Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh
Padma Vibhushan, DFC

Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, DFC, was one pilot who grew up in the annals of the air force as the first chief for leading the force into war. He was Chief of Air Staff when the IAF saw action in its first combat of the modern age in 1965. He was hardly 44 years of age when entrusted with the responsibility of leading the Indian Air Force, a responsibility he carried with considerable flamboyance and élan.

Arjan Singh was born on 15 April 1919, in Lyalpur, completing his education at Montgomery. He was still in college in 1938, nineteen years of age when he was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at RAF Cranwell. His first posting on being commissioned was flying Westland Wapiti biplanes in the North Western Frontier Province as a member of the No.1 IAF Squadron. Arjan Singh, flew against the tribal forces, before he was transferred for a brief stint with the Newly formed No.2 IAF Squadron. Later he moved back to No.1 as a Flying Officer, when the Squadron re-equipped with the Hawker Hurricane.

Promoted to Squadron Leader in 1944, Arjan Singh led the Squadron against the Japanese during the Arakan Campaign. flying close support during the crucial Imphal Campaign and later assisting the advance of the allied forces to Rangoon, Burma. For his role in successfully leading the squadron in combat, Arjan Singh received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1944. He was given command of the IAF Display flight flying Hawker Hurricanes after the war which toured India giving demonstrations. On 16 August 1947, he had the unique honour of leading the fly-past of over a hundred IAF aircraft over Delhi, over the red fort.


Promoted Wing Commander, he attended Staff College at UK, and immediately after independence became the AOC, Ambala in the rank of Group Captain. In 1949, promoted to Air Commodore, Arjan Singh took over the Air Officer Commanding of Operational Command, which later came to be known as Western Air Command. Arjan Singh had the distinction of having the longest tenure as the AOC of Operational Command, from 1949-1952 and again from 1957-1961. Promoted to Air Vice Marshal, he was the AOC-in-C of Operational Command. Towards the end of the 1962 war, he was appointed the DCAS and became the VCAS by 1963. He was the overall commander of the joint air training exercises "Shiksha" held between the IAF, RAF and RAAF.

On 1 August 1964, Arjan Singh took over as the Chief of Air Staff in the rank of Air Marshal, which became the pinnacle of this career. Arjan Singh was the first Air Chief who kept flying category till his CAS rank. Having flown over 60 different types of aircraft from Pre-WW-2 era Biplanes to the more contemporary, Gnats and Vampires, he also had flown in transports like the Super Constellation.

Arjan Singh's, testing time came in September 1965, when the subcontinent was plunged into war. When Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam, in which an armoured thrust targeted the vital town of Akhnur, he was summoned into the Defence Minister's office with a request for air support.

With a characteristic non-chalance, he replied " an hour." And true enough, the air force struck the Pakistani offensive in an hour. He led the air Force through the war showing successful leadership and effort. Though at a certain level, mistakes were made and planning could have been better, in all fairness, it must be said that the credit for thwarting Ayub Khan's grandiose plans to capture Kashmir is shared by the Army and the Indian Air Force, and Arjan Singh for leading the air force through the war.

Arjan Singh was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his leadership of the air force, and subsequently in recognition of the air force's contribution in the war, the rank of the CAS was upgraded to that of Air Chief Marshal and Arjan Singh became the first Air Chief Marshal of the Indian Air Force. He retired in August 1969, thereupon accepting ambassador ship to Switzerland. He remained a flyer to the end of his tenure in the IAF, visiting forward squadrons & units and flying with them. Arjan Singh was a source of inspiration to a generation of Indians and Officers.

In recognition of his services, the Government of India conferred the rank of the Marshal of the Air Force onto Arjan Singh in January 2002 making him the first and the only 'Five Star' rank officer with the Indian Air Force.

Air Chief Marshal Dilbagh Singh

Dilbagh Singh was the second Sikh Chief of Air Staff, the Indian Air Force had after Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. Born in Punjab on 10 March 1926, Dilbagh took an interest in flying at a very early age. He joined the IAF in 1944 at the height of World War 2 and was posted to the No.1 Squadron flying Hurricanes at Kohat in 1945.

When the tribal invasion of Kashmir came in October 1947, Dilbagh Singh was actively involved in the operations. He was one of the first to fly operations in a Spitfire from Srinagar. Later on he joined No.10 Winged Daggers Squadron and flew sorties against the raiders in the Hawker Tempest aircraft. For his role in the operations, Dilbagh Singh was Mentioned-in-Despatches. After the Kashmir Operations, he was deputed to attend Flying Instructors training after which Dilbagh Singh was involved in training Afghan Air Force cadets.

Promoted to Squadron Leader in 1954, he assumed the responsibilities of Officer In Charge of Flying at the Ambala Air Base. Command of a Squadron came his way in August 1955, when he took over No.2 Squadron flying Spitfire XVIIIs. Dilbagh did not stay with No.2 Squadron for long, he handed over command in February 1956 and went to France to get trained on the Mystere IV-A fighter. After returning from France, Dilbagh took over as the CO of No.1 Squadron flying the Mystere IV-A at Kalaikunda.

After arriving in India, Dilbagh undertook the first official 'Supersonic Bang' over India in New Delhi when the Mystere IV-A was showcased to the Nation. After four years of operational flying, Dilbagh Singh went to Jamnagar as the Chief Instructor at the Armament Training Wing.


Dilbagh shot into the limelight in late 1962, when he was selected to be trained on the MiG-21F which was being acquired by India from the USSR. He led the first batch of seven 'chosen' pilots and 15 engineers for training at Lugovya, an airbase in Kazakhstan in the erstwhile USSR for training on the MiG-21F fighter.

After undergoing training for five months, the team came back to India to form the core of the first supersonic squadron, No.28 First Supersonics Squadron. Dilbagh Singh raised the unit in Chandigarh with an order of battle of six MiG-21s in early 1963.

In May 1965, Dilbagh handed over the command of No.28 Squadron to Wg. Cdr. M.S.D. Wollen (later Air Marshal) and joined Air Headquarters as Deputy Director (Weapons). He was holding the staff job till the end of the 1965 war with Pakistan, when he took over command of Halwara AFB in the rank of Group Captain. His services were recognised with the award of the Vayu Sena Medal in 1966. More staff appointments followed.


At the outbreak of the 1971 War, Dilbagh Singh was under Central Air Command, as Air Officer Commanding of Lohegaon AFB, near Pune. From his base, No.35 Squadron flying Canberras struck Karachi Oil Tanks and Harbour Installations. Dilbagh's responsibilities included providing facilities to aircraft of the maritime air operations. Dilbagh became the Senior Air Staff Officer in the Western Air Command in 1976 and finally became the Air Officer Commanding in Chief (AOC-in-C) of Western Air Command in 1978. In 1979, He received the Param Vishist Seva Medal for distinguished service.

In 1981, Dilbagh Singh became the Chief of Air Staff, in the rank of Air Chief Marshal. His tenure lasted three years till 1984, in which time the IAF saw the induction of the MiG-25, MiG-23 and the selection of the Mirage 2000. He was also the Commodore Commandant of No.28 Squadron. Dilbagh Singh laid down the office of CAS in 1984, by which time in a career spanning four decades, he had about 5000 hours of flying on different types of aircraft, was decorated by the government for distinguished service thrice

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