Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Shekhon was commissioned into the No. 18 Squadron, known as “Flying Bullets” in Oct 1968. The squadron was known so because of their incredible skill to maneuver in the air. 1971 was a year when the Indo-Pak border had become a battlefield. Flying officer Shekhon was a pilot of the Gnat detachment based in Srinagar.
As per an agreement dating back to 1948, there was no defence airbase in Srinagar until hostilities broke out between India & Pakistan. Flying Officer, hence wasn’t familiar with the terrain, also the extremely cold winds of the Kashmir winters. Nonetheless, he and his colleagues fought many intruding Pakistani aircrafts with determination and valor.
On December 14, 1971, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) conducted ceaseless strikes on the Pathankot, Srinagar & Amritsar areas to neutralize these crucial airfields. Shkehon was on standby 2, while the Srinagar base was attacked by 6 PAF Jets. Shekon along with his senior Flight Lieutenant Ghuman (G-Man as he was fondly called), waited for permission to take off. There weren’t radar back in those days and the ATC was dependent on observation post ridges.
Due to radio interference from the ATC, they were unable to contact them despite all their efforts. As the two took off, the runway was bombed. As Shekhon took off he saw two Sabres whizz past him. With no time to lose, he turned around and chased them.
Realizing this, the Pakistani Sabres dropped tanks and dived. While Shekhon started firing bullets at the Sabre in front of him, two Sabres had caught up at the tail of the Gnat. It was now one Indian Gnat against four Pakistani Sabres. Meanwhile, G-Man had lost sight of Shekhon’s Gnat due to poor visibility.
Shekhon did not give up. In the fierce firing, he had downed two Sabres single-handedly. Unfortunately, one of the Sabre’s chasing him managed to hit the Gnat. As smoke arose from the black fuselage, Shekhon tried to eject, but the 37 bullets that hit the Gnat had knocked off the ejection as well.
The Gnat crashed, but Shekhon’s sacrifice didn’t go in vain. The remaining Sabre jet immediately retreated and fled.
Flying Officer Shekhon’s supreme sacrifice earned him the Param Vir Chakra. Making him the only air force officers to be decorated with this honor.
Lest Shall We Forget…
#ValorFolkore #Unforgettingtales #IndiasFearless