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Issue No.: 577 | July 2015

A Doctor In The Air: Ancient Aviator Anecdote

Cecil Parker
In the air force, medical officers, though on the posted strength of squadrons (sqn), function directly under the Senior Medical Officer (SMO) of the air base where their sqn is located. As doctors, they report professionally to the SMO and as officers, to the CO of their units. This dual reporting can be a trifle confusing to new doctors recruited directly from civilian medical colleges. Unlike their counterparts from the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), their introduction to the armed forces is a brief orientation course at the Army Medical Corp (AMC) Centre before donning a uniform. In view of their relatively long training period, all medical officers are somewhat older at entry and are also granted a higher rank.

In 1970 a new medical officer on posting from Civvy Street reported to the sqn I was in command of. I welcomed him, explained his role, and hoped he would find time to interact with the sqn personnel to guide and help them whether they required medical help or not. He seemed receptive but was still a bit uncomfortable in his new Flt Lt’s uniform. He told me he was married but would be staying in the mess as his wife was to deliver a son soon. (I attributed his confident prediction of gender to his profession).

I received reports of our Doctor’s unhappiness with the ‘unhygienic’ conditions of our sqn tea club and flight crew room. I had a rather high spirited bunch of young officers at that time and our new medical officer seemed to resent being referred to as ‘Doc’ by them. Being a teetotaller he cautioned them against visiting the bar and threatened to have them ‘grounded’ if he felt they were imbibing unwisely. These veiled warnings resulted in some mischief when the Doc’s scooter was ‘misplaced’ and he received a telegram informing him of the birth of a son. Doc came around happily distributing sweets but three days later was in a disappointed mode when he received actual news of the birth of a daughter. I had to make special efforts to help him adjust to sqn life!

One afternoon I was required to carry out a routine air test on our Hunter trainer aircraft (AC). There is a little known old IAF regulation that authorises medical officers to be given an air experience sortie on AC at their base. I spoke to my Flt Cdr and asked him to ascertain from our Doc if he was free and would like to fly. When I reached the AC I saw him fully kitted out in borrowed flying kit, briefed and ready for the very first flight of his life. He coped well, seemed to enjoy the experience and post-flight appeared a bit less judgmental and friendlier all round (I was informed the next morning that our Doc conducted his sick parade wearing flying overalls)!

During the 1971 Indo-Pak war Doc, though with his leg in plaster owing to a scooter accident, stayed continuously with our pilots and technicians on the tarmac and blast pens in Pathankot helping in any way he could – a very valuable asset to the sqn indeed. A few months later when my own posting orders were received, he came to request my help in getting him a pair of flying overalls which strictly speaking he was not entitled to! I had an extra pair on which I had the sqn crest and a Hunter shoulder patch attached and gifted them to him.

Over the years Doc kept in touch and I learned that he had become a specialist and reached air rank. Years after we had both left the IAF we met in the NCR where Doc was now a consultant in a corporate hospital. With great pride he told me that he had fathered three daughters, two of whom were in the medical profession. He enquired about each of the officers in our sqn by name. His prosperity was quite evident in his girth hence I fully understood his one regret; he could no longer fit into his flying overalls!

CECIL PARKER is a retired air vice marshal of the IAF and a freelance writer who can be contacted at



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Nitin G. Raut

Memories of S. V. Raju

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S. V. Raju: A Personal Tribute

Minoo Adenwalla

My First and Only Meeting with S. V. Raju

Ronald Meinardus

My First and Last Meeting with S. V. Raju

V. Krishna Moorthy

Tributes from Friends


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Trouble Spots and A Way Forward

Sunil S. Bhandare

Point Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

Modi's Year in Power

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AAP's Ambition

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Cricket with Pakistan

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Facts and Rumours

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Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

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Book Review


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By Ashok Karnik

Educating Adults

Examination Reforms at the Bachelor’s Level

R. W. Desai

A Doctor In The Air: Ancient Aviator Anecdote

Cecil Parker

The History of the Swatantra Party

The Swatantra Party in Gujarat: A Shooting Star (Part III)

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