Hamid Anwar was born on June 20, 1934. He received his primary education from Lawrence College Ghora Gali, Murree and joined Pakistan Air Force (PAF) as a flight cadet in 1953. He sailed through the initial flying phase on the Harvard with ease, finally earning his wings on February 2, 1954, joining the prestigious No. 9 Squadron as a young fighter pilot. The squadron was equipped with Sea Fury aircraft based at Miramshah and Kohat. He actively participated in the ward and watch missions on the western sector and grew up with the legendary pilots of that time, with the likes of F. S. Hussain and Mitty Masood. With the arrival of latest F-86 aircraft in PAF, he was amongst those who did the conversion course and joined No. 14 Squadron at Mauripur (now Masroor).
Meeting the Legend
I met Wing Commander Hamid Anwar during his visit to Pakistan in 2014 at Lahore, because he had permanently settled in USA after retirement. On my coaxing him to tell me about himself, modest as he was, he said, “I am not a hero as I have not won any gallantry awards for Pakistan. Why interview me?”, leaving me speechless. I tactfully broached the subject of his stints with five different air forces and that too, flying their aerobatic teams, a unique honor for any pilot. He is the only one in the history of air forces who has earned such a unique feat. Meeting him was a treat from a military biographer’s point of view and it seemed like I was living in an endless time zone. The time I spent with a legend and someone who can truly be termed as one of the finest artisans in his trade, the formation aerobatics and air combats, I consider it an honor to have met and talked at length with a legendary, the one and only, Hamid Anwar.
His Distinguished Career with Five Air Forces
Wing Commander Hamid Anwar has the distinction and may perhaps be the only one in the world who had the opportunity to fly with five different air forces that includes PAF, Royal Air Force (RAF), United States Air Force (USAF), Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) and Abu Dhabi Air Force (ADAF). Besides that distinction, he has been a member of the following formation aerobatics teams:
▪ PAF Sea Furies of No. 9 Squadron at Peshawar 1956 as number 2 of a 4 aircraft team.
▪ PAF–‘The Falcons’–F-86 Sabre team at Mauripur in 1958, as the number 4 of a 16 aircraft team. A display was held in the honor of Zahir Shah of Afghanistan. Hamid Anwar was the proud member of the famous Falcon team, formed under the legendary Mitty Masood. In 1958, the team was tasked by the then Air Chief, A.M. Asghar Khan to prepare for a spectacular air show in the honor of visiting Afghan king, Zahir Shah and other foreign dignitaries. The star-studded team comprised legendary pilots of that time who later proved their worth in the two wars Pakistan later fought with India.
The team created world record on the morning of February 2, 1958 at Mauripur. While performing formation aerobatics with 16 aircraft, the team pulled up a loop, thus making aviation history. It was the first-ever spectacular achievement by a nascent commonwealth air force like PAF. Since PAF, Wing Commander Hamid Anwar flew for the following air force:
▪ RAF. He flew in two aerobatic teams, first with ‘Black Arrows’, flying the Hunters. In the second stint, he was a part of Blue Diamonds RAF national aerobatics team in 1961. He flew as No. 14 of a 16 aircraft formation aerobatic team. He also took part in displays at Farnborough and other cities in the United Kingdom and all North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries on their national days. That included a display in Greece for King Constantine, in Tehran for Reza Shah Pahlavi of lran, Norway, Cyprus and Malta. This was the first time in the history of RAF that they allowed a foreigner to fly in their national aerobatics team and that too, a pilot from one of the former British colonies. ▪ RJAF ‘Hashemite Diamonds RJAF’ – Hawker Hunter Team. He was the leader of a team of 9 aircraft in 1964 and 1965 for His Majesty (late) King Hussein I of Jordan. His Majesty had suggested a team of 4 aircraft while he suggested 9, which His Majesty considered impossible given the constraints of time and limited qualified pilots. His Majesty was amazed when the team carried out formation aerobatics with 9 aircraft formed in just eleven days out of 18 inexperienced pilots. His Majesty felt very proud of his Air Force’s achievements.
▪ ADAF-Mirage V, 1976. He flew with ADAF as the team leader of the unofficial aerobatics team of 4 aircraft at Abu Dhabi. He led the team for a brief period before ADAF decided to discontinue the formation aerobatics in their air force.
