The History of the Dc-3( Dakota) With the Indian Air Force
The Selection of the Dakota
The Indian Air force was formed in 1932 after the recommendation of the Skeene Committee. At the start, it 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( Dakota) 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 plane had first flown in 1935 and by the end of the war, nearly 13000 had been built.
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. 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 there was no hanger for the Daks and the planes were parked in the open. Later it was sold as scrap.
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 immediate trouble loomed over it. The Pakistan army aided by an 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 was 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 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
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. They were based at Jorhat. 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's 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. 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 the 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.
A DC-3 is preserved in the Air Force Museum at Palam and the machine is still flown in India. In the USA the Dak is very much a part of the aviation scenario. This must be the only machine still in operation though over 84 years have elapsed after its first flight in 1935.