No. 11 Squadron & the Jet Age

by Fred Isaacs

The required growing and enhancement of the fighter force defending the state was enabled with the acquisition of modern jet fighters deployed for high altitude defense of the skies. To this end the authorities placed a production order for 36 Vickers Armstrong Supermarine Attacker F1 jets. The first few arrived in the summer of 1951 and No. 11 Squadron RPAF was activated under the command of S/L AR Khan with F/L FS Hussain the Flight commander. Pilots picked from the Fury squadrons began to arrive at Station Mauripur in July and August.

Vickers Supermarine Attacker F Mk. 1 over Karachi[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

From 9 Sqn F/O Trevor Gotting arrived first followed shortly after by, F/Os ‘Dan’ Durrani, Fred Isaacs (writer) and ‘Jan’ Janjua. F/Os Alam, Ghulam Haider and ’Lucky’ Hyatt Khan also joined from the other two squadrons. Four days after receiving my posting signal at Miranshah I had flown my first jet fighter.

Our check-out was conducted by Vickers Test pilot ‘Pee Wee’ Judge. It was simply being handed a copy of Attacker ‘Pilots Notes’ to read, being asked if there were any questions and then into the cockpit to fly. There was no special protective gear available or issued at that time; you flew with what you had. The pulling of the ejector seat safety pin before flight and reinstalling it after was an important checklist item.

Taxiing was a bit tricky on this tail wheeled jet aircraft, learnt on the way to the runway but the flying itself was easier than pistons with far better visibility without a huge engine and prop disc in front, no torque to contend with or propeller controls to operate. We were current and experienced fighter pilots however and the conversions went without a hitch.

Vickers Supermarine Attacker’s over Karachi coast.[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

As soon as the first six Attackers were available for flight the squadron with the radio call sign ‘paybill’ (AR’s choice) was relocated to Drigh Road. To accommodate us several prime rooms in the quarters near the mess facility had to be vacated by Brits with much grumbling, accustomed to having the best.

FS departed for the UK to attend the Day Fighter Leaders Course and in March ’52 Trevor Gotting and self were assigned to attend the Pilot Attack Instructors (PAI) course there as well. We would fly front-line RAF Meteor 8s and Vampire jets. As we were leaving the squadron deployed on a cross country visit to Peshawar much of it in cloud. On the way F/O Alum got disoriented lost control and crashed becoming the first squadron casualty.

In May, on completion of the gunnery instructor course at RAF Leconfield we were dispatched to the Vickers Supermarine factory in South Marston where we met up with FS, now wearing S/L stripes. We were tasked with ferrying three brand new Attackers back to Karachi. Here on unpacking I discovered that I had left my black leather shoes behind. FS lent me his dark brown ‘desert boots’ for the flight back. Below: At Vickers Swindon factory.

L to R: F/L T Gotting, S/L FS Hussain, F/O F Isaacs.UK-Pakistan Ferry Flight – May 1952

[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

After we conducted the acceptance air test with fitted ventral tanks the aircraft were declared ready to fly. We set off via Istres France, Malta, El Adem N.Africa and on to Nicosia Cyprus where we stopped overnight.

The town was nearby so we went in and found a good restaurant where we had a nice dinner, a change from Mess food. FS held the purse strings for our daily expenses and saw to the bill. We were given fatherly advice from him on the expensive waste of time buying drinks for the women who were frequenting the bars downtown.

Ferrying new Attackers to Pakistan. L-to-R: F/L T Gotting, S/L FS Hussain and F/O F Isaacs.[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

The next stop was Baghdad. After refueling and turn around we took off. Soon after I checked that my ventral tank feed had failed so we returned and landed. This gave us a break of five days there to see the sights and explore the night life of Baghdad-but no one bought drinks for the girls. On start up again Trevor’s aircraft failed to start, so FS and self pressed on to Drigh Road. FS rejoined his squadron in Peshawar as CO.

