Today, the Indian Air Force celebrates its 86th anniversary.
On this special occasion, we remember the late Air Commodore SK Majumdar, India’s first military pilot to operate a helicopter, flying an S-55 Sikorsky over Bombay (Mumbai) on March 24, 1954.
Born on October 7, 1927, in Patna, Bihar, SK Majumdar began his flying career with the Royal Indian Air Force on May 6, 1948, and served for 29 distinguished years before his retirement in March 1977.
As India’s first qualified helicopter flying instructor, he was a pioneer when it came to operating them on Indian skies and terrain, training future pilots how to navigate India’s diverse landscapes.
Upon opening the IAFs first helicopter training unit, Air Commodore Majumdar developed unique ways of flying in the difficult terrains of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, and “displayed an astonishing degree of dedication and professionalism.”
In fact, he would execute “perfect landings” on the hilltops of Arunachal Pradesh (then known as the North East Frontier Area) with a makeshift helipad consisting of just “three bricks,” according to this blog.
He had other significant achievements to his name, notably:
1) He was the first military pilot to conduct an amphibious operation, a military offensive that utilises naval ships to project air power onto an enemy shore at a designated landing beach.
2) He was also the first helicopter pilot to perform a roof-top landing, a method used extensively today to rescue people in disaster-affected areas.
“To Air Commodore Majumdar’s credit, an entire generation of helicopter pilots in India were trained by him, almost singlehandedly. Apart from being an ace helicopter pilot with a ‘zero-incident’ flying record to boast of till he hung his boots in 1978. Air Cmde Majumdar was an equally dare-devil pilot, who knew his limitations and for whom, safety was paramount—in the air or ground! He would at times, to test his own self and inspire those around, while flying fighters, would fly in and out of ‘both side open’ hangars and execute his manoeuvres (doing a ‘Touch and Go’ or ‘flying by’ from one end to the other—2 meters from ground) with exceptional ease, while keeping in mind, the safety of his aircraft and men on ground. It was a different day, age and time,” says this blog post.
During his tenure in the Air Force, he flew both Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
As Chief Instructor at the then Air Force Flying College in Jodhpur (the predecessor to the Air Force Academy in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu), Air Commodore (then Group Captain) Majumdar trained some of India’s best pilots including the legendary former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major. He eventually retired from service in 1977 with the rank of Air Commodore.
He passed away on July 20, 2011, in the Delhi Cantonment, after a prolonged illness. India will never forget his service and pioneering achievements in the field of helicopter aviation.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)