His Early Memories of PAF
About his early days with PAF, he fondly remembers flying with Air Commodore M.M. Alam, who he considers one of the finest fighter pilots PAF ever had. Together with him, they used to devise new techniques of air combat and practice them. He mentioned that Khalil Ramday, a jurist, once came to lecture the PAF officers about legal matters, and narrated that when he asked M.M. Alam about whom he considered to be a better pilot, M.M. Alam’s response was that he considered Hamid Anwar better than him. He added that before the outbreak of the war, it was widely discussed among the fighter pilots of PAF how to outgun IAF’s Hunter while flying a Sabre? It was M.M. Alam who came up with amazing idea and said we can do it and he showed PAF how exactly it could be done. On September 7, 1965, M.M. Alam went up and shot down 5 aircraft and the morale of PAF went up. He further said that, had M.M. Alam not achieved this feat, PAF would have lost the war in the air. That guy showed PAF what we could do with the Sabre.
In praise of A.M. Asghar Khan, he said, “what a man Asghar Khan was. He gave a fully trained PAF and presented it to Nur Khan just in time before the Indo-Pak War of 1965 and who lent it a professional manner.” He also had a lot of praise for F.S. Hussain and said, “He was perhaps one of the finest pilots of PAF”.
Stint with RAF
From 1960 to 1962, Hamid Anwar (nicknamed ‘Hary’ by the RAF pilots) was in the RAF as a Pakistani pilot on exchange posting. During this time, he was part of the ‘Black Arrows’ aerobatic team that was comprised of 16 Hunters. It was the famous 111 Squadron of the RAF. The squadron was later disbanded and renamed as 92 Squadron. That was to become the new formation aerobatic team called the ‘Blue Diamonds’ of 92 Squadron. Being part of that team, he flew all across Europe and NATO countries with the Pakistani flag on his tail. One day, he was in Greece on a demonstration flying visit and was approached by a visitor, who enquired as to where he was from. When he told them that he was a Pakistani, they were amazed and said how could a Pakistani enter the elite aerobatic team of an international stature.
Initially, the British pilots did not talk to Hamid Anwar. One day, the Officer Commanding of his squadron came to him and asked his flight commander to schedule Anwar for an air combat mission with him. He was considered to be the top pilot of the RAF station and everyone regarded him with respect. They went up in the skies and came back. Anwar, as the junior pilot, asked the commander for the debrief of the mission to which he replied, “no debrief”. They went up three times in the coming days. When they landed after the last mission he admitted in front of the entire base that Anwar was a far better fighter pilot than him. This episode brought Anwar into the limelight, and he later earned unprecedented respect from his fellow pilots of RAF.
He mentioned that they have periodic reunions of 92 Squadron and he goes to attend those in the UK. At one of the reunions, he was discussing the old days with an Australian Pilot whom he asked, who was the best pilot he flew with, to which the Australian responded that it was him.
He remembered that the day he was leaving the RAF, he called on the station commander. While discussing various aspects of flying, he asked him why he kept the nose of the aircraft while landing. To that, Wing Commander Hamid replied that the PAF trained him to do that and it was called ‘Air Braking’. The station commander was amazed, as he did not have any clue about this concept. Later, Wing Commander Hamid explained that this technique was used to ensure smooth landings and also helps in saving on the wear and tear of brakes and tyres. To this reply, the station commander was flabbergasted and acknowledged that Anwar’s professionalism was far ahead of times.
Blue Diamond Reunion. In 2005, a reunion ceremony, in the honor of ex-Blue Diamond’s aerobatic team members was held in the UK. Several ex-Blue Diamonds were present at the ceremony. The veteran Hamid Anwar was also one of the invitees where he was honored with a souvenir and a framed picture of the Blue Diamonds aerobatic team performing overhead Farnborough in 1961.
Stint with RJAF
After leaving PAF, Wing Commander Hamid had applied for jobs to different air forces and one of the calls he got was from RJAF. When he joined RJAF, the pilots were initially indifferent towards him. They did not appreciate that a Pakistani had come to train them. One of them was Colonel Saleh El Kurdi, who later became the Chief of the Jordanian Air Force. One day, he asked them who was their best pilot, to which Captain Nasri raised his hand; Anwar told him to join him in the air combat. He said that when they flew, he was so close to the cockpit that Captain Nasri got scared, and eventually waggled his wings to call off the mission. After landing, Captain Nasri could not come out of the plane out of respect and fear of him aborting the mission against Hamid Anwar. Then there was no looking back. He went on to train them in a manner that they became the best in the Arab world.
