December 11th, 1953
It was around 11.30 a.m. My father and his colleagues were on a lunch break in the HAL Butler Hangar, which doubled up as office space and hangar for the B-24 Liberator! It must’ve been a beautiful, winter’s day in Bangalore.
Capt. Manohar Vinayak Namjoshi, Chief Test Pilot of Hindustan Aircraft and one of India’s leading aviators was flying the HAL HT-2 and putting her through the maneuvers and aerobatics exercises in preparation for the air show 2 days later. They were scheduled to perform in the presence of His Highness, Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar Bahadur, the Maharajah of Mysore. Capt. Namjoshi had earlier flown and tested the De Havilland Vampire and after alighting from that, he had proceeded to take the 2-seater, HT-2 on a flight.
As he made his final approach, a DeHavilland Vampire jet that was behind him, began to climb. Right below was Capt. Namjoshi’s light weight HAL HT-2 which got caught in the slipstream of the Vampire jet causing the HT-2 tail to fall off. My father and his colleagues heard a loud, ominous boom and saw the plane, crash towards the end of the runway. He was a mere 300 feet away from the site of the tragedy. In a flash, the life and legacy of one of India’s greatest aviators, master test pilot (and patriot), had been snuffed out.
64 years after this incident, my dad still remembers the crash in all its tragic details, as if it happened yesterday. My initial efforts to gather information about this incident yielded little or no success. Capt. Namjoshi had been an outstanding pilot and one of the very, well-known figures in Hindustan Aircraft Limited. But information about the circumstances leading to the crash was hard to find. Sure, I found the archives of the local newspapers like Deccan Herald, The Hindu, and an online database of Indian Air Force – Incidents and Accidents. But none of them revealed the story of what had caused this crash. The only eye-witness account I had personally heard was from my father.
And then, I stumbled upon a gem called: Past to Present: A Reporter’s Story Of War, Spies, People, And Politics by William Stevenson. In chapter 29, he narrates the story of Sputnik and The Death of A Great Indian Aviator. This was the first source of online information that finally revealed the cause of this crash. I also found heartfelt, eloquent homage to one of India’s national heroes, who not only commanded war birds but also took on the arrogance of Nikita Khrushchev.
Dr. Suniti Namjoshi – A Daughter’s Journey of Healing
During my search, I discovered the poet and fabulist, Dr. Suniti Namjoshi, the daughter of this master, test pilot. In her book, The Fabulous Feminist, she briefly mentions the impact the incident had on her as a little girl and the long, arduous process of grieving and coming to terms with a loss too great to comprehend at the tender age of 11. She says she was finally able to write about her father’s death in The Authentic Lie.
Finding Namjoshi. Again.
As an aviation enthusiast and proud Indian, the only homage I can offer this national hero is through this story which attempts to bring together all possible sources of information about his life and legacy, in a single, blog post. Here’s a newspaper clipping from the article on Flights Global that speaks of his achievements.
And if you’re ever curious about how the Hindustan HT 2 looked like, here’s the only video that probably exists today on YouTube: Indian Air Force – Vintage HT 2 during an engine run
*I cannot thank my father enough for sharing this story and for educating me about a great, Indian aviator, whose story I would otherwise, never have known.*
Featured Image Courtesy: Core Record SALIDAA-VADS
Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.