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15 December, 2016 00:00 00 AM
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Road to victory

The birth of Bangladesh Air Force

“We could not fly above 200 to 250 metres and there was always a chance of crashing into the mountains”
JAHANARA PARVEEN
The birth of Bangladesh Air Force

It was formed with three malfunctioning, outdated aircraft in an abandoned airfield. With that force, it went into war within merely 66 days of its birth and played a key role in clinching victory for its government in exile in another 13 days. No wonder then that the names of the members of that infant Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) have gone down in history in golden letters.
The BAF was born in an abandoned airfield at Dimapur in the Indian state of Nagaland, to the north-east of Bangladesh, on September 28, 1971. Of course, it was helped by the Indian Air Force in achieving victory in its air battles during the 1971 war. But that does not take away anything from it members, who overcame all odds to emerge victorious.
“The BAF was formed with outdated planes,” remembered Captain (Retd) Shahabuddin Bir Uttam. The force initially consisted of three old and malfunctioning aircraft given by the Indian government. There was a Dakota (DC-3) aeroplane, an Otter aeroplane, and an Alouette helicopter. India also supplied the machine guns, rockets, and fuel for the aircraft.
Captain Shahabuddin said their training with those aircraft in north-eastern India was fraught with danger. “We could not fly above 200 to 250 metres and there was always a chance of crashing into the mountains. But we completed our training with those aircraft in a very short time,” he recalled.
After completing their training, the pilots and technicians of the budding BAF formed a flying unit named ‘Kilo Flight’. Squadron leader Sultan Mahmud was appointed as the commander of the Kilo Flight with the two planes and the single helicopter.
The Alouette helicopter had to be first repaired to get it into operational form. In late November, it had its maiden flight as part of Kilo Flight.
The air wing was mainly employed in communication with the Bangladesh government in exile and the military top brass. On the eve of Indo-Pak war, which began on December 3, 1971, the air force started its combat role and launched its maiden attack under the leadership of A K Khandaker. The government in exile appointed him as the deputy chief of staff of the Bangladesh Armed Forces and gave him the responsibility of training and operations of the air force. Flight Lieutenant Shamsul Alam was a member of Kilo Flight. He had flown the Otter aeroplane from the Kailashahar airfield in the Indian state of Tripura to the main oil depot in Chittagong.

Alam, who was also awarded Bir Uttam, the second highest military award in Bangladesh, for his valiant attack on that day, told The Independent that they had targeted the oil depot to cut off supply to the Pakistani military. 
“It was one of the strategic locations and we had targeted it for quite a while before launching the attack,” he said.
Alam said that on December 3, he bombed one of the tankers. “The fire soon spread to the other tanks. The operation was successful,” he reminisced.
After the successful operation on December 3, BAF and the Indian Air Force jointly started the attack on December 4. “There were more than 80 flights,” recalled Captain Alamgir Sattar Bir Proteek.
He said their aircraft were flying so low that they could have been shot down with machine guns. “The plane that I flew that day carried 14 rockets in its two wings. I dropped all of those on the enemy,” he narrated.
Alamgir said one of the first people who had dreamt of forming the Bangladesh Biman Bahini to take on the Pakistani occupational forces was Flight Lieutenant Motiur Rahman.
On August 20, 1971, he tried to flee the Pakistani air base with a trainer T-33 plane and fly towards India. However, he was attacked midair and crashed to his death at Tehatta, a few kilometres from the Indian border.
Rahman’s heroic attempt has been rewarded by both the Bangladesh Air Force and the nation. The most important officers’ training base of BAF in Jessore has been named after him, and the nation has awarded him the highest state title of Bir Srestho. Only seven persons have received it ever. 
His sacrifice also earned him the honorary title of ‘Shaheed’ (martyr).

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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