Service No: 4102 GD(P)
Birth Place: Chindwara(MP)
Date of Birth: May 19,1930
Service: Air Force
Last Rank: Flight Lieutenant
UNIT: 23 Sqn AF
Award : Kirti Chakra
Date of Martyrdom : Nov 09, 1960
Flt Lt Raj Kumar Mehta was born on 19th May 1930 in Chindwara district of Madhya Pradesh. Son of Shri Sant Ram Mehta and Smt Hukum Devi, Flt Lt Raj Kumar was the youngest male child among eleven siblings. He followed his dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the Air Force and joined NDA after his schooling. He was very happy when he got selected for the fighter stream in the Air Force and went on to do his initial flying training after passing out of NDA.
Flt Lt Mehta after his initial flying training was posted to various Air Force bases and gained experience in flying different types of aircraft. Later he got posted to the prestigious No. 23 Squadron, also known as the ‘Panthers’. It was the first squadron of the air force to have the Folland Gnat, a new jet of that era. Flt Lt Mehta also functioned as an instructor at FTW (Fighter Training Wing) a role given to only highly competent pilots. He held the high rating of a category A2 QFI (Qualified Flying Instructor) and an IRE (Instrument Rating Examiner) who could certify other pilots’ ability to fly without visual aid. By 1960, Flt Lt Mehta had already completed over 08 years of service in the Air Force and evolved into a professionally competent pilot having expertise in various types of air operations. During 1960, he was serving with 23 Sqn, operating Gnat fighter aircraft.
Air Operation : 09 Nov 1960
On 09 Nov 1960, Flt Lt Mehta was detailed for an operational sortie as part of his operational task. Flt Lt Mehta had carried out various missions on Gnat aircraft and had developed good understanding of the operational capabilities of the aircraft. He took off in his aircraft and completed the operational task as per the flying plan and headed to the base for landing. However while landing the aircraft on the Palam Airfield had a bird hit and the engine flamed out. Gnat being a single engine aircraft lost its engine power and was in no way controllable. Flt Lt Mehta assessed the situation and decided to use his flying skills to land the aircraft instead of abandoning it. It was a very risky decision but he, as a committed soldier decided to save the aircraft by putting his own life in danger.
However as the aircraft was at a low level, Flt Lt Mehta could not succeed despite his heroic efforts and ejected. Probably as the aircraft was hurtling down uncontrollably it had imparted an unfavorable trajectory at the exact moment of ejection. Also the crucial delay in ejection meant that it was at too low an altitude for his parachute to deploy. Injuries from the free fall, compounded by the failure of the seat to separate proved fatal for him. His intent seemed to have aligned with his squadron motto of Amritam Abhayam (In Sanskrit, Immortal and Fearless). Flt Lt Mehta showed exceptional courage and devotion to duty in his selfless act at the cost of his own life. Flt Lt Mehta was given the nation’s second highest peace time gallantry award “Kirti Chakra” for his rare example of self sacrifice and extreme devotion to duty.
The Citation for the Kirti Chakra Awarded to him reads:-
On 9th November, 1960, Flt Lt RK Mehta was detailed to fly a Gnat aircraft. While coming in to land at Palam airfield his engine flamed out due to a bird entering the intake. Though the engine had flamed out at a low height, Flt Lt Mehta did not abandon the aircraft but proceeded to attempt a landing fully aware of the risk to his life. He was not, however, able to make a safe landing and died instantaneously as a result of belated ejection.
Flt Lt Mehta was an experienced pilot and he was fully familiar with the Gnat aircraft. He faced the emergency with a remarkable degree of calmness and courage and did not even spare his life in his attempt to save his valuable aircraft. This selfless act of Flt Lt Mehta, his devotion to duty and personal courage were in the highest traditions of the Air Force.
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