Technology, History, and Travel

Tag: IAF (Page 1 of 2)

Maruts on display

Michael J. Neufeld, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, recently published an article entitled “The Nazi Aerospace Exodus” in the journal History and Technology.1 The article discusses the diffusion of technical knowledge out of Germany after World War II, by means of technical specialists as well as technological artifacts (rockets and planes and such). The most famous example of this movement of knowledge was Wernher von Braun’s V-2 team, although they were just a few of the many specialists who carried German aerospace knowledge around the world.

The former Allied nations of the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union got the first pick of German technical specialists. Later, specialists also traveled to less-developed nations to serve their modernization projects. During the 1950s, for instance, German teams tried to develop military jets in Spain, Argentina, Egypt, and India.

Neufeld observed toward the end of his article that one of the many legacies of the “Nazi aerospace exodus” is German technology on display in museums in countries that received this technology. As an example, the National Air and Space Museum displays a V-2 rocket and an Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter, both of which were captured after the war and shipped to the United States for testing. Neufeld assumed that technology with German heritage must also be on display in the third-world countries that received them.2

At least in the case of India, I can say with certainty that Neufeld was right. When I was in India last summer, I came across two HF-24 Maruts, the indigenous Indian jet fighter that was developed by a joint German and Indian team. (I’ve described the Marut in two earlier blog posts, “Air power in independent India” and “Industrialization, Nehru-style.”) One of these was, not surprisingly, in the Indian Air Force Museum in New Delhi. The museum, located at Palam air field, displays most of the plane types that have flown for the IAF since its inception in 1932. The museum’s HF-24 Marut is in a prominent location in the middle of the main display hangar.

The other Marut I came across last summer was a complete surprise. It was on the campus of Barefoot College, a sustainable development NGO (non-governmental organization) in rural Rajasthan. This Marut was not set up for display purposes only, but as a giant play structure for rural children. A Hindi sign nearby gives a first-person description of the plane’s history; it is signed, “Your faithful friend, Marut.” In the two decades that the jet has been in its present location, children have scrawled and doodled text and designs on top of the original IAF paint scheme. A ladder mounted on the side of the fuselage allows an Indian child (or, in my case, an American grown-up) to climb into the cockpit and pretend to be flying over Rajasthan, blasting Pakistani fighters out of the sky.

In America, we would never put a retired military plane in a place where children could climb over and inside it. We’re much too protective of our planes—and, to a degree, rightly so. I do think it is important to preserve some of our old technology for future generations to see and perhaps learn from. But I’m also glad to see that the Marut at Barefoot College has been put to some real use, rather than being locked away in a museum or elevated out-of-reach on a pedestal.

  1. Michael J. Neufeld, “The Nazi Aerospace Exodus: Towards a Global, Transnational History,” History and Technology 28:1, 49-67. []
  2. Ibid., 59. []

Exercise Shiksha: The Comic

At the end of a summer Hindi program in Jaipur, I made a Hindi comic book based on my research about Exercise Shiksha, a joint Indo-US-UK air exercise held in 1963. In commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Sino-Indian War on October 20, 1962, I present my comic book, “Yuddaabhyaas Shikshaa,” with both the original Hindi text and a full English translation.

Special thanks to Shyam and Upma-ji for helping me with the Hindi text.

The IAF Cleans House

By 1968, the Indian Air Force’s fleet of refurbished B-24 Liberators had outlived their usefulness. The IAF began phasing out their B-24s in favor of the newer jet-powered Canberra bombers. Although most of the retired bombers would go to scrap, a few were offered to museums in India and North America. Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Arizona and Canada Aviation Museum in Rockcliffe, Ontario received offers for donations of retired IAF Liberators; the museums could have the planes if they paid to fly them back to North America.

To the Canadian team dispatched to India, the mission of flying the plane would be a rare and memorable encounter with an “ancient aircraft.” Because of the fuel capacity of the plane, the route back to North America would follow the old routes of Allied aircraft during World War II. The plane flew across the Middle East, over Europe, and across the North Atlantic to North America. To comply with modern regulations, the bomber carried updated radios for the flight across Europe. Operation Longhaul, the ferry flight from India to Canada, covered twelve days and 10,500 miles.1

The IAF’s B-24s had come full-circle. When the Allied forces left India in 1945, the bombers were worthless to them. Defying the Allies’ expectations, the Indians got another twenty years of use out of the bombers. By 1968, the bombers were no longer useful to the IAF, so it discarded them. But now, B-24s were had found a new use back in the West. The aircraft no longer had any value as bombers, either in India or the West. Instead, they would be museum exhibits.

Kevin Lynch argues in Wasting Away that societies should not stop wasting; rather, they should learn to waste well. When an object is no longer of any use, it should not be either thrown blindly away or kept to gather dust and take up space. Instead, old objects should be put to new uses; this is what Lynch means by wasting well.2 By Lynch’s standards, the IAF’s B-24s were wasted well, twice. First they were wasted by the Allies and picked up by the Indians, who used them longer. Then the Indians wasted the bombers, and they were picked up by the Americans and Canadians, whose forebears had discarded them in India a generation earlier.

  1. A.J. Pudsey, “Operation Longhaul,” Canadian Air Forces Sentinel, October 1968, 24-31. []
  2. See “Wasting Well,” in Kevin Lynch and Michael Southworth, Wasting Away (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), 167-201. []

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