran and became the lifeline of the Indian army forward troops.

The Dakota was put to good use during the Indo China war of 1962 and also during the Bangladesh war in 1971. The capability of the Dakota to take off from underprepared strips and hardy frame and engine was a bonus and troops and supplies were ferried without any attrition. One of the Dakotas was gifted to the Mufti Bahini and became known as the ‘kilo squadron’. It was a modified Dakota and the start of the BAF(Bangladesh Air Force) can be traced to this Dakota.

The Dakota fades away

After 1971, the Dakota was replaced by the Avro HS-748. The Dakotas were them phased out and some of them were handed to the Border Security Force who used the plane up to end of the eighties. The Dakota thus had a love relationship with Indian aviation for close to 50 years and remains an unforgettable chapter in Indian aviation history


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 6 days ago

      You're welcome.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 6 days ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thanks Robert for the info

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 7 days ago

      In America they use BT-67s to fight forest fires. Many of the current users are involved in polar research.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 7 days ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you Robert. I think the D3 will be around for a few more decades. Last year in America I saw a Dakots DC3 operating. It was awesome. They still fly with BSF in India.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 8 days ago

      Yes, I wonder if some of them will still be in service 100 years after the initial design?

    • emge profile image

      Madan 8 days ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you, Robert, I flew the DC 3/C-47 many times. Sturdy workhorse

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 9 days ago

      It is amazing how long the C-47 has been in service and how long it is likely to be in service. I worked for a First Sergeant many years ago who flew in EC-47s in Vietnam.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 9 days ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you, Robert. I have piloted the C-47 also and my, it was a sturdy machine.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 10 days ago

      An excellent article on the Dakotas in India. The C-47 has a long history that is still being written. I wish I read your C-47 article before I wrote mine.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      thank you Lawrence, yes I missed out on the Burma ops mainly to keep the post manageable. Thanks a lot for adding the info

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      The DC3 was the unsung hero in many events in the 20th century. You've covered just a few but they were also the backbone of the fight behind enemy lines in Burma in WW2.

      Incredible story of how the IAF used what they had and got the best use from it.


    • emge profile image

      Madan 2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you Lions, its such a pleasure to read your comments

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      A further tribute to one the world's greatest aircrafts. The legacy of Douglas aircraft goes on. Voted up and shared.