Rising above: The Pakistan Air Force’s enduring legacy of professionalism, perseverance & prowess

IAF’s refusal to train RPAF personnel became a catalyst for self-reliance | The RPAF Flying Training School at Risalpur emerged, almost overnight, on September 15, 1947.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) stands among the world’s most profession­al and competent air forces. With a proven track record, it has successfully faced an ad­versary thrice its size in wars and conflicts. It also holds the unique distinction of having fought against the Union of So­viet Socialist Republics, a su­perpower at the time, shooting down nearly a dozen aircraft without suffering any losses from the adversary. It is also the only air force whose pilots have shot down Israeli aircraft with­out suffering aloss. At a very young age, it has also helped establish the air forces of other countries and trained almost all the air forces in the Gulf region. While these accomplishments are generally known, a lesser-known fact is how a very small air force achieved such feats. 

After Pakistan attained in­dependence in 1947, the Royal Pakistan Air Force (RPAF) was created from the Royal Indian Air Force. At the time, RPAF was a small service with a handful of personnel and insignificant equipment. It only had 220 of­ficers and 2112 airmen, includ­ing pilots, technicians and other specialists. It received only two fighter and one transport squad­ron; was equipped with war-worn attacker, fury and tempest aircraft. The Indian Air Force (IAF) failed to deliver RPAF’s al­located equipment on time. In­stead, through a deliberate and sinister plan, they introduced bottlenecks to hinder the time­ly delivery of Pakistan’s share. Much of what was delivered was also in poor condition. Initially, the infrastructure was scanty, with no training institutions, limited maintenance and logis­tics systems, and minimal assets. Furthermore, the IAF declined to train PAF pilots and technicians.

The assets that RPAF received were disproportionate to the vastness of the country they were tasked with defending. PAF’s true strengths were its far-sightedleadership and the resilience of its hardworking personnel. Even with financial constraints, equipment short­ages, and limited human re­sources, the leadership was de­termined to swiftly build a force equipped to fulfill its duties. In the early dawn of its inde­pendence, the RPAF stood with just a trio of bases - the historic grounds of Peshawar, Chaklala, and Drigh Road (now known as PAF Faisal). Imagine a fledg­ling bird, with just a few feath­ers, aspiring to rule the vast skies. The strategic addition of PAF Station Risalpur on August 15th, 1947, followed swiftly by the establishment of the Flying School a month later, marked the start of a new chapter. 

In a twist of fate, the IAF’s re­fusal to train RPAF personnel be­came a catalyst for self-reliance. The RPAF Flying Training School at Risalpur emerged, almost overnight, on September 15th, 1947, acting as a crucible for both officer training and nascent pilot development. By April the following year, during the revered visit of Quaid-i-Azam, it was christened a college, an emblem of its elevated stature. And for the meticulous training of both technical and non-tech­nical forces, specialised schools sprung up, further fortifying the foundation of the Air Force.

In the heart of the Cold War era, the skies echoed with the roaring engines of fighter planes, and pilots pushed their skills to the edge. Recognis­ing the critical importance of superior combat training, the PAF introduced a cutting-edge fighter conversion and opera­tional system. By 1958, PAF Mauripur became home to the Fighter Leaders School, a hub for advanced skills and tacti­cal innovation. However, like all things faced with challenges, it saw a decline in the ’70s due to myriad constraints. Yet, the spirit to thrive didnot fade. Ris­ing from the ashes in 1976, the Combat Commanders School at Sargodha became the new beacon of advanced combat tactics and training. Embrac­ing an integrated vision, the PAF Staff College was inaugu­rated at Drigh Road in 1959, serving as a cradle of leader­ship and strategy. By 1987, it evolved into the prestigious PAF Air War College, offer­ing an enhanced course struc­ture. The promotion landscape transformed from conventional exams to the innovative Junior and Senior Command and Staff Courses, ensuring continuous growth and refinement for of­ficers. The establishment of the JCO Academy at Korangi Kreek further added a feather to the PAF’s training cap.This relent­less pursuit of excellence has­not wavered. Like the world’s top-tier air forces, PAF’s leader­ship has been unwavering in its commitment, investing in the creation, modernisation, and sustenance of a robust training and education system.

PAF’s story is a saga of cour­age and determination in the face of multiple hardships and difficulties. It has been a jour­ney, not just of machines in the skies, but of the indomitable spirit of its personnel, guided by visionary leadership. Despite grappling with sanctions, the looming shadows of outdated systems, and a paucity of crucial resources, the PAF has never lost its trajectory. Through wars and peace, crises and calm, it has not only met but often sur­passed the nation’s hopes. Be­yond the call of battle, the PAF has soared in its humanitar­ian missions, both at home and on foreign shores, echoing the timeless words of the Quaid: ‘An Air Force Second to None’.


— The author is a retired Air Marshal of the PAF who served as Pakistan’s Air Advi­sor at New Delhi from 2002-2006, presently working as Director Technologies and International Coordination at Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@casstt.com.

The writer has served as Pakistan’s Air Adviser at New Delhi from 2002-2006, and is presently Director Strategic Defence & Security at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS). He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com.

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