Corgi Canberra and Wing Commander Padmanabha Gautam

Posted by Paul Boyland on

The Incredible Story of Wing Commander Padmanabha Gautam and the Canberra Plane

One of the best things about running a hobby shop is talking to people and hearing their stories -  and, if we’re lucky, the stories of their ancestors. Recently we were contacted by Arun Swaminathan all the way from Bangalore, South India who was looking for a specific (and rather elusive) Corgi Canberra model plane - the Corgi Collectables AA34708 English Electric Canberra B(I)8 - No.16 Squadron, RAF Laarbruch, Germany, 1972.  What we thought was going to be a standard exchange (“Do you have this? Yes we do, here you go!”) turned into much more.


Corgi Collectables AA34708 English Electric Canberra B(I)8 - No.16 Squadron, RAF Laarbruch, Germany, 1972

We quickly learned that Arun was looking for this specific Canberra model as it was linked to his uncle - Wing Commander Padmanabha Gautam - highly decorated Indian Air Force pilot who flew the English Electric Canberra plane during his distinguished career.


The Late Wg Cdr Gautam

Paul Boyland, owner of Chester Model Centre, says, "It’s a privilege to run an independent business in Chester and we couldn’t do it without so much local support. In fact, we've known some of our customers for decades.

Having said that, the modelling community is global and we are really happy to help Arun get his hands on the model Canberra plane that his Uncle Gautam had flown. Arun contacted us from Bangalore by email initially."

Paul Boyland, Owner, Chester Model Centre

Paul Boyland, owner of Chester Model Centre

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you. This model means a lot to me especially as this English Electric Canberra has been etched in my heart after my Uncle Gautam, the Indian Air Force Canberra Ace, was killed in a crash on 25th Nov 1972," said Arun. 

"My father always wanted to take me to Poona with my Uncle Gautam so he could put me in the cockpit of every aircraft under his command. Unfortunately, my Uncle died before this trip happened. 

When I miss him,  I go and stand by the Canberra at the HAL Museum near my house in Bangalore.

I am writing his biography and your model will feature as my most treasured model in my vast collection.” Arun is hoping to make a trip to the UK in the future with a visit to Chester Model Centre on the top of his list of places to see.  

Paul says, "We are quite a traditional hobby shop I suppose, and giving people a hands on experience on the high street is really at the core of what we do. We have been digital dinosaurs in the past, but we realise it's important that we evolve as a retailer.


Chester Model Centre frontage on Bridge Street Row, Chester, UK


We launched our website during the first lockdown (Spring 2020) and are now active on social media. We've been contacted by customers from Australia, America, France and Italy. The attention from across the globe has prompted us to think bigger. We're currently making arrangements to make international delivery available to our customers and hope to have this service up and running in the next few weeks. As a local independent shop, this opens up a big market for us!"


The English Electric Canberra plane is a popular model for enthusiasts around the world, and it is thanks to Wg Cdr Gautam’s story that we can appreciate this incredible aircraft. Let’s explore more about his life and what makes the Canberra so special.


Early Life of Wg Cdr Gautam

Wg Cdr Gautam was born in Indore, Madhya Pradesh on 23 July 1933. His parents were both academics; his father was a professor of Physics at Ahalyabai Holkar College, while his mother held various educational roles until her retirement at age 90. Wg Cdr Gautam soon enrolled in the 3rd course at JSW (now known as NDA), and went on to join the 60th Pilots Course at Begumpet in 1953.


Distinguished Career with the IAF

Wg Cdr Gautam served many years with the Indian Air Force throughout his distinguished career. He began flying Spitfire/Vampire planes with Halwara Squadron before later transferring to a Toofani squadron. He eventually became one of only four pilots selected for Flying Instructors School where he mastered high-performance planes such as the Australian-built de Havilland DH.98 Canberra bomber that he flew for most of his career.


The Beauty of the Canberra

In 1965, he was posted as Commanding Officer of No 45 Squadron which operated from Pune (Lohegaon). During his tenure here, he led several operations against Pakistan which earned him several awards including Vayu Sena Medal, Vir Chakra and Ati Vishisht Seva Medal.

The Canberra Plane

The de Havilland DH 98 Canberra is a British twin-engined light bomber designed by the de Havilland Aircraft Company during World War II and first flown in 1949 - just one year after India achieved its independence from Britain's colonial rule. It quickly gained popularity due to its impressive speed and long range capabilities which allowed it to reach its targets without needing to refuel mid-flight or make any stops along its journey - something other bombers could not do at that time!