Anwar mentioned that one day, King Hussain called him up and said that Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, the First Vice President of Egypt, was coming and a grand finale had to be prepared in his honor. Hamid Anwar trained his pilots for days and got the maximum output. On the final day, he came up with a novel idea of filling the 10 ft x 10 ft targets with birthday balloons. This created a lot of interest in the audience. Once the targets were engaged, it made a great impact and produced lot of noise. Two of his student pilots made the sonic boom. This was followed up by a napalm run with enviable accuracy. Then there were huts put up as targets and those were engaged with precision as well. After the demonstration, the Field Marshal was speechless. He asked King Hussain if those were British pilots, to which the King responded that they were all Jordanian Pilots. He couldn’t believe that and asked King Hussain that he would like to meet all of them after the demonstration. The proud King Hussain then introduced Hamid Anwar to the Field Marshal and told him that he was the main man behind the training of Jordanian pilots. After the show, the Field Marshal presented him with a titanium wrist watch for putting up an excellent show.
One day, King Hussain asked Wing Commander Hamid Anwar if he could make a formation aerobatic team for RJAF. On that Wing Commander Hamid asked the King as to how many planes does the Israeli Aerobatic team has. The King replied ‘eight’ and Wing Commander Hamid responded by saying he will raise a team of nine aircraft. The Jordanian Air Force had a total of 28 to 29 aircraft and 18 pilots, out of which he had to train and select eight for the team. He pledged to the king that the team would be up in the skies in 11 days. Anwar worked day in and day out raising the team and training the pilots to a level that they became proficient in aerobatics.
Finally, his pledge was honored on October 19, 1964 when the Hashemite Diamond aerobatics team comprising nine Hunter aircraft took off for the first time in a practice mission in the Jordanian skies. Anwar presented their first show in front of King Hussein and members of the Royal Family on November 4 at Mafraq. On November 14, they performed two shows over Amman and Zerqa to celebrate the King’s birthday. Then there was no looking back. The team performed all across Jordan and became the first and only nine aircraft aerobatic team of the Middle East.
Dogfight with the Israeli Air Force
It was in December 1964. Wing Commander Hamid was having lunch when he heard that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets were heading towards the area north of the Dead Sea. He scrambled two pairs of jets. These aircraft shot one down and damaged another. The King, who was visiting the UK at that time, sent him a telegram, congratulating him on the historic feat. This was the first time in the history of the Arab world that a Jordanian had shot down an Israeli jet in air combat.
Recovery of a Hunter
One day, Wing Commander Hamid learnt that a Jordanian pilot had crash-landed in the desert close to the Saudi border. RJAF asked Anwar if the aircraft could be recovered. He went on a recce and discovered a dry lake at some distance. With great difficulty, he managed to take the Hunter to the edge of the dry lake. After getting the plane cleaned up and maintained, he got it refueled and decided to attempt a takeoff from the desert. Considering chances, he concluded that he would have to get the nose of the aircraft up immediately after takeoff. To do that, he got the plane defueled and also deflated the tyres from their standard 150 PSI to the minimum so as to get maximum traction from the wheels. Keeping faith in Allah, he opened power and the aircraft started to roll. By the time he hit the middle of the lake, he realized his speed was stuck to 80 knots and the aircraft was not getting airborne. For a moment, he knew he had to eject, but suddenly an idea struck his mind. He instinctively pushed the stick forward and suddenly, the nose went up and after a few bumps, the aircraft was finally up, with yards remaining from the end of dry lake. It was like a miracle. The spectacle was watched by the RJAF and the local bedouins. Proud Anwar flew the plane back to Mafraq Air Base, making yet another record with RJAF.
Indo-Pak War 1965
When the Indo-Pak War broke out in 1965, he immediately reported back to PAF. Although he joined in the closing days of the war, he flew a large number of air defense and close support missions.
Booklet on Aerobatics
Since no booklet on the art of forming a formation aerobatics team has ever been written by any air force, Hamid Anwar had the distinction and honor when he was asked by the officers of the Air Academy at PAF Risalpur during his visit to the Academy in 2005, to write down his experiences in this sphere. That booklet became a pocket book treasure of every fighter pilot not only in PAF, but the air forces of the world, particularly those of Pakistan, Jordan and Abu Dhabi.
Wing Commander Hamid Anwar’s Meeting with General Weizman
General Weizman was the Commander in Chief of IAF when the famous dogfight between IAF and RJAF took place in December 1964. Later, upon becoming the seventh president of Israel, General Weizman received a congratulatory note by the very pilot whose formation shot down the two IAF jets–Wing Commander Hamid Anwar. The General, in response, invited Wing Commander Hamid Anwar for a meeting, which took place in 2003 (Invitation appended below).
The writer is a military historian and biographer.
E-mail: [email protected]
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