• By: Ibn-e Taha

Israeli commander of Air Force Ezer Wiseman who later served as Defense Minister and President of Israel wrote about Pakistani Pilot Noor Khan (Later Commander-in-Chief of PAF) in his autobiography, “I was glad he was a Pakistani pilot and not an Egyptian”.

Pakistan Air Force enjoys the honor of shooting down Israeli pilots while flying shoulder to shoulder with Arab brethren during the wars of 1967 and 1973-74. Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Saif-ul-Azam shot four Israel Air Force (IAF) aircraft, Flt Lt Hatif (Later Vice Chief of the Air Staff) shot an Israeli F-4 Phantom and Flt Lt Abdus Sattar Alvi shot an Israeli Mirage III on 26 April, 1974. Interestingly, none of the Pakistani pilots could be shot by Israelis, showing the supremacy of Pakistani pilots over Israelis.

Abdus Sattar Alvi retired as an Air Commodore and lives peacefully in Pakistan. It was a great honor to spend a pleasant evening with him. Alvi recalled that at the start of Arab-Israel war in 1973 Ramadan every Muslim was concerned. Flight Lieutenant Abdus Sattar Alvi was amongst the batch of PAF pilots who volunteered to be in ranks with Syrian brothers.

Alvi recalled the Peshawar-Karachi- Baghdad bound flight to Syria. The journey ended up in Damascus. The Pakistani pilots immediately got currency (being acquainted) to Mig 21 aircraft in use with the Syrian Air Force. The Pakistani pilots were deployed at the Alpha detachment of No 67 Squadron, commanded by Squadron leader Arif Manzoor senior most Pakistani pilot.

Immediate challenges for the Pakistani eagles were:

A. Pakistani pilots had no experience flying Syrian Mig-21
B. They could not read the Russian language and signs encrypted on these aircraft
C. Operating surfaces and climate were new to them, making it difficult to breathe, operate, and acclimatize.
D. Operations, Air Defence, and airman-ship procedures were different
E. Syrians could hardly speak English and explain to Pakistani pilots
F. Israelis had planted jamming systems near the Syrian border and not only could jam but also listen to Pakistani pilots’ communication.

Pakistani Shahbaz immediately adapted to a new place, new environment, new airspace, tactics, and a new enemy. They also learned various operating procedures in Air Defense Alerts (ADA), Air Tactics, Air Defense, and Combat Air Patrol (CAP) at the Dumayr Air Force base. making them fearless and chivalric. Pakistani formation of eight aircraft selected their call sign “Shahbaz”.

Sattar remembered Israel Air Force was constantly engaged in hostilities inclusive of radio jamming for aircraft flown from Syrian side. Pakistani contingent had pledged not to be shot by the intruder Israelis, though survival in a radar-jammed environment was the biggest threat. Pakistani detachments initially tried to communicate their aerial transmission in Urdu to have better communication between them.

By April, 1974 war appeared to be diminishing, when suddenly on April 26, 1974 air raid sirens were blown at the air base. PAF pilots rushed for an ADA mission on the available Mig-21s. True to their commitment, all of them were airborne within minutes.

The ADA sortie from Dumayr base to Sidon was flown without any visible intruders. Mig 21 aircraft had a limited flying time of 30 minutes which had almost exhausted. These eagles started heading back to Dumayr base for landing. Suddenly Pakistani air defence controller Sqn Ldr Saleem Metla reported two Foe aircraft approaching from the southern side (Israel). The intruder enemy aircraft started jamming the communication of the PAF pilots. Sattar saw two Israeli F-4 Phantoms head-on but did not seem interested in an aerial engagement. Sattar Alvi was positioned last in this Shahbaz formation of eight Mig 21s. Just after the sight of these Phantoms Sattar Alvi saw the formation of two aircraft heading towards them. He immediately recognized them as Mirage III and recalled lessons taught by his instructors in Pakistan that Mirage cannot match a Mig-21 in a close dogfight. A rush of blood forced him to engage this Mirage leaving his other 7 formation partners. He reduced his speed to zero and by the time he could adjust one of the Israeli Mirages overshot him, leaving Sattar to face a second Israeli Mirage aircraft. Sqn Ldr Arif Manzoor the leader was concerned about the safety of Sattar Alvi and gave constant radio calls to ask about his location. Upon hearing no reply, it was assumed Sattar Alvi was in trouble.

Sattar Alvi stated that in the fighter flying business, you can judge the mental state of the opponent pilot if you are alert. When the second Israeli Mirage saw a Syrian Mig challenging an Israeli, Sattar could instantly judge the opponent’s surprise “How the hell on earth a Syrian challenge an Israeli”. Sattar said it was a one-on-one match, either he could have shot me or I would have won the duel. Fear of being short on fuel did not deter him from a possible ejection in case of consuming all the fuel.

The first Israeli Mirage, which had overshot him, turned in the air and aimed for Sattar, who did not take time to launch a K-13 missile against the second opponent right ahead of him. Till the opponent could recover from the shock, Sattar Alvi proved a victory for him. Myth of Israeli air force being non-invincible was tattered in the air by a Pakistani pilot. The entire episode took 1-2 minutes. Israeli pilot captain Lutz of No 5 Air wing based at Hatzor ejected and was taken prisoner.

On seeing the plight of his duo’s complement, the first Mirage fled the battlefield. Sattar Alvi proudly announced the kill in the air. Hearing the news of the shooting down of an Israeli aircraft, radio communication went vibrant both in the air and ground.

He recalled his fuel warning lights were on and could barely manage to return on a few fuel drops left in the fuel tank. Syrian brothers were overjoyed and sweets were distributed in Syria. Schools were also closed for one day to mark the occasion. Sattar was honored with the title of real brother. Sattar and Arif Manzoor were decorated with Syria’s highest decoration award of gallantry i.e. Wisam-e-Faris and Wisam-e-Shujaa’t respectively. Govt of Pakistan also decorated both of these pilots with a gallantry award of Sitar-e-Jurrat. Sattar Alvi later retired as an Air Commodore.

The narration of Sattar Alvi was completed, but left us concluding PAF is alive to threats both within and outside.

At a recent function, Sattar Alvi presented the flying coverall of the Israeli pilot Capt. Lutz (he shot on 26 April 1974) to Chief of the Air Staff as a war trophy for PAF. The said coverall will be placed at the PAF Museum at PAF base Faisal.

People say the chivalric actions of PAF in the Arab-Israel wars opened doors for PAF pilots in the Middle East which are still open today.

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