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PAF Base Faisal

Pakistan Air Force Faisal Airbase is situated between Drigh Road Area and Karsaz to the east and west. PAF Base Faisal is located in dense populated location at Shahrah-e-Faisal. It is a joint user Air Field which is hosting six Naval Aviation Squadrons, one Army Aviation Squadron and one C-130 Squadron, which was positioned at Faisal. In addition to this a large number of transit movement as well as VVIP movement by civil, military and foreign aircrafts are a routine matter at Faisal.

The history of PAF Base Faisal, the oldest air base in Pakistan, is a rich one. It started out as RAF Drigh Road, and has a very interesting past. This is the place where Indian Air Force was born, and Lawrence of Arabia served as an engine clerk. The first flight in the history of Indian aviation lifted off from Drigh Road in Karachi. The RAF used the Drigh Road RAF Depot as their primary maintenance base to serve units throughout British India. Soon after the India Command of the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918, with a projected deployment of 8 squadrons on the subcontinent, an aircraft repair depot was established at Lahore with a detachment at Karachi and a port depot at Bombay. In 1922 the main unit was shifted from Lahore to Drigh Road, where the first commanding officer of what was called 'Aircraft Depot, India', was Wing Commander Charles D Breese, RAF.

The change to Karachi was logical because knocked down aircraft could be off loaded from British ships at this closest subcontinental depot, assembled, test flown and ferried away to the squadrons based inland. This was to remain the station's chief function until RAF Drigh Road was handed over to the Royal Pakistan Air Force in 1947.

Early in 1927, among a draft of RAF airmen who arrived from the UK was an AC2 T E Shaw. In 1914, when he was 26 years old, he had been commissioned as an officer in the British Army, and after earning worldwide fame as 'Lawrence of Arabia' for his expeditions against the Turks, had retired as a lieutenant colonel. Lawrence arrived in Karachi in January 1927 and was stationed at the RAF base at Drigh Road until April 1928. He was embarking upon a second career, as an ordinary airman recruit in the RAF. From his letters can be gained an authentic description of what Drigh Road was like at that time. He was assigned to the ERS (Engine Repair Shop) and wrote that although there was no hot water, the food was excellent and Karachi City was only 7 miles away. In the evenings he would go out to listen to the music of the camel bells along Drigh Road.

He wrote to his mother on 24 February 1927 that the camp was "new, stone-built and spacious", and that his job was "to follow the various engines as they pass through the shops, and record what changes and repairs and adjustments each requires". T.E. Lawrence wrote to Charlotte Shaw 28 January 1927, "The Depot is dreary, to a degree, and its background makes me shiver. It is a desert, very like Arabia: and all sorts of haunting likenesses (pack-donkeys, the colour and cut of men's clothes, an oleander bush in flower in the valley, camel-saddles, tamarisk) try to remind me of what I've been for eight years desperately fighting out of my mind. Even I began to doubt if the coming out here was wise. However there wasn't much chance, and it must be made to do. It will do, as a matter of fact, easily."

Air India in its original avatar was Tata Airlines, founded in 1932. JRD Tata, an entrepreneur in its true sense played an important role in the development of the aviation industry in India. He took off from Drigh Road Airport, Karachi, carrying a mail of Imperial Airways, in a tiny, light single-engined de Havilland Puss Moth on his flight to Mumbai via Ahmedabad. The aircraft was taken to Chennai by Nelly Vintcent, a former Royal Air Force pilot.

The Indian Air Force was established by the passing of the Indian Air Force act on 8th October 1932. Accordingly, No.1 Squadron IAF came into being on 1st April 1933 at Drigh Road, Karachi. There were five pilots commanded by an RAF officer and the first batch of Hawai Sepoys.

The institution of the Empire air mail scheme meant that in India, as elsewhere, very serious attention was paid to the work of providing adequate ground facilities both for trunk and feeder services. One addition to the number of works being and to be carried out by the Civil Aviation Directorate in India was the new administrative building at the Drigh Road Airport of Karachi. This was formally opened, on 05 December 1938.

On 24 February 1942 the Aircraft Depot was redesigned No 1 (India) Maintenance Unit and on 20 February 1942 Group Captain J McFarlane assumed command of the unit. With the entry of the Japanese into WW II, the role of Drigh Road had expanded; it was now the main supply base not only for the RAF in India but also for all the squadrons and units engaged in the Burma and Malaya campaigns. Records show that in the early months of 1942 the greater number of aircraft dispatched by the Maintenance Unit were Hurricane and Mohawk fighters. On 29 June 43, work was started by the North Western Railway Company on a new rail siding in the dispersal area to expedite deliveries of aircraft which arrived by sea in crates, as well as to replenish the bulk fuel tanks. The new sidings were completed on 22 August and a test train was successfully operated.

