“A couple of days ago I was perusing my Second Book that I am still writing, . This book is to cover my life from 1998 to the ‘present’, in a future tense (!!! ???)
In it I had written a few words about my friend Groupie Das, around 2005, which I now think may be appropriate to reproduce here in the light of the Marut debate that is on going.”
“Much later in 1969, after I had immigrated to the USA, I learnt that my very good friend Das died in an aircraft crash in Bangalore, on 10 Jan. 1970, while test flying an HF-24-1R at HAL, Bangalore. This aircraft had a GTRE designed Orpheus Engine Partial Reheat System (1R), which was under development at that time. I knew him very well and we were very close to each other. While in the USA, I learnt to my very great horror, and with great sadness, that Das had died in an aircraft accident, which, it was alleged, perhaps was not fully and properly investigated. I have heard it being said that the cause of this accident was wrongly attributed to ‘pilot error’. It is not easy to believe this was ‘pilot error’ in Das’s case. He was a super test pilot, and so it is not very credible that the ‘court of inquiry’ that was constituted could have found this to be so. I have not had any access to the C of I findings nor has anyone shared its details with me. It is alleged that during his take off roll at the HAL airfield, he did not close and lock the canopy. It is stated that Groupie Das was used to keeping the canopy partially open during his taxying to the take off point. He did this supposedly to feel more comfortable with getting some fresh air into the cockpit. There are a few who allege that Das had not locked the clamshell canopy before he started his take off roll. By not doing so it is possible that the canopy opened a few degrees as he was a few seconds into his take off run. Such a partially open canopy should have ejected if Das had tried to eject it. I say he definitely must have done so. In the canopy system design there was a weak link designed to ‘fail’ and release the canopy when the release lever (canopy unlock) was operated. It was later found, it is alleged, that the ‘weak link’ that was designed to fail did not fail (snap), as it should have, so the canopy did not separate from the aircraft. If the canopy was open a few degrees during the take-off run there would obviously have been some extra aerodynamic drag on the aircraft. Then, it has also been alleged that Das operated his ejection seat handle to fire his zero-zero ejection seat. The seat did not eject!. This was explained in a way that since the canopy did not separate from the aircraft the seat could not also have ejected, because of a safety pin that prevented the ejection seat from being armed due to the canopy non-separation. Another, in my opinion, outlandish theory that I also heard was about a failure of the starboard reheat engine during take off due to the canopy being partially open during his take-off run., supposedly creating unwanted air turbulence at the air intake. I personally discount this completely because the air intake position is far enough forward on the fuselage not to be affected by a partially open canopy during the low speeds of the take-off run. Was all this attributable to pilot error?! It is also my understanding that there were some very senior Air Force Officers in the Air Traffic Control Tower watching this whole episode. I have heard it said that some of them felt that the findings of the Court of Inquiry did not reflect the true realities of what actually happened. It is very difficult for me, at this time, to suggest that these people did not offer to give their ‘correct’ evidence of what actually happened, if they indeed were watching all this happen in real time!!
To me, this is a tragic loss of a very good pilot and a brilliant colleague. A tribute to his greatness and as a memorial to a very very dear friend”