At a time when the Indian Air Force is operating the latest state of the art fighter-bombers like the Sukhoi and the MIG, it is worth pondering on the first jet plane inducted by the IAF. The Indian Air Force is now the fourth largest operational Air Force in the world, but its take off point was the first jet incorporated in the IAF. This was the De Haviland Vampire. This plane has the distinction of launching the IAF into the jet aircraft phase. Not many people know that the first Air Force in Asia to operate a jet aircraftwas the Indian Air Force.
Because of the association with the British, necessary paper work had been done for purchasing the Vampire from the UK.Accordingly when India became independent the deal for the Vampire went through and by 1948 the first squadron was equipped with the Vampire. This was No 7 squadron, one of the vintage squadrons of the IAF.
The vampire was a British plane that was developed towards the end of the war. It was a subsonic fighter-bomber and was effective in a ground support role. The vampire was made in large numbers by the British and it is estimated that about 3300 of its variants were manufactured and sold to a number of countries in the world including India. The vampire was a single engined two-seater fighter-bomber, with a top speed of about 550 mph.
The Vampire when it was inducted was an air superiority plane, but within a decade it had become obselete, yet the IAF persisted with it. It was not used during the 1962 conflict with China but on 01 Sept 1965, news was received ofa Pakistani thrust in the Chamb sector( Operation Grand Slam). Accordingly 4 Vampires were scrambled , to take off and give ground support to the beleaguered Indian troops. Initially they were successful but soon the Pakistan Air Force threw in the American built F-86 Sabre jet. This plane had proved its mettle in the Korean war and was the mainstay of the PAF.
The battle now hotted up and all the 4 vampires were lost to the Sabres and to ground attack. It was a terrible blow and even now four decades later, it has never been made public as to who took the decision to launch the Vampire in the attack when superior aircraft like the Hawker Hunter and MIG 21 was available. Air Chief Marshal Arjun Singh was the Chief of the IAF, yet all are silent on this aspect. The Vampire at that time had lost its cutting edge .
Ultimately the Vampire was phased out from the IAF inventory in 1968 after a service of nearly two decades. It is preserved in the IAF museum at Palam at Delhi and can be seen by all. The Vampire had a number of versions and later Vampires also had night operation capability. The Vampire and Hawker hunter were the last of the breed of British aircraft to serve with the IAF as the Indian defence Minister had opted for the Russian built MIG for the IAF. Moreover with the cold war on, the western powers were reluctant to give first line aircraft to the IAF. But the Vampire will be remembered as the fore runner of the present breed of operational jets of the IAF.