Air Chief Marshal Dilbagh Singh, Indian Airforce

Air Chief Marshal(Retd) Dilbagh Singh, PVSM, AVSM, VM


Air Chief Marshal(Retd) Dilbagh Singh, 75, was an outstanding fighter pilot. He flew over 5,000 hours mostly on fighters ranging from the World War-II vintage aircraft to the supersonic MiGs. During his 37-year tenure in the IAF, he had the distinction of being the first to command both the transonic and supersonic squadrons of the Indian Air Force. His tenure as the Air Chief saw the induction of the MiG-25, MiG-23 and the selection of the Mirage 2000 aircraft.

Dilbagh Singh was born in the Jhunmun village of what is now Gurdaspur district of Punjab on 10 March, 1926. He joined the IAF as a fighter pilot in 1944, at the height of World War-II. He was posted to the No.1 Squadron, flying Hurricanes at Kohat in 1945 and formed part of the operations in Waziristan with this squadron.

During the critical days of the Pakistani supported tribal invasion of Kashmir in October 1947, Flt Lt Dilbagh Singh was actively involved in the operations. Three Spitfires led by Flt Lt Dilbagh Singh were directed to fly from Ambala to Srinagar. As the three 'spits' took off and flew towards Kashmir they encountered severe rain and bad visibility. Dilbagh Singh on landing observed that his Wingman Fg Off P.V.S Ram did not turn up, and they thought he crashed on the way.

Fg. Off Ram had infact lost his way and strayed into Pakistan, where once darkness fell he decided to forceland. However his aircraft engine cut out forcing him to bail out near the Pakistani town of Muree. Luckily he was found by members of the Pakistan Army and as an official state of war did not exist, Ram was repatriated back within a couple of days to India.

Dilbagh Singh was one of the first to fly operations against the raiders in a Spitfire from Srinagar. He then joined No.10 "Winged Daggers" squadron and continued to fly sorties in the Tempest aircraft against the Pakistani sponsored mercenaries . For his role in the Kashmir operations, Flt Lt Dilbagh Singh was Mentioned-in-Despatches.

After the Kashmir Operations, Dilbagh Singh was deputed to attend Flying Instructors training after which he was involved in training Afghan Air Force cadets. He became squadron leader in 1954 and became the officer in-charge of flying at the Ambala Air Base. Dilbagh Singh first commanded a squadron in 1955. when he took over No.2 Squadron flying Spitfire XVIIIs. Dilbagh did not stay with No.2 Squadron for long, he handed over command in February 1956 and went to France to get trained on the Mystere IV-A fighter.

After arriving in India from France, Sqn Ldr Dilbagh Singh undertook the first official supersonic "Bang" over India in New Delhi when the Mystere IV-A was showcased to the Nation. On being promoted to Wing Commander Dilbagh Singh became the CO of No.1 Squadron flying the Mystere IV-A at Kalaikunda. After four years of operational flying, Dilbagh Singh went to Jamnagar as the Chief Instructor at the Armament Training Wing.

In 1962, Wg Cdr Dilbagh Singh was selected to be trained on the MiG-21F which was being acquired by India from the USSR. He led the first batch of seven pilots and 15 engineers at an airbase in Kazakhstan for training on the MiG-21F fighters. After undergoing training for five months, the team came back to India to form the core of the first supersonic squadron, No.28 First Supersonics Squadron. Dilbagh Singh raised the unit in Chandigarh with an order of battle of six MiG-21s in early 1963.

Wg Cdr Dilbagh Singh in a Mig-21.

In May 1965, Wg Cdr Dilbagh Singh handed over the command of No.28 Squadron to Wg. Cdr. M.S.D. Wollen (later Air Marshal) and joined Air Headquarters as Deputy Director (Weapons). He was holding the staff job till the end of the 1965 war with Pakistan, when he took over command of Halwara AFB in the rank of Group Captain. His services were recognised with the award of the Vayu Sena Medal in 1966.

More staff appointments followed which included that of Chief Instructor of the ATW and the CO of the Lohegaon Air Force Base at Central Air Command, Pune during the '71 war. From his base, No.35 Squadron flying Canberras struck Karachi Oil Tanks and Harbour Installations. Group Captain Dilbagh Singh's responsibilities included providing facilities to aircraft involved in the maritime air operations.

After the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Dilbagh Singh became Air Officer Commanding(AOC) of Air Force Station Poona, in the rank of Air Commodore.

ACM P.C Lal being recieved by Air Cmde Dilbagh Singh, AOC AFS, Poona, Oct 1972.

AM B.S Krishnarao takes salute at parade commanded by Air Cmde Dilbagh Singh, AOC AFS, Poona, Oct 1972.

In 1976, Dilbagh Singh became the Senior Air Staff Officer of Western Air Command, in the rank of Air Vice Marshal. In 1978, he became the Air Officer Commanding in Chief (AOC-in-C) of Western Air Command, in the rank of Air Marshal. In 1979, he received the Param Vishist Seva Medal for distinguished service.

In 1981, Dilbagh Singh finally became the Chief of Air Staff and India's first Air Chief Marshal(Chiefs of Air Staff were known as Air Marshals till then). In 1982, the Indian Air Force celebrated its Golden Jubilee, 50 years of distinguished service since its inception in 1932. ACM Dilbagh Singh gave a brief speech which was followed by acrobatic demonstrations by IAF fighter jets, which released trailing smoke in the colours of the Indian flag.

ACM Dilbagh Singh's tenure lasted three years till 1984, in which time the IAF saw the induction of the MiG-25, MiG-23 and the selection of the Mirage 2000. He was also the Commodore Commandant of No.28 Squadron.

Dilbagh Singh laid down the office of CAS in 1984, by which time in a career spanning four decades, he had about 5000 hours of flying on different types of aircraft, was decorated by the government for distinguished service thrice.

Between 1985 and 1987, Dilbagh Singh served as India's Ambassador to Brazil.

Air Chief Marshal(Retd) Dilbagh Singh, PVSM, AVSM, VM, passed away on 9th February 2001, at the Military Hospital in Dehra Dun. Earlier he had been admitted to the ICU after suffering from a brief illness.

As the news of his death spread, the entire community of ex-servicemen collected to pay their respects. The Chief Minister, Nityanand Swami, also met with the members of the bereaved family at their Defence Colony residence and offered his condolences. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis expressed deep sorrow at the demise of former IAF chief saying "for me, the grief is more as I have lost my first squadron commandant."

Dilbagh Singh's last rites were performed on February 11 at the Chandrabani cremation grounds in Dehra Dun with full military honours. The funeral was attended by a host of high ranking government and military officials including Chief of Air Staff A.Y. Tipnis.

Dilbagh Singh is survived by his wife Prakash Dilbagh Singh, son Mohinder B. Pal Singh, and two daughters.