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From Pilot at 19 to Air Chief at 44: 15 Ways Marshal Arjan Singh Was a Legend

Born on April 15, 1919 in Lyallpur, Singh came from a family of defence personnel. He was only 19 when he was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at Royal Air Force (RAF), Cranwell.

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As the country bade adieu to one of its brightest stars, the Indian Air Force lost an air warrior whose charisma and illustrious career is yet to find a worthy match.

Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, passed away on Saturday following a massive cardiac arrest at his residence.

The Marshal of the Air Force: Source: Facebook.

Being the only officer in the Air Force to be decorated with ‘five stars’, every stepping stone in the man’s 31 year-long career is worthy of admiration and honour—from being commissioned as a Pilot Officer at the young age of 19 to commandeering as the first Chief of Air Staff who led the force into war in 1965.

Here’s a glimpse into the legendary Air Warrior’s career-graph who, as the line goes in the IAF, did touch the sky with glory:

1. Born on April 15, 1919 in Lyallpur, Singh came from a family of defence personnel. He was only 19 when he was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at Royal Air Force (RAF), Cranwell.

2. His first posting after commissioning was in the No.1 IAF Squadron, where he flew Westland Wapiti biplanes in the North Western Frontier Province.

Arjan Singh as a flight lieutenant with a group Indian pilots from No.1 Squadron standing by a Hawker Hurricane IIc. L to R : Ibrahim, Homi Ratnagar, Arjan Singh, Henry and Murcot. World War II. Source: Wikipedia.

3. After being promoted to Squadron Leader in 1944, Singh played a crucial role in leading the squadron against the Japanese during the Arakan Campaign in 1942-43, Imphal Campaign in 1944 and later assisted the advance of the allied forces to Rangoon, Burma.

4. In recognition to his exemplary grit and valour in the face of the enemy forces, he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1944.

Arjan Singh, Commanding Officer of No. 1 Squadron IAF, being handed command during World War II. Source: Wikipedia.

5. As India gained its independence on August 15, 1947, the flypast that flew over the Red Fort, New Delhi was headed by none other than Arjan Singh.

6. In 1949, he was promoted to the rank of Air Commodore and took over as the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of Operational Command, which later became the Western Air Command. The man also has the credit of serving the longest tenures as the AOC of Operational Command in the force.

The great air warrior. Source: Facebook.

7. Climbing up ranks at an astonishing pace, Singh took over as the Chief of Air Staff in 1964 at the age of 44. He became the first Air Chief who kept his flying category until he became the Chief.

8. Singh might have been one of the few IAF pilots to have the opportunity of flying over 60 different types of aircrafts—from pre-World War 2 era biplanes to the more contemporary, Gnats & Vampires.

9. The valiant pilot’s testing times came during the Indo-Pak war of 1965. As reports go, when Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam, Singh was called into the Defence Minister’s office with a request for air support. A man of few words, his reply was, “in an hour”.

Air Marshal Arjan Singh with his Pakistani counterpart Air Marshal Nur Khan meet after the 1965 war. Source: Facebook.

10. Truly enough, the air fleet struck back against the Pakistani offensive within an hour. The war wouldn’t have worked in India’s favour had it not been a collaborative effort between the IAF and Indian Army, with an exceptional role by Singh commandeering the air wing.

11. Recognising his excellent leadership skills, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the government of India. Acknowledging of the force’s contribution in the war, the rank of the CAS was upgraded to that of Air Chief Marshal, and Arjan Singh became the first Air Chief Marshal of the Indian Air Force.

Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh inspecting the Guard of Honour during his visit to the NCC Republic Day Camp in New Delhi on January 07, 2012. Source: Facebook.

12. Opting for retirement in 1970, Singh was appointed as the Indian ambassador to Switzerland and Vatican in 1971. Later he served as the High Commissioner to Kenya from 1974 to 1977, following, which he served as a member of the National Commission for Minorities from 1975 to 1981.

13. In admiration with his commitment to the nation even after retirement, Singh was given the role the Lt. Governor of Delhi to embody from 1989 to 1990.

PM Narendra Modi visits residence of Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh. Source: Facebook.

14. In recognition of his services, Arjan Singh was conferred with the rank of the Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002, making him the first and the only ‘Five Star’ rank officer of the IAF.

15. Commemorating the Marshal’s 97th birthday, an air base at Panagarh, West Bengal was named after the legend in honour of his service on 14 April 2016.

A salute to the great Air Warrior for keeping the spirit of IAF alive!

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Written by Lekshmi Priya S

Shuttling between existentialist views and Grey's Anatomy, Lekshmi has an insanely disturbing habit of binge reading. An ardent lover of animals and plants, she also specializes in cracking terribly sad jokes.