The first Spitfires reached Drigh Road during August 1943 and on 04 September 1943, the operations record book (ORB) notes, "Wing Commander R L F Boyd, Air Headquarters Bengal, reported to the unit with 9 other pilots to collect the first consignment of Spitfires. The arrival of these aircraft in India was to prove a decisive factor in the air campaign against the Japanese. On 21 November 43, repaving of the runways with concrete blocks was begun; these were laid at night to avoid any interruption of flying. Among the aircraft types flown by the T&D (Test and Dispatch) flight in December 44 were: Hurricane, Spitfire, Vengeance, Defiant, Harvard, Fairchild, Blenheim, Liberator, Wellington, Moth and Dakota. This reflects the magnitude and variety of work undertaken by the station at that time. In January 1944, no fewer than 260 crated aircraft arrived at the Karachi docks to be assembled, test flown and dispatched.

On 2 February 1944 the first of the most significant type after the Spitfire, arrived - 2 Republic P-47 Thunderbolts which had been transported from the United States by sea as deck cargo. On 27 April, another 35 P-47s arrived in the same manner; most of the aircraft were towed to the unit along a desert track. During June 1944, RAF Drigh Road accepted 111 aircraft after tests, and 109 of these were dispatched; there were 426 test flights. The ORB for December recorded that "the year 1944 finished up with 1,660 aircraft having been dispatched from this unit". On 10 March 1945 Group Captain N C S Rutter left Drigh Road for Bombay prior to embarkation for the UK on repatriation: he had commanded the station since December 42. The previous day Wing Commander A Hauglin had assumed temporary command pending the arrival of the new station commander, Group Captain C E Williamson Jones, DFC. In that month, 2 new types of aircraft were flown from the T&D Flight - 4 experimental P-51 Mustangs and a complement of Spitfire XIVs. The assembly of Spitfire XIVs was begun and the first Mustang passed to the servicing flight. At 1500 hours on 8 May 45 the station commander announced the news that the war in Europe was over. On 18 June 45 the new east-west runway 26 was opened. The airfield was now taking all reinforcement aircraft flown into India. No 202 Staging Post moved in from Mauripur. At the end of that month some Tempest mainplanes were received and on 10 August the assembly of the first Tempest II was completed.

On 15 August the station commander announced the cessation of hostilities in the Far East. To celebrate the end of the war against the Japanese the station remained closed from 16 August until 0830 hours on the 18th. In its entry for 19 January 46, the Drigh Road Operations Record Book said: "A small number of airmen expressed their dissatisfaction with service conditions and the slow pace of demobilization by means of a small demonstration. Not more than 250 men were involved who, after being addressed by the CO, returned to their normal duties. On the 21st, Air Commodore A L Freebody, AOC 226 Group paid a flying visit from Delhi and addressed the men. Conditions had now returned to normal and continued so until the end of the month.

On 21 February 1946, however, a mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy which had broken out in Bombay spread to Karachi; on the following day the majority of Indian airmen on the station refused to go on parade in the morning as a gesture of sympathy with the RIN mutineers".

With the termination of British rule on 14 August 1947, and the creation of India and Pakistan with their separate armed services, Drigh Road was handed over to the Royal Pakistan Air Force with effect from 30 October 1947 - after having been a Royal Air Force station for twenty five years, having supported RAF operations on the northwest frontier in the 1920s and 30s and the Allied air offensive against the Japanese in World War II. In October 1947, Group Captain S C Elworthy, RAF, took over as the first commanding officer of RPAF Drigh Road. After his return to the RAF in the years to come he would rise first to become Chief of the Air Staff of the RAF and later Chairman of Britain's joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Chief of Defence Staff. Also in October 1947, a color hoisting parade was held in front of the station headquarters and the Pakistan flag was hoisted at the air base for the first time.

PAF's Air Transport Command made a humble beginning on 14 August 1947 with one serviceable Dakota aircraft, two pilots, three navigators and three signallers stationed at Drigh Road (now Faisal Air Base). The diminutive strength was passed off as RPAF's No. 6 Squadron. The Squadron had already existed for several years before independence as an RIAF unit. After Independence this tiny squadron was moved to Peshawar.

Technical Training School (TTS) and Recruits Training School (RTS) were the first RPAF units to be established at the stations: these subsequently moved to Lahore and Kohat respectively. In December 1947, a contingent of 100 selected trainees, commanded by Squadron Leader Omar, took part in a combined services parade held at the Karachi polo ground; the Quaid-e-Azam took the salute. Present behind him on the dais were Admiral Jefford of the navy, Major General Akbar Khan of the army and Group Captain S.C.El

worthy of the air force.

On 15 August 1950, an air display was held in aid of the RPAF benevolent fund. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, after reviewing the squadrons, addressed the officers and men of the RPAF, telling them that he was glad to record that not only expansion of the forces but a very great advance in technical efficiency had also been made. About 150,000 people witnessed the air display (the first of its kind in the capital) described by experts as a demonstration of the highest order; precision bombing, rocketry and supply dropping were highly appreciated. The spectators were amazed to see Bristol Freighters disgorging their 28,000 lbs. of supplies, including 3 jeeps and 30 soldiers each, in less than three minutes. The best item on the programme was an aerobatics display in a Fury fighter Piloted by Flight Lieutenant F S Hussain. An unfortunate incident during the same display was a crash in which Pilot Officer Akther Hussain lost his life.

