The Story of PAF Technical Training School

by M. Abbas Akhtar

Work, Work and only Work – Quaide Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah

When we left Tambram (Madras-India), every one of us was eager to reach Pakistan and complete our advance training at RPAF’s Technical Training School without the fear of any discrimination that we all had to endure during our tenures at RIAF. We were now going to our God gifted homeland – Pakistan, where we would have the opportunity to study and hone our talents and be able to impart our knowledge to the new trainees.

We the experienced ones, had to go back to the Technical Training School for 8-9 months for advanced conversion course and were then return to our units. At the same time we were due to assist in training abinitios (new recruits). How ever, the situation was such that, it was over a year now and we still did not know, how much time it would take to complete this training.  Despite of our 5-6 years experience, we were being treated like the abinitio airmen.  The only difference was that we wore chevrons and multi color medal ribbons on our uniforms.  RPAF was in severe shortage of Technical Instructors and that is what was causing the delay. Therefore, during ensuing period, we were mostly left at the mercy of Ground Combat Instructors, who would keep us engaged in some activity based on our trades.

Suddenly one day, there started a whole flurry of activities.  People were now running around with a sense of great urgency. Departments and Sections were created and the whole place started taking the shape of a technical school.  Our patience had finally born fruit, we now felt being part of an organization.  A number of instructors were moved to the school, some of who had just attended their integration course atGround Technical Training School in Tambram.  These instructors were assigned with varying instructional duties at the RPAF Technical Training School.

Once the instructors arrived, we were attached with different sections or shops and the courses that were to be held there. D hangar was to be readied for Airframe training. C Hangar for Engine Shop, and so on. Finally the day came, our excitement knew no bound when the keys to the D hangar were handed to us. Every one rushed to open the West Side door, assuming that it would be full of all kind of equipment.Drigh Road (now Sharea Faisal) used to serve as a large depot for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War, and provided logistic support to the Burma theatre of war.  Our dreams were shattered to find only few broken workbenches that would not make any impact on the startup of a technical training school every one of us had envisioned.  We had spent sleepless nights preparing training plans and other material, spent hours drawing aircraft system schematics and discussed with each other various ways of presenting them so that an effective training could be imparted to the new recruits.  We took great risk in bringing the schematics and other useful tools on our exit from India and now we did not have the required material to prepare any presentations, layouts and displays. Every one was worried and depressed at this situation. How could British so quickly take away such a large quantity of equipment including aircrafts? Some one suggested that, these could have been disposed off in the nearby un-inhabited area.  We started a frantic search, some of us took a trip to the Karachi scrap bazaar and others wandered around the large empty yard near Drigh Road Base.  One day a old timer non combatant working for the RAF informed us that a there is a salvage yard near the Western Assembly Lines where a large quantity of equipment was moved and was due to picked by the Karachi scrap dealers.  We rushed to this salvage yard and to our amazement found about 40-50 aircrafts of different types as well as a large quantity of spares.  These included about 42 Supermarine Spitfires MKVIII. This aircraft being one of the best at that time, its Rolls Royce Grifon Mark 65 Engine would catapult the aircraft to 40000 feet in just few minutes.  It had the capacity to hold a 500 Lbs. bomb apart from other ammunition.  Unlike today’s aircraft, it did not have any air-conditioning or pressurization systems, but still every pilot loved to fly it.

The 42 Spitfires were damaged to a great extent, but still 30 of them could have been repaired and made airworthy.  These aircraft were flown here a year ago to be salvaged.  My Spitfire serial No. TZ168 on which I worked for a number of years was also there in a crate.  Some one had cruelly damaged its belly using a sledgehammer.  During its service with RIAF No. 8 Squadron, this aircraft was jokingly known as Pakistani Spitfire, because all its maintenance crew and pilots were Muslims.  It had been flown by renowned PAF pilots like Air Commodore Khaibar Khan and Wing Commander Abu Qasem Shihabudin (who was killed in the crash at Khewra). At that time, both of these men were Flying Officers.  Once our section incharge Patel was shocked to find while preparing duty board, that all of the crew assigned to this aircraft was Muslims.  This happened in March 1946 in Trichinapoly, in South India.

