The Douglas DC 3 and its military variant the C47 made a name for itself in the field of aviation. Nearly 18000 variants of this aircraft saw the light of day. The DC3 popularly called the Dakota was a twin prop piston engine aircraft. It could seat 28 passengers or fully armed troops. It had a cruising speed of 150 Mph and range of over a 1000 miles. Thus it could fly non stop from Delhi to Bombay. I had my first brush with the Dakota when I was in school. A few students including myself were given a joyride in a Dakota of the Indian Airline Corporation. It was wonderful experience and my love for the good old Dak started from that time.
Induction of the Dakota
A need for a transport squadron was felt for the Royal Indian Air force, as at the end of the war the RIAF had only 6 squadrons of operational aircraft. The RIAF thus selected the US made Douglas aircraft called the Dakota. It was a good choice as the aircraft had made a name for itself as a rugged and dependable transport plane during the war years, where it had seen service in all theatres of the war.
The first transport squadron was thus raised with a fleet of 10 Dakotas in 1946.Numbered 12 squadron, the aircraft were received by the squadron and training was to commence. However a tropical storm rendered all the aircraft unserviceable, as they were left out in the open. However replacements soon arrived and the first transport squadron of the IAF took wings.
Dakota's in War
Within a year of the induction of the Dakotas in 1946, war broke out in Kashmir between Indian and Pakistan. The Pakistan raiders soonconverged on Srinagar and the Indian Government pressed the Dakotas into service. The first batch of Dakotas with troops of the Sikh Regiment took off for Srinagar on 27 October 1947.It was a risky operation as it was not clear whether the airfield was in the hands of the raiders or not. The Dakotas rose to the task and regularly ferried troops into the valley and the safety of Srinagar was secured. It is worth musing over the fact, that the Dakota was also used as bomber on a few missions.
Use of the Dakota
This was just the beginning and after this the Dakota became a standard transport aircraft of the IAF. The Dakota was also used as a transport and cargo carrier during the 1962 war with China. It did a commendable job. But its greatest use was in the east where the Dak squadrons based at Jorhat and Kumbhigran did yeoman service in transporting troops and supplies to distant regions in Assam and Nagaland. Even in the 1971 war the Dakota did good service and one was gifted to the Mufti Bahini and became known as the 'kilo squadron'. It was a modified Dakota and the start of the BAF can be traced to this Dakota.
The Dakota slowly faded out as it was replaced by the Avro748 which was manufactured under license at Hindustan aeronautics. The Daks still continued service with the BSF and paramilitary services. However the era of the Dakota is closely intertwined with the early years of the IAF and for that it will be remembered for ever.