Who is the First Indian Pilot?  

In my previous post, paying tributes to JRD Tata on his birth anniversary, I posed this question, and replied, “If you think it is Mr. JRD Tata, you are only partly right.”

After that, many people texted and called me, asserting that Tata was indeed the first Indian pilot, because that’s what the internet says.

Do I need to tell you that the internet is not always accurate? Don’t we see the lot of fake news on WhatsApp University?

I repeat, JRD Tata was the first civilian commercial pilot, not the first Indian to fly.

Who was it then? 

If you Google it, depending on how you word your query, you will see various answers.

Some sites say Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, some mention Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, and a few say Purushottam Meghji Kabali.

And all of them are wrong.

JRD got his licence in February 1929, so at best, we can say he first flew in 1928.

Now let’s see if it was SB Talpade.

With full patriotic fervour, some claim that Talpade invented a flying machine based on Vedic scriptures, and flew a full 8 years before the Wright brothers.

I would be happy if someone could prove it, but the evidence is lacking. There is a movie made on him, but a movie can hardly be taken as evidence. Please see my review of the movie ‘Bhuj – The Pride of India’ where they distorted history and sacrificed logic for commercial considerations.

As we learnt in school, any scientific experiment should be verifiable and repeatable.

Unfortunately, Talpade’s flight was neither recorded by the print media of the time, nor ever repeated, and there are doubts even about whether it was a manned flight or unmanned. So that rules out SB Talpade, at least till we find more proof.

Purushottam Meghji Kabali’s story claims he is the first Indian pilot—although he got his flying licence one year after JRD—because JRD was a born-in-Paris Indian citizen with a French ancestry!

Would you agree with that logic?

In any case, there were other Indians in the air much earlier than both Kabali and JRD.

The first Indian pilot flew in 1916, when JRD was 12 years old.

And then he became a fighter pilot.

Since the First War of Independence in 1857, which they called the ‘Sepoy Revolt,’ the British had been wary of Indian soldiers. The Great War forced them to recruit more and more Indians into the Army as soldiers, but not as officers.  

Not heard of the Great War? You have, but by another name. After World War II began, the Great War (1914-1918) came to be known as World War I.  

The Royal Air Force (RAF) was in its infancy at the beginning of that war, and was then called the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).   

Average life expectancy of a fighter pilot on active duty in those days was barely 6 weeks, and they desperately needed pilots.

Yet the British denied the first Indian’s request to join, because they would have to grant him the rank of an officer, as all pilots then were, and still are, officers.

Eager to take part in the war, he joined the British Army, but on realising that he was already a trained pilot, they granted him a commission in the RFC in March 1917.

In April 1918, he was posted to No. 23 Squadron, deployed at Bertangles, in France.

On 27 June 1918, while he was attacking a German reconnaissance plane, a German fighter plane shot down his Sopwith Dolphin biplane, and he crashed at Peronne. Three days later, he died of his injuries.

He was only 23.

Born in Mumbai on 24 October 1894, he was studying history and law at the University of Cambridge in England.

Being an adventurer, while studying at Cambridge, he had also learned to fly, and had earned a certificate from the Royal Aero Club on 10 August 1916.

Thus, beyond any doubt, Lieutenant Shri Krishna Chanda Welinkar is the first Indian pilot.

©Avinash Chikte

Map courtesy Google, and all photos thanks to RAF Museum.  

4 thoughts on “Who is the First Indian Pilot?  ”

  1. Hi Avi, I 🫡. Even I was not aware, thank you for enlightening! Keep up this josh and passion. God Bless.!

  2. Mothi George Jacob

    Dear Avinash. That was a wonderful revelation for me. Thanks to your passion for research I learnt something new.
    Meanwhile there are many such beings whose stories are waiting to be unveiled!

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