In 1952, No 11 Squadron, Drigh Road (now Faisal) Air Base, formed an aerobatics team with the curious name "The Paybills," that happened to be the squadron's call sign. This was the PAF's first jet aerobatics team, flying the squadron's Attackers. The ...In 1952, No 11 Squadron, Drigh Road (now Faisal) Air Base, formed an aerobatics team with the curious name "The Paybills," that happened to be the squadron's call sign. This was the PAF's first jet aerobatics team, flying the squadron's Attackers. The painting shows the formation flying over Manora. This team was led by FS Hussain, the renowned flyer and aerial acrobat of his time.

At about this time, the foundations were laid for the growth of major units of the future like 101 Maintenance Unit (101 M U) and 102 Maintenance Unit (102 M U ). Simultaneously efforts were being made to make the people, especially the youth of Karachi air minded. A University Air Squadron was formed and air displays were held regularly. The first Pakistani jet fighter squadron (No 11) equipped with Attackers was established at this station in 1951 and continued to be based here till 1956. Jet aircraft from America started arriving in early 1955, T-33s being the first. The defence minister, General Muhammad Ayub Khan and the C-in-C RPAF visited the station on 6 May 55 and inspected the T-33 trainers as well as No 11 Squadron which was commanded by Squadron Leader F S Hussain. The first PAF investiture ceremony after the introduction of Pakistani awards was held at Drigh Road on 13 November 1959. Ten days later, another historic event took place: a B-57 aircraft piloted by the C-in-C PAF, Air Marshall Asghar Khan landed at Drigh Road for the first time.

On 26 December 1977 Drigh Road Air Base re-named 'Faisal Air Base' in honour of King Faisal II of Saudi Arabia. King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia was instrumental in funding many projects in Pakistan, and a number were named after him after his assassination in 1975. For instance, the Shah Faisal Masjid in Islamabad, Pakistan, is among one of the largest mosques in the world. It is a popular masjid in the Islamic world, and is renowned for both its size and its architecture covering an area of 5,000 square meters with a capacity of 300,000 worshippers. The decision to build Faisal Mosque was taken in 1966 in the regime of President Ayub Khan when the late King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia suggested it during a visit to Islamabad.

The analysis of bird strike in 2007 revealed that a lot of bird attractants are present around the airfield in the form of water, food and shelter, which needs to be eliminated on fast track basis. The major source for breeding of birds is dense populated locations i.e. Shah Faisal Colony, Baloch Colony and Korangi Industrial areas around the Airfield. Big waste water nullah namely Chakora nullah is running through Shah Faisal Colony and coming towards runway. Residents of these localities dump garbage and their wastes along with this nullah and with the boundary wall of the base. In addition to this a lot of marriage halls and weekly Bachat Bazaars are present in the under shoot of runway. This leftover garbage and waste food by marriage halls attracts birds which is a big hazard for all aircrafts coming on final approach for landing. It poses an eminent threat to the population of this area in case of any major disaster. Same problem is present in localities around Baloch Colony where lot of unattended garbage dumps attracts bird. With the passage of time few unauthorized building has been erected on approach funnel which is required to be addressed to avoid any unforeseen incident. Chakora nullah which meets Malir Nadi near Korangi Industrial area is a major source of bird breeding as lot of garbage and industrial waste is dumped on this site. It gives good combination in the form of food and water and provides ideal breeding ground for all birds operating in the localities around Faisal Airfield.

Bird actively is a serious hazard and poses a direct threat to Flight Safety aspects. Bird control has always been a point of concern and merits aggressive and consistent efforts to fight this menace. District administration should be directed for dedicated efforts for cleaning of garbage dumps and proper disposal of industrial waste around Airfield. The remedial measures suggested above, if implemented in true letter and sprit at all levels will eliminate birds around airfield and will give PAF safe skies for Operations. Bird strikes constitute a significant and continuous drain on financial, engineering and manpower resources of PAF. They in fact are the single greatest cause of accidents sustained by the PAF. In financial terms alone the annual bill for aircraft losses and damage is considerable. More importantly, bird strike can cause loss of life both to the pilot and to the innocent people. The majority of bird strikes occur below 1000 ft above ground level (AGL) where bird activity is most concentrated. A significant number of these occur, on or in the immediate vicinity of airfield, where at the focal point of their departure and arrival procedures, aircraft are most vulnerable. Effective measures can be undertaken on the airfield, however to reduce the risk of bird strike incidents, successful bird control techniques need to be devised to control bird activity, when the aircraft are in the air.

From 1993 through 2006 a total of 2345 birds struck aircraft, resulting in 15 major accidents in which 15 aircraft crashed. 04 pilots embraced shahadat and 204 aircraft received damage.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:02:57 ZULU