Conversations with legends from the armed forces are my absolute favorite to create. We’ve covered a lot of army men’s stories, but this conversation was with our first guest from the air force, Air Marshal Anil Chopra. We were blessed enough to have a conversation with him. He’s considered a legend in the world of the Indian Air Force.
As a host, I feel it is necessary to bring out the stories of the army. Personally, for me, it is an absolute pleasure to host and learn from the people in the defense forces. Keep expecting even more powerful army stories on the show going forward. Jai Hind.
Air Marshal Chopra was born on December 6, 1952, and is a 1968 graduate of Sainik School, Kapurthala. He graduated from the National Defense Academy in 41 course. On June 2, 1973, he was commissioned as a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force. On December 31, 2012, he retired from the Indian Air Force as an Air Officer in Charge Personal (AOP) with the rank of Air Marshal. In February 2012, Air Marshal Chopra safely evacuated from a Mirage 2000 after the plane’s engine failed.
Talking about his childhood, he says, “I belonged to a middle-class family from a small Punjab town called Kapurthala. In that place, when we were small, there were not a lot of good schools and all the people were looking for some good education for their children. All of a sudden, one Sainik school came up. That’s the time all the people who had some status in the town put their children into this school. So that’s how I joined the school. My father was a small businessman. His aim was not to get me into the military. He enrolled me in the school for me to have a good education.”
“But once I was in the school, I saw people in military uniforms. I admired their disciplined lives. They were my role models. That is how I chose to join the armed forces but then the 1965 war happened. At that time, I saw some air combat, some airplanes flying, and that is the time my mind changed from just being a military man to being an airforce pilot. Then as I grew up I applied for the national defense academy and that changed my life forever.”
“Being an air force cadet, I started flying and I found that there was a born flyer in me and so did my instructors. At the young age of 20 and a half, I was a fighter pilot. I was flying solo, I was flying airplanes with bombs and rockets under them, I was firing these weapons at firing ranges. I am extremely proud that I made that decision. When I look back, I think that was the best thing I did in my life.” He adds.
Air Marshal Chopra is the only Air Marshal in the world to have ejected from a fighter aircraft because his aircraft engine blew up in the air. This happened when he was more than 59 years old. There may have been at least eight to ten occasions in his life when he had a close brush with death, mid-air.
Elaborating on one such incident, he says, “It was in Gwalior, 24th February. I was the air marshall then, and I had gone on an official visit to the airbase. I went to meet the same squad which I had commanded many, many years back, the mirage 2000 squadron. So according to the tradition, senior military officers had to fly, leading from the front to show to the young boys. So, as I was flying after 5 mins of being airborne, my co-pilot and I had climbed the height of 11,000 feet and then we heard a huge BANG! at the back just behind this rear seat. When we looked inside, we found that the engine RPM was winding down, the temperatures had shot up, the fire warning light had come up, which is a sign that the engine had quit. Later on, we found out that the turbine blade had broken. By this point, the aircraft started descending quickly. We got a few seconds to take quick decisions, and it was a test of our training. I called the other person, and the call is on the internet. I said: “Ram it’s time to go, let’s pull the handle”.
The entire ejection process, after you pull the ejection seat handle, it takes about two and a half seconds. In these two and a half seconds, 19-20 rocket stroke cartridges fire in a pre-designated sequence and it happens quickly. During this time many things have to be done. Your body is to be pulled back, the canopy has to be flown away, and then the rocket must start firing in such a way that your neck or back doesn’t go through compression. A lot of activity takes place and in that time the body is going through a high force of gravity. Your eyes immediately go through a blackout because the blood from your brain drains downwards and then after two and a half seconds when the parachute opens, that is pure bliss. Then we started descending into the Chambal region, which is very rocky terrain.
When I came back alive from this incident, the only thing going on in my mind was what was it that I wanted to do in my life and I had not done it. Two things came to my mind: First, I always wanted to learn a musical instrument, and Second I always wanted somebody to bake bread in the house.
So the lesson here is that life is short and you must fulfill your desires as early as you can so that you don’t have to regret them later in life.
HOW TO BECOME AN AIR MARSHAL?
“You must love the profession you are in or get to the profession you love.”
- Enjoy Life
Nowadays, there is confusion among the youth to choose their profession because of the peer pressure and pressure from parents. Career building and making money are important but the most important thing is to enjoy life.
- Passion and Enthusiasm
In my life, these are the two most important words. Passion means you must love what you’re doing. Right now, I’m writing books after retirement and I’m loving the process. When I was in the air force, I used to love to fly. I wanted to fly again and again even though I knew there was a risk to it.
PASSION + ENTHUSIASM = JOSH
If you have passion and enthusiasm, then you can do wonders. I imbibed these two qualities at a young age. I would also urge all the young people to do it.
In service, to be a good officer and to rise up in rank or otherwise one, should have many traits. Leadership is one of them. You have to lead people from the front and the leadership doesn’t start as an air marshal. Leadership starts at a very young age. When you are leading a small section of two airplanes as a flying officer, at that time you’re a leader. So leadership is very important.
- Professional Capability
Personal and professional capability is also very important. This is even more important than leadership, which becomes important a little later. You should be professionally very good. You should be a great flyer, have technical information about the airplanes if somebody asks, and should know about the enemy. In short, you should be well-versed.
- Team Player
It is very important to know if you are a team player or a one-man show. There are many people who want to outshine everybody and do everything themselves but they’re not team people. They don’t carry others with them. So being a team player is twofold- you have to join up with others and others have to join up with you.
There are many aspects of a person’s personality that count when he or she goes higher up the rank. Also, there is always a little bit of luck because the promotion ratios are very adverse. Beyond the rank of wing commander, between every three guys, only one makes it. So the pyramid is very steep and only a very small percentage becomes martial. So I think I’m also lucky. Often there comes a point when the differences between individuals are very little and hard to quantify.
FUTURE OF AIRFORCE
According to the Air Marshal, the future of the airforce can be comprised of just one word i.e. TECHNOLOGY.
In most walks of life, there is a demand for a thing and then technology produces it. But today the times have changed. There is the technology that is driving the future of airpower and space and practically every walk of life including medicine. They say that every business eventually becomes a tech business, the same is applicable for the military.
“Airliners will soon have a single pilot and maybe after 30-40 years, we will also have pilotless airliners. We have a larger and larger number of unmanned systems being inducted into the air force. Technology is the key driver. In times to come, air combat will not exist in a conventional way. We will be firing missiles from 400-500 kilometers away to knock off our adversary. The future of aviation is going to be more and more unmanned. In the future instead of actual human beings, we might have robots doing the stuff we do. Robots have taken over mine clearance and physical fighting. There are also these special suits that a human being can wear, where his capacity to run and do things will become much more. So, technology is changing every sphere of life.” he says.