Sunday, August 3, 2008
Maharaja Harinder Singh Brar of Faridkot imported the Gemini M65 aircraft for his personal flights. Now the flying machine has turned into junk and lies in a hangar on the outskirts of the town, writes S. P. Sharma
It was a marvel when 60 years ago maharaja Harinder Singh Brar imported the Gemini M65 aircraft for his personal flights. But now the flying machine has turned into junk in a hangar on the outskirts of Faridkot. The sliding doors of the hangar spread over an area of 6 kanals are completely jammed as these have not been opened for the past several years. Pieces of the aircraft are lying scattered around.
The airport was constructed over an area of 176.4 acres in 1939. However, it was abandoned sometime in 1960s and the fair-weather runway is now covered with wild shrubs and elephant grass .
According to records of civil aviation, the aircraft, bearing serial number 6531, was brought to India in April, 1948, and the last certificate of airworthiness was issued on November 27, 1991. It was deregistered from the Indian civil aircraft register on December 1, 2005.
Another aircraft, Fairchild 23, which was also owned by the maharaja, is among the 325 listed vintage military and civilian aircraft. Skeletons of two aircraft lie in the hangar.
Chanan Singh, chowkidar of the 'jahaz ground,' says that the keys of the hangar were untraceable, as Joginder Singh, in whose possession these were lying, had died some time ago. No one from the maharaja's clan has visited the place during the past few years and the princely properties are being looked after by a trust.
Old-timers say that Dakotas and chartered flights used to land here, but it remained unoperational during rains. They claim that the maharaja owned five to seven aircraft but had disposed of some of them.
Records indicate that the maharaja also owned a Percival Proctor-VT and a Stinson L-5 Sentinel VT.
The amount of junk in the hangar indicates that it was of more than that of one aircraft, but no one was in a position to give the exact details of other flying machines owned by the maharaja.
Colonel (retd) Balbir Singh, a functionary of the trust, said that it was being planned to take the two aircraft out of the hangar and keep these in the museum in the fort so that the people could see them.
The abandoned airfield is now all set to get a new lease of life as the Punjab Government plans to start a pilots' training institute of high standard here.
The Deputy Commissioner, Fairdkot, V.K.Meena, says: "We have identified over 103 acres of land of the airfield for setting up the institute. The process will be hassle free as the airfield already stands cleared by the defence authorities, and as such papers are now being sent to the Civil Aviation Department
Sources say it might not be an easy task for the government to go ahead with setting up the institute because of legal hurdles it might face as the Maharaval Khewaji Trust had obtained a stay from the court against the government taking over surplus land owned by the erstwhile maharaja.