Sanjeev V Sardesai
Now that we have traversed and partly perused through the local history of Vasco and Mormugao, let us now take a look at the areas of educational entertainment that we can visit in the South Goa. In Vasco the closest and the best choice is the Naval Aviation Museum in Bogmalo.
Aircrafts have always been a fascination for not only children, but adults too. We are aware of the Dabolim Airport and the many flights that land and take off from there, though this airport is under the control of the Indian Navy as defence installation. In the early 1980’s, there were barely 4 to 5 commercial flights landing here in a day’s time. This airstrip has seen many a flight of the Portuguese Passenger Airlines, landing and taking off at an aerodrome and has survived and developed into a modern highly sophisticated airport catering to the supersonic jets.
When it was constructed, it was meant for Portuguese military aircrafts and later the TAIP and TAP Passenger planes. During liberation, on December 18, 1961 at around 11 a.m., the Indian Air Force bombers led by a Goan air vice marshall Eric Wilmot Pinto took off from the Sambra Airport near Belgaum and dropped almost 63,000 pounds of bombs on its runway. Their mission was to put the runway out of action, without damaging any other property. There were two Portuguese passenger planes on the ground, the last two to take off from Portuguese Goan soil. When the Portuguese soldiers temporarily patched the runway, the planes took off for Karachi enroute to Portugal with passengers. It is said that these planes was intercepted by the IAF before crossing the Indian border but were allowed to proceed after the pilots informed that they were carrying only women and children.
Then onwards, this runway and airport has seen the fighter aircrafts of the Indian Navy land and take off on many occasions. In the 1973 Indo-Pak War, there was a scare that the Dabolim Airport was on the enemy target. At that time there used to be blackouts in the Goan region wherein no one was allowed to put on any type of illumination in their residences, except with windows closed. Vehicles had to paint their headlights black and leave a small one inch circle for penetration of light. Though it was rumoured, that Pakistani planes were chased off over the sea when they tried to attack, nothing untoward happened.
Dabolim Airport was also the main base for mentoring the planes that operated from on-board India’s, now decommissioned, aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. The initial aircrafts on board the INS Vikrant were Alize Torpedo Bombers and Sea Hawks. Later these planes gave way to the Kiran Aircrafts, which then made way for the highly sophisticated vertical and short take-off and landing (V/STOL) aircraft known as Sea Harrier in December 1983. These were bought from the Royal Navy, UK and are also called ‘Carrier Borne Jump Jets’, since they could land and take off, from a moving aircraft carrier, at sea.
The Sea Harriers were inducted in the IN Air Squadron 300, aptly named ‘White Tigers’. The planes were a treat to watch, as they zoomed over Dabolim, making ear piercing sounds, and then would suddenly stop and hover over one place, to slowly land. So also, the high pitched squealing noise, of its jets revving up, told the world that it was taking off – vertically. Many domestic air travellers during the mid 1980’s were treated to a spectacular show of these aircrafts in practice, as most of the passenger flights, were habitually delayed.
The Indian Navy decommissioned the Sea Harrier from May 11, 2016 and introduced the supersonic jet fighter MIG 29K. This sleek flying machine is the nemesis of the enemy.
You can see and touch these aircraft at leisure while driving towards the scintillating Bogmalo Beach. On the way towards your right you see the Naval Aviation Museum board displayed prominently. This is a military museum telling us the history of the naval aviation in Indian Navy. Inaugurated on October 12, 1998 with just six aircrafts, it now has grown into a museum that has more than 13 different kinds of aircrafts.
This museum is open on all days except Mondays and is accessible from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a very minimal fee to enter here and you can capture good memories with your camera at a small charge.
This museum is a delight especially to children as there are actual aircrafts kept on display. You can see the Alize, the twin tailed Dakota, Kiran Aircraft, a Sea Harrier and a huge Lockheed Super Constellation Aircraft. Among the helicopters, you can see the Chetak Helicopter, as well as the powerful, twin rotor, Russian Kamov Ka-25 helicopter.
You can also see an aircraft called “Short Sealand” – the only of its kind in India and one of the three such aircrafts in the world. They were phased out in 1965. Another craft is the sole surviving plane model in India, called “Fairey Firefly” – a British era WWII carrier borne plane, used by the British as a bomber and an anti-submarine aircraft and was acquired in India for target towing practice around May 1955.
The three Indian carrier borne aircrafts displayed here are the single propeller Breguet Alize – the earliest anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft to be inducted in 1961; the Hawker Sea Hawk – a fighter plane, and the “Sea Harrier”.
The main attraction among the outdoor exhibits is the huge, four-propeller “Lockheed Super Constellation”. The journey of this plane starts in 1955, as a passenger plane with Air India, then called “Rani of Ellora”. It was only later that it was transferred to the Indian Air Force; and in 1976, made its way to the Naval Air Arm, to be finally retired in 1983.
This is just the outer display area. The Naval Aviation Museum also has 2-storeyed indoor, display galleries. Some of the artefacts and instruments used in flying and warfare displayed here, take your breath away. The naval history gallery, or the Hall of Honour, displays the crests of many of their wings and ships. You can see a huge model of aircraft carriers INS Vikrant and INS Viraat, as well as miniature models of various aircrafts; while the display panels alongside informs you of their brave history.
In the ‘Armaments Section’, you can even see the torpedoes, missiles, canons and bombs used by the navy in the defence of the country. A parachute is displayed along with survival kits and another gallery displays various uniforms worn by the navy personnel and officers. The first floor also has an audio-visual room that is used to show documentaries on the naval exercises and their various wings.
The best thing to see is – the time capsule. Just outside and to the right of the indoor section of the museum is a small masonry structure with a plaque. It reads ‘Time Capsule – Naval Aviation Museum, implanted on October 12, 1998 by ‘Pasha’ VADM Vinod Pasricha FOCINC East and R Pavamana w/o Late Cdr. R. Pavamana – A Naval Aviation Pioneer. To be opened on October 12 2048.’ Look forward to the date of opening of this time capsule, which will the generation ahead about the past – 50 years ago!