There were two Avro Anson aircraft still in crates.  Some one had opened the crates and damaged these aircraft too. We found its wings and engines from another location.  Both of these aircraft were repair-able.  The situation with Percival Proctor Mark II aircraft was no different.  These were used for pilot training.  Their spare parts were scattered in different places probably give rise to the conclusion, that these aircraft were un-serviceable. I had worked on all these 3 aircraft type and recognized its parts and systems very well. 

Air Marshal Asghar Khan inspecting an abinitio being examined at the Technical Training School, Drigh Road. The instructor is Sergeant Mumtaz Ahmed.

[Picture Courtesy: Awaisi Foundation]

The British rulers always had a negative attitude towards Muslims.  Also our high ups were not using their own judgment and there was a resistance within RPAF to re-build these aircraft.  If India could use such aircraft until 1960 then we could have also repaired and flown them for considerable period of time. Indiacontinued to order these aircraft after partition. Right after Kashmir war, Pakistan stopped a consignment of Spitfire aircrafts destined for India, at Karachi seaport. These aircraft did demand lot of effort from the ground crew but were safe to fly.

Our spirits were elevated by the discovery of this treasure.  It became a routine soon after finishing our daily parade; we would go to the salvage yard at the Western Assembly Lines and literally dig out from sand and dirt, the spare parts we needed to prepare displays and layouts. In few days Technical Instructors like Abdul Sattar, Ali Reza Ahsan, Zaidi, Bakhsh and Stanley also joined our team.  With Bakhsh’s help, a bike was arranged which one would ride in the morning and bring it back loaded with all kind of spares.  In search of spares and tools, we literally searched every bush in the Western Assembly Line and were amazed to some time find absolutely new spares parts and tools buried under the sand.  It looked like this was done on purpose to force Pakistan to buy these from Britain at exorbitant price.

Technical Training School Staff Group Photo, 1959.

[Picture Courtesy: Awaisi Foundation]

When this task was given to us, we a handful of men worked days and nights and with 3-4 weeks had dug up enough material to satisfy the training requirement of almost all sections.

The British attitude was so negative towards Muslims that, they even would not leave any furniture behind for our use.  It was the last week of November, as we were returning from the Mess after the evening meal, a sudden commotion started in one direction. Eager to know what was going on, we ran to the scene to find that some RAF airmen were throwing furniture to the gowned from the 1st floor.  This was expensive teakwood furniture. Then one of them threw Kerosene oil and set this furniture on fire.  We ran to get hold of fire extinguishers but they were empty.  We got hold of water and sand, on seeing this the British Airmen resorted to use of obscene language. At that time, some of us decided to take care of these scoundrels, and got hold of what ever piece of iron or wood that can be used as a weapon. The RPAF men surrounded their barracks and were ready to teach them a lesson.  Had not the Orderly Sergeant arrived, 2-3 of the British airmen would have been readied for dispatch in wooden crates.  By that time, a drunk British Sergeant also arrived on the scene, asked what was going on, on hearing the story, he simply shrugged and said, my men were just celebrating their departure to England.  Had not the PAF police arrived to subdue them, people like, Abdul Wahed Ghori, Choudhary Siddique Gill (later flight Engineer PIA) Ghulam, late Mumtaz Ahmed, Qadir Shah and many others were ready to throw the Orderly Sergeant and the British Station Warrant Officer (who had also arrived by this time) in the fire.  With great effort this fire was extinguished or else it would have also brought our Barrack No. 54 down to ashes.

In a few days, Squadron Leader Wood and a few N.C.Os arrived.  We had already prepared our training material and PAF Technical Training School at Drigh Road started functioning on December 8, 1947.