Air Marshal PM Ramachandran (4973) F(P) PVSM AVSM SC VM took his last flight on 06 May 2021
What does one say when one loses a father figure, a revered boss, guide, mentor, and a very dear friend. Air Marshal Palamadai Muthuswamy Ramachandran was all of that. In his long and illustrious career, he rose to the very top of the operations branch of the IAF and retired in a blaze of glory as Vice Chief of the IAF. I have yet to come across a person who has anything but wholehearted praise for him.
Along the way, he did the No 4 PAI Course in June 1959, the Experimental Test Pilot Course at Farnborough in 1962, the 25 DSSC course at Staff College Wellington in 1969, and the 27 NDC course in 1987. For exceptional bravery during the 1962 Goa operations, he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra and the Vayu Sena Medal. The Ati Vashist Seva, and Param Vashisht Seva Medals followed in succession in due course, as recognition and tribute to his dedicated and illustrious service.
Unlike a very large number of my younger colleagues who cut their teeth under his guidance on the MiG-21 in 28 Squadron, I ran into “Ramu”, as he was known (and loved to be called) when I was doing the Test Pilot’s course in 1982. He was in INAS Integration Organisation (IIO), Bangalore guiding the project DARIN on the Jaguar. In October 1982, he took over as Commandant of ASTE, and the following month, I graduated and the very next day I took over as project pilot of project DARIN.
Our association grew from then on. To say “what he did not know about DARIN was not worth knowing” would be an understatement. I spent countless hours with him whilst he patiently explained the philosophy, logic, and architecture of the project to me. Without this deep knowledge, I would have been all at sea. I owe it all to him. As flight testing progressed, he devoted a huge amount of his time to guide me and the project on the correct path. Without his guidance and some crucial inputs, we would have been floundering.
His involvement in the project was complete, and I remember a large number of incidents where he was actively involved, but, I will recount only two.
When the first bomb was to be dropped, he insisted on going as the Range Safety Officer (RSO). So armed with an R/T set and a set of flags and a tape to measure the distances he set off, and happily did what he had to do. We were both very happy at the outcome of the first sortie. On another occasion, when newly designed metal drop tanks had to undergo jettison trials at Kolar airfield, he once again wanted to go as the RSO. So he accompanied by the Chief Test Pilot (Philip Rajkumar) and for some unknown reason the SASO Training Command (Air Marshal “Gabbu” Sen), took a helicopter and went to Kolar. I jettisoned the drop tank, and the tank (reportedly) did a loop around me and fell outside the perimeter fence. The chase airplane peeled off, the ground party comprising the SASO, Commandant, and the CTP were last seen hauling the drop tank from outside to inside the fence. On his return, he told me “You have all the fun and leave us to do the dirty work”.
As time went by we did keep in touch and my last meeting with him was in Chennai at his son, Ganapathy (Guns), wedding. Sadly, soon thereafter, Mrs. Ramachandran (Lakshmi) passed away in July last year. I was in regular touch with Guns and we were kind of expecting the end. However, it is heartbreaking when it does happen.
He led a full life and played a champions innings all through. He is there in VALHALLA with his buddies, and I can visualize him with his inimitable smile and an amazing sense of humour. All I can say is go in peace Ramu and wait for the rest of your buddies to catch up.
Group Captain Ajit Agtey VM (IAF, Retd)