Canberra Plane Line Up

The aircraft had a maximum speed of 607 mph making it one of the fastest light bombers ever created - hence why it was chosen for Wg Cdr Gautam’s squadron operations against Pakistan during 1965. It also featured some unique design features such as its highly glazed navigator position which offered excellent visibility from all angles and enabled better navigation during long-distance flights.

By 1971, he was the Commanding Officer of the No. 16 Squadron Indian Air Force, also known as Black Cobras, flying out of Gorakhpur. At the end of that successful campaign, Wg Cdr P Gautam received a bar to his MVC, one of only two people in the IAF to be so honoured. In early 1972 he was posted as Officer in charge Flying at Air Force Station Poona (now Pune).


The 16 squadron with a distinguished visitor (NOTE the scale model!)

On 25 November 1972, he took off on a Mig–21 aircraft, however immediately after take-off, the engine of the aircraft flamed off  and he was forced to crash-land the aircraft. During the process of landing, he was injured and finally succumbed to his injuries owing to internal bleeding.

Wing Commander Gautam was one of the most decorated Indian Air force officers. He led many important missions during both wars and his audacious bombing on enemy territory deep inside their country speaks of his courage, commitment and dedication to his home nation. He was one of the few officers who was awarded the prestigious Maha Vir Chakra twice; once for the 1965 war and later for his heroics during the 1971 war.



Wing Commander Padmanabha Gautam played an instrumental role in shaping modern aviation history by mastering powerful planes like Australia’s de Havilland DH 98 Canberra bomber which became famous all over India. Model plane enthusiasts everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude for helping bring this incredible aircraft into public consciousness – allowing people to appreciate its design features such as superior visibility from all angles, exceptional speed, and unparalleled range compared to other light bombers available during that time period.

Our thanks go to Arun Swaminathan for sharing his uncle’s incredible story with us and providing the photos that bring this history to life. According to Arun, Wing Commander Padmanabha Gautam is the most decorated (for Gallantry) pilot of the Indian Air Force to date. His record along with those of his two brothers make theirs the Most Decorated Family of the IAF.

We hope you enjoyed learning about this amazing story as much as we did!

And don’t forget to support your local hobby shop. You can see our full collection of military aircraft models available in-store at Chester Model Centre or on our website here:

Follow us @ChesterModelCentre on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to keep up with more amazing customer stories, our ever changing stock of new and second-hand models and much more happy hobby content.  

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  • Yes you are absolutely right Chris and Andy …

    Uncle Gautam never flew the DH Mosquito but the British built English Electric Canberra ,

    I did write to Paul clarifying this.

    Dear Paul can you please edit that.

    Thank you dear Paul for the otherwise heartwarming tribute which I must share with Aunty Bala Gautam and her two daughters and son.

    I will share some pictures of his Canberra (5 Sqn ) in the UN ops in Congo in 1961 as well the Canberras of 16 Sqn which he commanded during the 1971 War in both the Western and Eastern Sectors

    Arun Swaminathan on
  • Yes you are absolutely right Chris and Andy …

    Uncle Gautam never flew the DH Mosquito but the British built English Electric Canberra ,

    I did write to Paul clarifying this.

    Dear Paul can you please edit that.

    Thank you dear Paul for the otherwise heartwarming tribute which I must share with Aunty Bala Gautam and her two daughters and son.

    Arun Swaminathan on
  • Oh dear! I suspect I may not be the one query the accuracy of this story. Your writer on the otherwise interesting article on Wing Commander Gautam clearly doesn’t know his English Electric Canberra from his De Havilland DH98 Mosquito. The Mosquito was certainly built under license in Australia. Not sure that the Canberra was. Due to that error, it’s not clear if W/C Gautam flew the Mosquito as well as the Canberra.
    Obviously a gifted pilot, whatever he flew.
    Chris Wheeler

    Chris Wheeler on
  • Thank you Arun and Paul for sharing this wonderful story of Service, achievement and bravery. I will leave Paul to research a Corgi diecast model, and believe that the IAF flew the B(I) 58 which was the export version of the RAF’s (B(I)8 featured in the image above. I have built a plastic model of an IAF B(I) 58 and would be honoured to build a replica of an aircraft that Wg Cdr Guatam flew if Corgi do not make a diecast of an IAF Canberra. I will e-mail an image of my Canberra to Paul in case you would like to see it, Arun. Regards, Andy Kime

    Andy Kime on

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