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Air Vice Marshal Arvind Dalaya, who set up IAF’s first permanent chopper unit in Leh, dies at 91

Dalaya also served as the first director of operations of the Helicopter Corporation of India, which later became Pawan Hans.  

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New Delhi: Air Vice Marshal Arvind Dalaya (retd), the first commanding officer of the Indian Air Force’s 114 Helicopter Unit (HU) in Leh, died Friday at the age of 91.

The 114 HU, also known as the ‘Siachen Pioneers’, is IAF’s first permanent chopper unit to be posted in Leh.

Anchit Gupta, an investor with a passion for IAF history, shared that Dalaya “had an astonishing career replete with many firsts for the IAF”.

“His legacy is entwined with the evolution of the IAF’s helicopter fleet and their early deployment in the Ladakh sector in the early ’60s. He is one of the pioneers of the helicopter fleet,” Gupta told ThePrint

Speaking to ThePrint, Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retired) said, “He (Dalaya) set up the 114 HU in Leh. He was a trailblazer. He set up all the Standard Operating Procedures for the Chetak helicopter operations in Leh. Setting up a new unit, especially in a place like Leh, reflects the calibre and professionalism of the officer.”


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From Murree to 54 Pilot Course to Leh

Born in Murree, in today’s Pakistan, Dalaya knew he wanted to fly when he saw the RAF Spitfires doing sorties over the Khyber Pass at a young age, Gupta said.

Dalaya joined the IAF as a cadet in 1949, as part of its 54 pilot course, and was commissioned as a flyer in 1951.

His first posting was with IAF’s No. 3 Squadron, then called the ‘Hawker Tempests’. In 1953, barely two years into his career, he completed his QFI (flying instructor) course at the Ambala Air Force Station. After this, he served as an instructor for a short period.

In 1963, Dalaya transitioned from serving as a fighter pilot to heading a helicopter unit. He became the second commanding officer of the 109 HU based out of Chandigarh. He converted to using the Soviet transport helicopter — Mi-4.

The following year he was given the responsibility for setting up the 114 HU in Leh.

1965 war, Operation Meghdoot, & Pawan Hans

Dalaya set up and served as the first commanding officer (CO) of the 114 HU. He was also 114 HU’s CO during the 1965 war with Pakistan. For his services during the war, he was awarded the Vayu Sena.

“The 114 HU was involved with evacuations and mercy missions during the war, including in the critical Haji Pir sector. This included picking up troops from behind enemy lines,” Gupta explained.

Dalaya’s Vayu Medal citation said, “During the recent operations against Pakistan in Sialkot sector, he led sorties in the forward areas to bring back our Army battle casualties in spite of enemy aircraft activities in the vicinity. Squadron Leader Arvind Dalaya has set a fine example of leadership and devotion to duty.”

Given his fine track record, two decades later, when the Siachen crisis unfolded in 1984, he was appointed the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Jammu and Kashmir, and posted in Udhampur. Air Vice Marshal Dalaya played a central role in planning and managing the operations of the IAF during this operation.

As AOC, J&K, Dalaya was overall in-charge of IAF’s role in Operation Meghdoot at Siachen. “A befitting role for someone who had been in the trenches during the setup of helicopter operations in J&K and commanded the first HU to be based in Leh,” added Gupta.

In 1987, after more than three and a half decades in service, Dalaya retired. He also served as the first director of operations of the Helicopter Corporation of India, which later became Pawan Hans.


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