By Ronald D’Costa
Not many people know that the airfield in Jamshedpur was originally a horse racing ground in Sonari, overlooking the Dalma hills, on the road to “river’s meet”. This was later converted into an emergency landing strip to facilitate the travel of dignitaries like like Viceroys, Governors and Rajas to Jamshedpur before the Tatas even owned a plane. It was also used as a technical halt for the historic Calcutta to Bombay experimental flight in 1934. The “T” shaped landing ground was expanded from 550 yards to 1000 yards which would enable “even a KLM or Imperial Airmail liner to land”.
Aviation was always an area of special interest to the Tatas and this airfield proved to be the ideal landing ground for the nascent aviation movement.
Acquisition of the first Aeroplane in Jamshedpur
In local legend, a Scottish engineer requested the Board of Directors of TISCO to acquire a small plane. He offered to fund half the cost as he had to travel regularly on dusty roads to the collieries. Considering this a reasonable request since a landing field already existed, Jehangir Ghandy (not yet ‘Sir’), Assistant General Manager, decided that the company would fund the entire cost. And thus began the exciting and colourful history of aviation in Jamshedpur. The aircraft was to be one with a larger capacity than the Puss Moth.
The Leopard Moth – VT-AHA, 1936
TISCO’s historic aviation journey began with the British made De Havilland “Leopard Moth” monoplane. It was delivered on the 22nd of April, 1936, from the UK. Equipped with a 130 H.P. engine, this three-seater aircraft cruised comfortably at 100 MPH. The pilot’s seat is centred in front and the two passenger seats side by side behind. The wings can be folded for the hangarage. Two days later, on the 24th of April, Mr. Ghandy made the 7½ hour flight to Bombay and returned on the 27th of April. He found that this new acquisition was time saving and convenient for the officers to regularly visit the nearby collieries.
The Waco – 5 seater Bi-plane
Very soon TISCO’s aviation needs expanded. They now needed a larger aircraft than the Leopard Moth. By 1938, TISCO added the American ‘Waco’ – a five seater Bi-plane to its assets. Fitted with a Jacob’s Radial 285 BHP engine, it cruised at 140 MPH. This served the purpose into the early 50s. Travel for dignitaries to Jamshedpur was more convenient.
Information & Pictures:
Merlyn F. Anklesaria
CFE &Tata Steel Archives