Tribute: Masters of the sky

05 Sep 2009


Our history is replete with stories of valour and heroism; there is no dearth of bravery in the personnel of our armed forces. The defenders of our land, waters and skies have proven time and again that they can go beyond the call of duty to protect our boundaries. It's difficult to talk about the bravery of all of them in this limited space but here is a brief look at the feats of some of the heroes of our skies that is the personnel of the Pakistan Air Force.

Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas

Rashid Minhas was born on February 17, 1951, and was commissioned in the Air Force on March 13, 1971. He was a man of remarkable courage who became a national hero at the young age of 20!

On August 20, 1971, as a pilot still under training, Rashid Minhas was taxing out a T-33 Jet trainer for take-off, when a Bengali pilot instructor, Flight Lieutenant Mataur Rahman, forced his way into the rear cockpit. In mid-air Rahman knocked Minhas out, seized control of the aircraft and headed towards India. With just 40 miles of Pakistan territory remaining, Minhas regained consciousness and tried to regain control of his aircraft. Failing to do so, he did the only thing within his control to prevent his aircraft from being taken to India — he forced that plane to crash just 32 miles from the Indian border, deliberately sacrificing his life for the honour of Pakistan.

Minhas was posthumously awarded Pakistan's top military honour, the Nishan-i-Haider, and became the youngest man and the only member of the Pakistan Air Force to win the award.


Squadron Leader Muhammad Mahmood Alam

Sqd Ldr Muhammad Mahmood Alam was born on July 6, 1935, in Calcutta, India. He is popularly known as M.M. Alam and nicknamed 'Little Dragon'.

M.M. Alam is well-known for his feats in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war when he was posted at Sargodha. He was involved in various dogfights while flying his F-86 Sabre jet equipped with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. He shot down nine fighters, six of them Hunters of the Indian Air Force, in air-to-air combats, five of them in less than a minute, which remains a record.

For his exceptional flying skill and valour, M.M. Alam was awarded Sitara-i-Juraat and a bar to his Sitara-i-Juraat. He retired in 1982 as an Air Commodore.

Squadron Leader Sarfraz Ahmad Rafiqui

On September 6, 1965, Sqn Ldr Sarfraz Rafiqui led a formation of three F-86 aircraft on a strike against Halwara airfield. The formation was intercepted by about 10 Hunter aircrafts, out of which Rafiqui shot down one in the first few seconds. Soon after, his guns jammed due to a defect and stopped firing. Still, he refused to leave the battle area and ordered his second-in-command to take over as leader and continue the engagement, while he tried to provide protection to his formation.

Before his aircraft was shot down, his action enabled his formation to shoot down three more Hunter aircrafts. Sqn Ldr Rafiqui's conduct was clearly beyond the call of duty and conformed to the highest tradition of leadership and bravery in battle against overwhelming odds.

For his bravery and selfless leadership he was posthumously awarded the Hilal-i-Jurat. Pakistan's third airbase Rafiqui Airbase (Shorkot Cantonment) is named after him.

Squadron Leader Alauddin Ahmed

Sqn Ldr Alauddin Ahmed led his squadron in 20 combat missions against the Indian ground and air forces. His leadership throughout the operations inspired the greatest confidence among the pilots of his formations and resulted in the destruction of many Indian tanks and vehicles.

In his last sortie, he attacked and blew up an important ammunition train at Gurdaspur rail-head, completely disregarding his personal safety. During this attack on September 13, his aircraft was damaged and was reported missing over enemy territory. Later, it was confirmed that he had died during the mission. For his exemplary leadership, courage and valour, Squadron Leader Alauddin Ahmed was awarded Sitara-i-Juraat.

Flight Lieutenant Saiful Azam

Flight Lieutenant Saiful Azam has the unique distinction of having kills against air forces of two different countries. As a young Flying Officer, Saiful Azam shot down an Indian Air Force Gnat during the 1965 War which earned him a Sitara-i-Jurat.

After the 1965 war, on the request of some Arab countries, some PAF pilots were deputed to the air forces of Jordon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. During the 1967 Arab-Israel war, these pilots participated in defensive combat operations.

Saiful Azam, on deputation to the joint command of the Royal Jordanian Air force and the Iraqi Air Force, became the first Pakistani pilot to score against the Israeli Air Force. He shot down a Vatour Bomber, a super Mystere, and a Mirage IIIC in only two missions. To date, he remains the highest shooter of Israeli aircrafts.

He received various gallantry awards from both Jordan and Iraq for his extraordinary skill and courage. He retired as a Group Captain from Bangladesh Air Force. In 2001, he was honoured by the United States Air Force (USAF) and enjoys the status of being one of the 22 'Living Eagles' of the world.


Squadron Leader Abdul Hameed Qadri

On May 17, 1986, while on a routine CAP (Combat Air Patrol), Sqn Ldr Hameed Qadri was directed by the radar control to intercept four Afghan SU-22 aircrafts violating Pakistani air space near Parachinar. When his missiles failed to launch, he closed in with the enemy aircraft and shot down two SU-22s with his guns.

For his gallantry Sqn Ldr Hameen Qadri was awarded Sitara-i-Basalat and rose to the rank of Air Commodore. On July 20, 2002, A. H. Qadri (then Air Commodore and Base Commander PAF Minhas-Kamra) died in an air crash while flying a F-7P aircraft.

Flt Lt Khalid Mehmood

On September 12, 1988, Flight Lieutenant Khalid Mahmood, leading a formation of two F-16s, intercepted a formation of six Mig-23s intruding from Afghanistan. In a quick action he shot down two Mig-23 aircraft and later, on November 3, the same year, he challenged a formation of three Afghan SU-22s near Kohat, and after a short dogfight shot down one of the planes.

The wreckage of the Afghan Su-22 fell near Thal on the bank of river Kurram. The entire incident was observed from the ground by personnel of the Pakistan Army and some locals.

Flt Lt Muhammad Wasim Ansari

Flight Lieutenant Muhammad Wasim Ansari, a signals officer became a martyr as a result of a direct bomb hit on his place of work. The officer, inspired by a feeling of patriotism, carried on working under extremely dangerous conditions and has been awarded the Tamgha-i-Basalat.

— Compiled by Rizwana Naqvi