Memories of Marut Days – Episode II: Hufrid

Wg Cdr Hufrid Mulla Feroze.

 

Somewhere down the line, I must have done something good, but I can’t recall anything of the sort.  Another Guardian Angel.  As determined from my log book, the date was August 09, 1971.  I had finished my Marut Conversion syllabus and was briefed by Sqn Ldr Pete Gaynor, for a handling sortie – single engine, aeros etc.

All was absolutely normal, there was not the slightest problem with the aircraft, I taxied out and it was to the runway opposite the palace with the ATC on my left – can’t recall the runway orientation.  After vital actions and tyre check, I asked for line up, followed by permission to take off.  Granted.  I opened up both engines to the gate, all parameters A – OK and commenced my roll.

I must have been lumbering on at around 90 knots, approaching the runway crossing point when I saw a jeep very close to the runway and beyond the normal holding position.  Then I saw someone in uniform frantically signaling to me – it was Sqn Ldr Shashi Ramdas, and because it was him, I felt that there may be something wrong and I abandoned take off.  I informed ATC and told them I was backtracking and would switch off at ORP.  No response, at least not one I could hear.  I opened the canopy and was back tracking at slower than normal speed.  Shashi Sir was there, as well as a Hunter trainer, followed by two other HF’s parallel to me. I saw a jeep coming up on my left with Shashi Sir indicating frantically with the cut throat sign to switch off.  What the hell was all the panic about?  I stopped on the center line and got up on the seat to make it safe.  God, my left engine was on fire and the first thought that came to my mind was ‘you’re in tish’ – not again!  I had not done anything wrong.

Ever tried jumping down from an HF from cockpit height – it’s a long way down.  Fire tenders and ambulance were already there and Shashi Sir asked me to get into the jeep, followed by all the other aircraft that had taxied out – no more flying for the day.  As always they say the ‘wife is always the last to know’ and the AF equivalent of that is “what the ‘f’ did you do?”  – and that was the first question asked to me.  By then the other pilots had returned and were also boiling  mad at me for not following instructions.  What instructions, the last R/T transmission I received was ATC clearing me for take-off.

Later on, it was revealed that a fractured fuel line had caused the fire and since the R/T TX – RX runs down the spine of the aircraft, the cables had burnt and hence my deafness to all frantic calls to abandon take-off, by ATC and all other aircraft.

Had it not been for Shashi Sir, I would not have firstly abandoned take-off, but his credibility was phenomenal and there must have been a reason for his dramatics.  Had he not been waiting to cross the R/W at that moment, I would have been another unresolved statistic.

The James Bond saying goes ‘once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, third time is enemy action’.  Guardian Angels have come to my rescue many times (mostly in the air) and I keep asking God for my purpose of being – so far no response!  They say ‘God’s delays are not HIS denials’ – and I don’t have much choice but to wait.

Hufrid”

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3 Responses to Memories of Marut Days – Episode II: Hufrid

  1. Deepak says:

    Excellent narration, sir! Thank you for penning this incredible story down!

  2. Dara says:

    Comment sent by Groupie Kapil Bhargava:

    “Hufrid’s tale reminds me of two more cases of engine fires on the Marut. The first aircraft I saw back in the hangar had been flown by CO No. 10, Wg Cdr KC Aggarwal, VrC. He had landed safely. The incident had happened some time in 1972, before I assumed command of AF Jodhpur.

    My memory is that the filre was caused by failure of one or more rubber fuel lines supplying fuel to the spray nozzles beyond which it was ignited. These fuel delivery lines had to cope with a fairly high pressure to ensure atomisation of the fuel for ignition. While the pipelines were were close to a hot zone, presumably the temperature to which they were subjected would not have been too high. Or else, every engine run would have resulted in a fire. But if any residual fuel had gathered at the bottom of the engine and if it caught fire, the chances of failure of the lines would be higher. However, Winco Aggarwal had been airborne and unless a leak occurred somewhere for fuel to burn in areas other than intended, this was unlikely. If I remember right, we requested replacement of these lines with stainless steel ones.

    I was chary of steel lines as well as they had a tendency to crack due to fatigue in the presence of high frequency vibration caused by the normal running of the engine, I had encountered exactly this problem in the Gnat at HAL. It was a sad story of the casual approach of the Bristol Aeroengine Company to a design problem of the Orpheus engine. If you wish, you can read about this by going to the http://Gnat50ears.in its blog under Category Narrow Escapes, or http://gnat50years.in/category/narrow-escapes.

    The last case which happened just about the time my tenure at Jodhpur was about to end, Sqn Ldr RP Sharma, Flight Commander in No. 220 Squadron got killed in the accident. An exercise was on and he was about to land at Utarlai. The fire was seen and reported to him. I am not sure of the R/T conversation but as I remember it, he knew about the fire but decided to land rather than eject, Calls by the ATC and other aircraft did not make him change his mind.
    As far as I know the fuel pipelines supplying fuel to the nozzles were indeed modified. Perhaps someone else could recall and confirm this. I left the Station in December 1974. Does any one know if there were more incidents of fires after this time?”

    Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava

  3. S K Sinha says:

    Air Marshal Shashi sir is indeed a guardian angel! Great save sir!

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