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 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.
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 British-built English Electric Canberra bomber that he flew for most of his career.
The Beauty of the Canberra
In 1961, while flying the Canberra with the UN Mission in Congo, he was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal for Gallantry as Flight Fieutenant.
In the 1965 war, while commanding the Jet Bomber Conversion Unit (JBCU) Canberra's as a squadron leader he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for Gallantry.
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 Maha Vir Chakra for Gallantry on both the eastern and western sectors, 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 Canberra Plane
The English Electric Canberra twin engined medium jet bomber built by the English Electric Company - just over a year after India achieved its independence from Britain's colonial rule. Interestingly its designer was no less than the legendary Teddy Petter who went on to deisgn the Folland Gnat Fighter that previously proved to be high successful in combat when used by the Indian Air Force.
The 16 squadron with a distinguished visitor (NOTE the scale model!)
On 25 November 1972, he took off on a Mig–21 FL aircraft, however immediately after take-off, the engine of the aircraft flamed out 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.
It is said that he told the Control Tower that "I am coming in to land" knowing fully well that he was going to crash. A school situated close to the Air Force Station still commemorates that day in his memory as he is believed to have guided the stricken aircraft away from an impending impact with it.
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 Britain's English Electric Canberra B(I)8/58 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: https://www.chestermodelcentre.com/collections/military-aircraft
FOOT NOTE :
- 1961 - UN MISSION - Congo - The Vishist Seva Medal (for Combat Ops)
- 1965 - Indo Pak War - As the CO of the JCBU ( JET CONVERSION BOMBER UNIT ) - The Maha Vir Chakra
- 1971 - Indo Pak War - As the CO of the Black Cobras 16 Sqn - On the Western and Eastern Sectors - Bar to the Maha Vir Chakra
- To date he is the most decorated ( for Gallantry ) pilot of the Indian Air Force. His two brothers and he are to date the Most Decorated Family of the IAF ( between the 3 Padmanabha Brothers - 2 MVCs and 6 VMs ).
- The Indian equivalent of the Victoria Cross is the Param Vir Chakra which went to a Folland Gnat Pilot ( K I A ) Flg Offr Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, the only IAF personnel to get the PVC.