Dr Kota Harinarayana who was driving force behind the development of India’s indigenous light combat aircraft was once asked: ” Why Do You want to have another Suranjan Das Road in Bangalore? “.

Kota once said there wasn’t a day when this team member of LCA-Tejas in its initial days was not reminded of Group Captain Suranjan Das and why LCA-Tejas program was suspectable to same mistakes which lead to the death of India’s foremost Test Pilot Group Captain Suranjan Das who was killed in a fatal crash of HF-24 Mk 1R Prototype.

Making of a Legend

Suranjan Das was born on 22nd February 1920 in Calcutta who has a teenager had developed a special passion for flying and aeromodelling. But due to pressure from its Parents, he joined an engineering college but left midway when World War II broke out and was recruited as a trainee pilot for the Royal Indian Air Force while he continued facing opposition from his parents.

Soon after India’s Independence he saw action in 1948 Kashmir War and was go to man in Indian Air Force in solving technical snags and carry out trials of problematic fighter jets after repairs. His skills did not go unnoticed and when HAL started working on Hindustan Trainer-2 (HT-2) he was selected to be trained as test pilots in Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) in the UK.

Suranjan Das was among first two Pilots who returned back to India to fly many prototype aircraft. Between the 50s to 70s, He was associated with many Indigenous projects and was first to fly Hindustan Trainer-2 (HT-2), HJT-16 (Kiran) and HF-24 aircraft.

Suranjan Das contributed significantly to the development of indigenous aircraft after Independence and was considered one of the foremost aviators of his time and much-respected among Test Pilots around the world.

Marut Program

Taxi trials of the first prototype of HF-24 begin in February of 1961 but first flight was delayed due to an alleged runaway accident. HF-24 while attempting first High-Speed Mock take off trials but due to a delayed aborted takeoff skids into overshoot area leading to minor damages to skin panels which were quickly repaired. On 17th June 1961, HF-24 was airborne with Group Captain (then Wing Commander) Suranjan Das in controls, while official maiden flight with much fanfare took place a week later with several Airforce officials and VIPs in attendance.

Fatal Crash

On 10 January 1970 at age 48, Group Captain Suranjan Das was already promoted to Non-Flying level and just when it seemed his Test Piloting days were over, he was tasked to fly a prototype of HF-24 Marut Mk 1(R) which had Clam type canopy which was different from sliding type canopy which went into production variants of HF-24 inducted into Indian Air Force .

Clam type canopy swung open midway just after takeoff in flight leading to considerable drag, Suranjan Das tried ejecting but due to canopy still hinged he could not carry out an ejection unless complete canopy flew off, after several attempts to get rid of the canopy which didn’t happen and failure of reheat mode on right engine made it critical for the pilot to try emergency landing back to the base .

Suranjan Das made a perfect emergency landing but he overshoots the runway and landed the aircraft into a ditch leading to serious injuries to the Das who was pulled out prosperously bleeding from the cockpit and he never made it to the Hospital alive. Suranjan Das was awarded the Padma Vibhushan posthumously later in the same year. Later a 4.1-km stretch connecting HAL and Old Madras Road was renamed as Suranjan Das Road.

Group Captain Suranjan Das should be forever remembered as a great test pilot who lived and died at the forefront of Indian aviation projects and not as a deterrent to never venture into indigenous Aerospace developmental projects. Das is a stark reminder of the dangers of Aerospace developmental projects in the country but without risks, they can’t be gains and if India really wants to achieve self-sufficiency in Aerospace then it should be ready to make more sacrifices for the country.

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