It was decided by Air Headquarters in 1958 to make use of a vacant military camp at Kalabagh, situated on the Murree Hills range, to set up a winter and summer survival training school for PAF aircrew. As a first step a ski and mountaineering school was established at Kalabagh on 9 July 58 under the command of Captain M Shah Khan whose services were initially loaned by the Pak Army. The role of the school was to teach aircrew how to survive at high altitudes after a forced landing or ejection. The school was placed under the administrative control of PAF Base Chaklala.
In 1967 Shah Khan, a dedicated and expert mountaineer, was permanently transferred to the air force and promoted to the rank of wing commander. By 1968 the task of the Survival School had been expanded to include skiing courses at Naltar, located farther north near Gilgit, desert survival courses in the plains, jungle survival courses in East Pakistan and sea survival courses at Karachi. Special syllabi and exercises were accordingly designed to train the aircrew in techniques of survival in different types of environments. Specific subjects covered were navigation, signaling, finding and preparation of edible sources of nourishment, finding and purification of water, preparation of shelters, improvisation of survival equipment, and the techniques of escape and evasion from hostile areas.
Over the years the Survival School continued to expand and in 1975 its home, Kalabagh, became a fully fledged base. Shah Khan, who became the first base commander, was later promoted to the rank of group captain and retired in 1979 after twenty one years of meritorious service in this unique institution of the PAF. The base will always carry the stamp of his selfless devotion for he not only tended to the institution at birth but also nurtured it through its youth like a godfather.
The schedules and syllabi of the courses were last revised in 1984, and the current annual training programme includes 5 courses for snow survival, 5 for general survival, 2 for desert survival and 3 adventure courses. The general survival and adventure training is conducted in the Kalabagh area itself while desert survival courses are conducted in the Rann of Kutch or in the Cholistan desert. The valley of Naltar, from where the fully equipped Ski and Snow Survival School operates each winter, is one of the most beautiful in the country and is ideal for survival training. Here the students can be exposed to an arctic like terrain and to all the problems pertaining to living and surviving in snow.
The ski slopes available at the Naltar school are: 'Nursery' for beginners, 'Kindergarten' for intermediate students, 'Wild Boar' for advanced skiers and 'Shaggy Dog' for the experts or the fearless. Most of the ski instructors are nationally trained PAF officers and SNCOs; from time to time a few instructors are also sent abroad for learning about the latest developments in the sport.
Kalabagh continues to grow and to augment its facilities for survival and adventure training. Archery has been added to the syllabi of survival courses. This will provide aircrew an opportunity to improve their neuromuscular coordination, and enable them to stalk and hunt animals should the need arise. As in the case of skiing, it has been the PAF's privilege to be the first to introduce archery in the country.
The ski lift, installed 25 years ago, has been completely refurbished in 1987 and its capacity has been doubled. PAF Base Kalabagh had acquired the prestigious membership of the World Wildlife Association (WWA) during the command of Group Captain Shah Khan. Since then, several types of bird species have been obtained from WWA and, after careful breeding in the base sanctuaries, released in the area to promote their survival as well as the natural beauty of the air base environment.
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