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Manned flight has never been an alien concept in India. In fact, it has been part of the Indian psyche for millenniums. Our epics and scriptures abound in accounts of manned flight in heavier than air machines. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are prime examples of it. Capping it all, however, is a treatise on aeronautics called Vymanika Shastra authored by Maharshi Bharadwaj six thousand years or so ago. This amazing book contains detailed descriptions of four types of flying machines, including instructions for its construction and pilot training. Based on these instructions, a fly-worthy machine was reportedly reconstructed by a native of Maharashtra Shri Bapuji Talpade and a demonstration of manned flight was conducted in Mumbai sometime in 1895. This however remains officially unconfirmed.

While the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight on 17 Dec. 1903, the first flight in India took place as early as in Dec, 1910 at Allahabad. Allahabad also holds the distinction of launching the first air mail of the world when on 18 Feb 1911 Mr. Henri Pequet carried the fist official mail in a Rogger Sommer bi-plane from Allahabad to Naini, a distance of eight miles. Not so long after, in Dec 1913, the first Military Flying School was set up in India in a place called Sitapur, UP. Then came the Great War. Unknown to many, several Indians flew with the Royal Flying corps of England with distinction in the First World War and even won gallantry awards.

In the meanwhile, the nationalist movement for independence had been gathering momentum, and there had been increasing demands for share of commissioned ranks for Indians in all the arms of the fighting Legislative Assembly in March 1921 embodying this demand. This was reiterated in 1923 and 1925.

In deference to this persistent demand, the govt. of India constituted in June 1925 the Indian Sandhurst Committee, popularly known as the 'Skeen Committee' under the chairmanship of Lt Gen Sir Andrew Skeen KCB KCIE CMG, Chief of the General Staff, to look into the issues involved and submit its recommendations.

The committee recommended among other things, that Indians should be made eligible for King's Commission and trained at RAF College, Cranwell, to form an Air Arm of the Army in India. It is another that Air Vice Mice Marshal John M Salmond, Air Officer commanding in India (later Marshal of the RAF) prevailed on the govt. to have an independent Air Arm.

The committee was of the firm view that refusal of commissions in the Air Force was singularly indefensible in view of the fact that a number of Indians were actually employed as officers in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. Indeed, the story of the IAF will not be complete without an account of those magnificent men.

Next Chapter: Those Magnificent Few

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