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The History of the Dc-3( Dakota) With the Indian Air Force

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.

The Selection of the Dakota

The Indian Air force was formed in 1932 after the recommendation of the Skeene Committee. At the start, it was a poor cousin of the Royal Air Force. Even during the war it only had a subsidiary role as the entire operations were handled by the RAF. The IAF was also not given any responsibility for the transportation of supplies to China over the Himalayas in the supply chain as it did not have any transport aircraft. This airlift was handled by the USAAF and RAF.

At the end of the war, the British government thought that a transport squadron was needed for the IAF. A survey was conducted and the Douglas DC 3( Dakota) and its military variant the C47was selected. One reason for this was the abundance of these aircraft as thousands were available and had proved themselves in all theatres of the war. The Douglas company churned out nearly 1800 variants of this aircraft. The plane had first flown in 1935 and by the end of the war, nearly 13000 had been built.

The basic version was the DC -3 also called the Dakota. The plane was powered by 2 piston engines and could seat 28, fully armed troops. It had a top speed of 150 MPH and a range of a thousand miles. It thus could fly non-stop from Delhi to Karachi. More important the aircraft had a very low accident rate and in a way, at that time it was the best plane for the IAF. The plane was inducted in 1946


Induction into No 12 Squadron

In 1946 No 12 Squadron was created at Karachi and was allotted 10 Dakotas. The start was not auspicious. Just as the aircraft had been ferried to Karachi, a tropical storm burst on the scene. The severity of the storm took everybody by surprise and one DC -3 was lost beyond economical repair. The reason for this was that there was no hanger for the Daks and the planes were parked in the open. Later it was sold as scrap.

The other 9 aircraft weathered the storm and the training schedule of the IAF pilots commenced on them. With partition looming over the sub-continent and the chance that British rule would end No 12 Squadron was moved out of Karachi to India. Later Karachi became part of Pakistan

First Military use of the Dakota

India achieved freedom on 15 August 1947 and immediate trouble loomed over it. The Pakistan army aided by an irregular militia consisting of tribesmen from the frontier invaded Kashmir. The Maharajah of Kashmir Hari Singh immediately acceded to India and signed the instrument of accession. He also requested for Indian troops to fight the invaders who had neared the capital Srinagar.

On 27 October 1947, a DC 3 with 28 troops from the Sikh regiment led by Lt Col Rai was flown to Srinagar. At that time it was not known whether the airfield had fallen to the enemy, but a calculated risk was taken. The first troops took up positions and signaled that more troops were required. The 9 Dakotas now began a 24-hour airlift and slowly Indian troops were built up and the airfield was secured.

The Dakotas rose to the task and gave yeoman’s service in this air bridge to the valley. Not a single DC 3 was lost and the machine proved itself a hardy plane. Later It was also used to ferry supplies to Leh, the highest airfield in the world at a height of 12000 ft. The first aviator who flew a Dakota and landed at Leh airfield was Air Commodore Mehar Singh. He landed at an improvised strip on 24 November 1948. The Dakota handled very well even at that height and is a testimony to its designer and manufacturer

Air Commodore Mehar Singh with his Dakota

Air Commodore Mehar Singh with his Dakota


Further use of the Dakota

After the end of the Kashmir operations, more Dakotas were procured by the IAF and the main supply lines in the North and East of India were handed to the Dakotas. Two squadrons No 43 and 49 were incorporated in the east specifically for supply forwarding troops. They were based at Jorhat. This was just the beginning and after this, the Dakota became a standard transport aircraft of the IAF. The Dakota squadrons were based at Jorhat and Kumbhigran and became the lifeline of the Indian Army's forward troops.

The Dakota was put to good use during the Indo China war of 1962 and also during the Bangladesh war in 1971. The capability of the Dakota to take off from underprepared strips and hardy frame and engine was a bonus. Troops and supplies were ferried without any attrition. One of the Dakotas was gifted to the Mufti Bahini and became known as the ‘kilo squadron’. It was a modified Dakota and the start of the BAF(Bangladesh Air Force) can be traced to this Dakota.


The Dakota fades away

After 1971, the Dakota was replaced by the Avro HS-748. The Dakotas were them phased out and some of them were handed to the Border Security Force who used the plane up to the end of the eighties. The Dakota thus had a love relationship with Indian aviation for close to 50 years and remains an unforgettable chapter in Indian aviation history.

A DC-3 is preserved in the Air Force Museum at Palam and the machine is still flown in India. In the USA the Dak is very much a part of the aviation scenario. This must be the only machine still in operation though over 84 years have elapsed after its first flight in 1935.


tom on October 03, 2020:

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yes i agree,canberra in movie hindustan ki kasam raj kumar as iaf pilot

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 03, 2020:

I saw the movie Sangam on video but somehow Raj Kapoor didn't measure up as an Air Force pilot.

tom on October 02, 2020:

dakota in movie sangam raj kapoor ,rapier squadron canberra pune loheagaon in the movie

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 28, 2020:

Thanks Tom, very much, for giving the update on the Dakota. I have flown the Dakota of the BSF and also one in America it was a real experience.

tom on September 27, 2020:

1988 dakota phased ,out ,few dakotas crashed in kashmir 1947-48,oct 28 flt lt mendoa dakota crash ,first post independence loss of iaf

Robert Sacchi on January 10, 2018:

You're welcome.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 10, 2018:

Thanks Robert for the info

Robert Sacchi on January 09, 2018:

In America they use BT-67s to fight forest fires. Many of the current users are involved in polar research.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 08, 2018:

Thank you Robert. I think the D3 will be around for a few more decades. Last year in America I saw a Dakots DC3 operating. It was awesome. They still fly with BSF in India.

Robert Sacchi on January 08, 2018:

Yes, I wonder if some of them will still be in service 100 years after the initial design?

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 07, 2018:

Thank you, Robert, I flew the DC 3/C-47 many times. Sturdy workhorse

Robert Sacchi on January 07, 2018:

It is amazing how long the C-47 has been in service and how long it is likely to be in service. I worked for a First Sergeant many years ago who flew in EC-47s in Vietnam.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 07, 2018:

Thank you, Robert. I have piloted the C-47 also and my, it was a sturdy machine.

Robert Sacchi on January 06, 2018:

An excellent article on the Dakotas in India. The C-47 has a long history that is still being written. I wish I read your C-47 article before I wrote mine.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 04, 2015:

thank you Lawrence, yes I missed out on the Burma ops mainly to keep the post manageable. Thanks a lot for adding the info

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 03, 2015:

The DC3 was the unsung hero in many events in the 20th century. You've covered just a few but they were also the backbone of the fight behind enemy lines in Burma in WW2.

Incredible story of how the IAF used what they had and got the best use from it.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 22, 2015:

Thank you Lions, its such a pleasure to read your comments

CJ Kelly from the PNW on June 22, 2015:

A further tribute to one the world's greatest aircrafts. The legacy of Douglas aircraft goes on. Voted up and shared.

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