Trevor arrived and delivered his aircraft a week later. He left the squadron on a posting to instruct at the Fighter Conversion Unit at Mauripur. In 1954 on conclusion of his SS commission he joined PIA, then newly established. He was one of their pioneers into the jet Airliner stage with their acquisition of a Boeing 707 fleet. He was one of the Co-Captains of the first Boeing flight into China. During the ‘65 war he carried full loads of war supplies from Turkey and Europe. He became a senior Instructor for the airline. He was observed walking to catch public transportation to work one day by Asghar Khan then PIA boss. Asghar soon had that problem fixed; one of the host of administration officials lost his car and thereafter Trevor had a car allotted.

By now MZ (Mitty) Masud had been posted in as the Flight Commander of the squadron. He played the accordion well and one got accustomed to hearing his favorite classical music churning out from his room. He was an excellent pilot and very professional in the air. On the ground his good nature could be felt and he always led in any fun activity. He was well liked by all of us in the squadron.

Drigh Road Quarters. Charlie Alfred, Fred Isaacs, Butch Ahmad, Mitty Masud. Check tunic top buttons undone, fighter pilot’s cap angle.[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

Squadron strength was increased with additional pilots from the Fury squadrons. With the talent available and the annual display looming AR began assembling a team he could lead in formation aerobatics. I was put on the right wing and Mitty the left, in the box was Karim who had joined the squadron that year. My log shows that in July we had the first jet formation aerobatics practice and frequent practice flights thereafter.

One had to be physically strong to perform aerobatics in the Attacker as without power assistance the stick had to be manhandled.  Our practice sessions were short. We practiced in July and August for the 1952 Independence Day air display. On the day our whole show took twenty minutes from take-off to landing. This was a first for the Air force and the spectacular vertical bomb burst split up was well received by the thousands who attended.

The rest of the year saw the squadron strength gradually increase. I played my part in teaching the skills of flying tight air to air quarter attacks picked up from the course I had attended. Experience was also gained in cloud penetration and instrument let-downs run by inexperienced ATC controllers who needed the practice. With only a single radio set it was an experience to be caught above a thick cloud deck with radio failure fortunately the sea was near by. Caught out with a duff radio one day it was out to sea far enough to conduct a turn and let down through the cloud until breaking out inbound I was still over the sea.

No. 11 Squadron Officers – 1953. Sitting L-to-R: F/L Haider, F/L-(Doctor) S/L AR Khan, F/L Masud, F/L Isaacs.Standing: P/O Ahmed, F/Os Tawab, Amanullah, Hyat, Karim, Waseem (EO), P/O Saleem and F/O Zahir.

[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

Early in the New Year as the senior F/O I was for a time running the squadron as both the CO and Flt/Cdr were away on duty, Ghulam Haider was the adjutant. As acting CO I led 11Sqd on all wing parades and at G/C Rabb’s insistence, attended the Station Commanders’ party for Station Unit COs. The kindly G/C Rabb was a keen tennis competitor of mine on the tennis court but complained that he was up against a young ghora!

One has to admire the fighter pilot spirit of our senior staff officers removed from flying but wanting a crack at the Attacker. Groupie Rabb’s good airmanship ruled that   out for him but only after having a go at the tricky taxiing of the Attacker. At this stage the lack of a dual cockpit jet to enable easier and safer transitions was a difficulty and only resolved years later when duals were available.

Gully Haider excitedly called me into his office one day and showed me the signal from AHQ promoting the two of us to be F/Ls. Well heck, I was acting CO and him the adj so we took the initiative and promoted ourselves, putting on the two-ring rank insignia. When AR finally came back from his trip to the US he called the two of us into his office and dressed us up and down declaring that it was his and only his prerogative to promote. When he finally finished I lamely offered the suggestion that we could take the stripes down, he relented and just dismissed us. Looking back, as we chastised new F/Ls left the room I am sure that I detected a hint of a smile on his face.

