I have always had special corner for Pakistan Air Force in my heart. Visiting Air Bases, meeting people over there, capturing fighter jets, observing even minor level of things related to flying and learning about life in PAF have been part of my quest since long.
On June 19, 2011, I met Retd. Air Cmdre Kaiser Tufail at his place in Lahore. Meeting him was a lifetime experience since I was so much fond of him due to his commendable career with PAF and his master piece “Great Air Battles of Pakistan Air Force”. Kaiser Tufail is one gem of a person I have ever come across in my life. He is well known for his caliber, demeanor, and intellect which made him ‘top notch’ fighter pilot of PAF. I would never forget a cup of coffee and three hours long discussion with him which quenched my thirst for knowing more and more about fighter aircrafts and the way GDPs do wonders in the air.
On August 22, 2011, we concluded our discussion in the form of an interview which is going to be part of my 1st publication “In Dialogue with Aviators of Pakistan Air Force”. I’m sharing the conversation with you and hope it will entice you.
Faisal Riaz: Tell us something about yourself.
Kaiser Tufail: Pre-partition, my family belonged to East Punjab. After partition, with my father being in the Army, we roamed all over Pakistan’s cantonments. I joined Cadet College Hasanabdal in 1967 and soon after completing my FSc, joined the PAF in 1973.
Did you have other family members in Pakistan Armed Forces?
Kaiser Tufail: My father was in the Army and he retired as a Lt Col. A cousin of mine was in the PAF. My wife’s father and several of her uncles were also in the PAF. One of her uncles, Gp Capt Ata Rabbani was the Quaid’s ADC. He is presently 93 years old and is the oldest living PAF officer.
You were doing MBBS from King Edward Medical College before joining Pakistan Air Force. What made you leave MBBS and run for a soldier’s life?
Kaiser Tufail: I stayed in KEMC for a few months before I got selected in the PAF. In our days pre-meds could join as a flier. I thought a fighter pilot’s career was very thrilling. Now when I look back, I think it was one of the best decisions I made in my life.
Did you ever think of being a pilot in your childhood like most of the kids?
Kaiser Tufail: Yes, I was crazy about fighters from childhood. Later, a couple of my classfellows, whose fathers were in the PAF, used to tell me about the exciting life of fighter pilots; that was more than enough to charge me up for a flying career. Also, I had seen my father in uniform and later, I myself wore one as an Abdalian for five years, so it was my desire to wear it in later life too. I was lucky to be in the blues for over three decades thereafter.
Did you ever idealize any one as GDP who ultimately motivated you to end up being a fighter pilot?
Kaiser Tufail: I had never met a fighter pilot in real life before I joined the PAF. However, tales about M M Alam and other PAF heroes were quite inspiring for a young mind and I was no exception.
Rigorous training and fitness are prerequisites of flying a jet fighter. What else it requires to be a successful combat pilot?
Kaiser Tufail: Motivation, dedication, discipline and a controllably aggressive nature.
You went to Risalpur Academy for your training. How was the time and routine there?
Kaiser Tufail: In our time, we first spent an year at the Initial Training Wing at Lower Topa, which was essentially a ‘boot camp’. After that it was one and a half year’s training at Risalpur which included studies in aeronautics and two six-monthly courses in flying. It was all very hectic, life was mechanical and very disciplined, but it was fun to go through the mill with all the course-mates. One was never sure about making flying grades and it was sad to see one’s colleagues weeded out. The suspension rate was fairly high. So the one’s who got their wings were very lucky. All in all, I think the Academy training prepared us for the ups and downs in life, turned us into disciplined guys who knew how to organise themselves. Personally, I am for compulsory military service for every able-bodied male in Pakistan.
What is the most memorable event of your academy days?
Kaiser Tufail: Of course our graduation day when we passed out as Pilot Officers and got our wings. Before that, I fondly recall the day I got my first solo (6 Feb 1974) on the MFI-17 Mushaak. While taxiing back after the sortie, I used a kutcha taxi track that had turned into slush after rains. The aircraft got stuck in the mud and I had to rev up power to get out of the mess; in the process the whole aircraft got plastered with mud. It was quite a sight as everyone watched the strange aircraft taxiing back. My instructor made me wash the aircraft with fire buckets, before dousing me with the traditional bucketful for the first solo.
How did you prepare for your first flight? Were you nervous?
