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Panther Red One: Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot

by Air Marshal S. Raghavendran, Amazon Kindle Books, 2012, $2.99.

There are many reasons for buying this absolutely fantastic book, but here are the three most important: (1) It gives a vivid picture of the Indian Air Force—a possible future U.S. ally—from its inception to maturity. Air Marshal S. Raghavendran flew 3,000 hours, fought in two wars and was a pilot’s pilot. (2) It provides a positive view of Indian culture, as the air marshal recalls his life from a young Brahmin lad to cadet to officer to commander. (3) It proves beyond a doubt the value and tremendous future of e-books. A conventional publisher would never have released this book in its present form. As it is, you can accept certain idiosyncrasies in format and get insights that you would otherwise have missed. An aircraft purist might want to start with Part III, where the flying begins, but I recommend you begin with page one, and guarantee you’ll hate to put your Kindle down until you are finished.

Chronicling his days of flying everything from de Havilland Tiger Moths to Folland Gnats, Raghavendran portrays the startling growth of the Indian Air Force. Readers will quickly appreciate that he is a true pilot and a great leader, a natural athlete as well as a thinker who accepted the inevitable deficiencies in a “start-up” air force and turned them to his nation’s advantage.

The title, which derives from Raghavendran’s call-sign when he was flying Gnats against Sabres in the 1965 war with Pakistan, is particularly apt. Veteran fliers will recognize in the air marshal all the traits of a great military pilot—aggressiveness, knowledge of his aircraft, loyalty to his unit and the courage to always take the fight to the enemy. The Indian Air Force made great demands upon Raghavendran, but he rose to the occasion every time.


Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.