The RAF Peshawar wing leader Garred Cole had completed his engagement with the RPAF and was on a ship on his way back to the UK. AR tasked me with giving him a good send-off from the RPAF. Taking F/O Amanullah as my wingman we found the vessel some distance out and flying right down ‘on the deck’ buzzed the ship at high speed to get their attention then gave a good aerobatic display on each side of the ship. I heard from him later that it was much appreciated by himself, his wife and friends aboard.

In March ’53 the government announced that the new Dominion would send a contingent from the three Services to march in the Queen’s Coronation Parade in London. S/L ‘Sally’ Salahuddin, F/L Isaacs and F/O Bhatti, (recently promoted Drill Sgt) and a selection of other ranks were to represent the air force. The tri-service contingents were to board two Navy warships for the sea voyage there and back.

Mitty packed most of the pilots with me and my bag into a station wagon, adamant that they were going to ‘see me off’. My thoughts about being a most popular guy were diminished somewhat on seeing the duty free prices in the wardroom.  After numerous ‘cheers’ and ‘down the hatches’ I was well seen off and went below to my cabin. They went on to have a meal at the Chinese restaurant, a favorite haunt, before going back to base. That was the usual drill on our group outings.

At the Coronation the actual 18 mile march in the light rain through cheering London is forever etched in my mind. The Queen presented medals to all the Commonwealth personnel the next day at Buckingham palace. Sally, a real gentleman, who had accompanied me on a couple of dates (meeting my future wife} remained on to attend Staff College at Camberly and we returned after the ships Naval Review by the Queen.

Returning to the squadron in July, FS Hussain had replaced AR as CO; AR had been promoted to W/C taking over the wing in Peshawar. FS and Mitty were close friends, both excellent fighter pilots and had a lot in common.

FS, always and forever interested in aerobatics reactivated the formation team to practice for the annual Independence Day air display. He took the Lead, I was still on right wing and ‘lucky’Hyat Khan was assigned to the left, Karim remained in the box position. Mitty was the solo aerobatics display pilot. We began practice flights almost every second day for the air show due in August.

Paper clipping from Dawn News, Karachi – 12 Aug ‘53.[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

As usual the Air Display was as popular as usual with the huge crowds present. The Fury squadrons also displayed their prowess in weapons firing, rocket firing and bombing targets on the outfield areas. Pleasant natured Masroor Hosain commanded 5 squadron. AR was there as Wing Leader.

After the display it was time to relax. FS drove a few of us out to dinner at a club in downtown Karachi.

L-to-R: FS Husain, Durrani, Isaacs, Aziz and Masroor Hosain.[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]

My personal life now began to unfold in a different direction. My short–service commission was due to expire in December ’53. In London I had got engaged to be married and had been accepted for immigration to Canada.

My fiancée flew out to Karachi and our meeting at the airport just had to be witnessed by Mitty and the squadron gang who all ‘just happened’ to be at the airport at the same time.

I was on my final leave from the Service and for the wedding ceremony the squadron, now with the addition of a few more pilots who had also trained in the US formed the groom’s party at the church. FS had kindly agreed to stand in for the bride’s father who could not make it from the UK. On the day he picked her up and drove her to the church to give the bride away. Unfortunately there were no photos taken, the friend operating my camera had forgotten the lens cover. After the church service, we had a small reception at a friend’s residence in Malir. FS told me I had reached my first crossroad in life as he passed on an attractive inducement for me to stay on, but this was a parting of the ways.

As I left to start a new life in Canada I sadly bade farewell to all the squadron guys who had become my good friends, not just my fellow pilots. Further, I was grateful to all the top quality PAF fighter pilots it was my good fortune to be associated with and to fly with and who helped me along during my brief period of engagement. A lot of them made ‘Air’ rank.

Some of the groom’s party at the Church, Karachi Nov ’53.L-to-R: Alfred, Tawab, Isaacs brothers, X (forget), X,
Kneeling: Butch Ahmed and Jamal.

[Picture Copyright: Fred Isaacs]