Kaiser Tufail: No. It was just routine. The Mushaak was a toy really, compared to the Harvard T6-G that we had been initially introduced to.
Which fighter planes did you fly and which one you enjoyed the most? Any particular reason?
Kaiser Tufail: Of the fighters, I have flown the F-6 (MiG-19), Mirage-5, F-16A/B, Mirage F-1E (with Qatari Air Force), F-7 (MiG-21) and F-7MG (flight testing in China). I enjoyed flying the Mirage-5 the most as we had much more freedom compared to a somewhat stifling atmosphere in the F-16 squadrons due to over-supervision. Also, our squadron commander in 8 Squadron (Mirages), late Air Cdre Khalid Sattar, was one of the best officers I have had the opportunity to work with.
Which aircraft was easy going and which was the most challenging?
Kaiser Tufail: The Mushaak was naturally the easiest, while the T-6G was the most difficult amongst trainers. Amongst fighters, Mirage F-E was the easiest while the F-6 was the most challenging.
Please share your experience about pushing yourself against your limits by pulling G forces. How does it feel going subsonic and supersonic?
Kaiser Tufail: Pulling Gs is not a very enjoyable thing. 4-5Gs is routine stuff in air combat and one can manage it without much difficulty. Beyond that, it can be back-breaking, quite literally. If the G onset rate is not well controlled, one can black out easily, but on conventional fighters (hydro-mechanical controls) things remain under control, but on F-16, with its fly-by-wire controls, one can almost fly it by ‘thought control’ so to speak. I mean the control response is instantaneous (at the speed of light) and one can easily pull more Gs than desired. Besides the aircraft can go upto 9Gs, so a 165-lb pilot actually weighs 1,500-lbs. It is not hard to see why your muscles should be in good shape for such extreme flying. It won’t be an overstatement to state that a fighter pilot is supposed to be the fittest creature on earth!
As for going supersonic, you hardly come to know about it. There is a flick of the airspeed needle at around Mach 0.98 and suddenly it goes past Mach 1. So there you are, no noise, nothing. In older fighters like the F-6, the controls used to become very heavy, but in properly designed modern fighters its like swishing over silk.
Did you have the chance to fly as “test pilot” for any new entrant plane to PAF inventory? How was it different from duties of operational pilot?
Kaiser Tufail: I, along with another colleague, flew the F-7MG in China. This is the double delta variant of the F-7. It had to be flown in certain profiles, alongwith testing its speed and G limits, take-off and landing performance, engine response at extremes, aerobatics, etc. It was fun racing the aircraft to its limits. I particularly enjoyed bringing the aircraft to a dead stop after a landing within 1,000 ft on one occasion. It was a much improved aircraft over the F-7. The aircraft got a very favourable report (“poor man’s F-16”) from us and I was glad that the PAF eventually procured it.
What can you tell us about the mix between open air flight testing and simulation testing?
Kaiser Tufail: I was never a qualified test pilot. Till the JF-17, we did not have qualified test pilots in the PAF, so it was always air testing by the seat-of-the-pants. Being from the old school, I am not a fan of simulators in fighter flying.
You had the chance to evaluate F7-MG before its induction to PAF inventory. How was your experience with Chinese counterparts?
Kaiser Tufail: As for Chinese, they were very co-operative, for good reasons as they had to sell this aircraft! Language was an issue in flying as we had to go through an interpreter, two-way on every call. Luckily, we never got into a difficult situation. Their PLAAF test pilots who were attached to the factory, had a lot of on-type experience. However, the kind of flying that we do in the PAF was, for the most part, very different from what the Chinese are used to. In brief, we in the PAF know well how to take an aircraft to its limits.
How is F7-MG different from F7-P and F7-PG? Which one is better?
Kaiser Tufail: Basically, the F-7MG (PG in the PAF) is an aerodynamic improvement over the F-7. For a layman, suffice to say that the MG/PG has better lift generating capability. As a result, the take-off and landing distances are shorter, turning performance is better and acceleration is faster.
You flew almost all sorts of Mirages. Tell us something about your experience with this flying machine and flexibility it offers to a fighter pilot.
Kaiser Tufail: The Mirage III/5 is a very versatile aircraft, truly multi-role. In the PAF, it has served us as an interceptor, ground attack aircraft, maritime attack aircraft and a recce aircraft. It can carry a wide variety of weapons. Having said that, it has to be remembered that it is an old design that first flew in 1956. Besides, the delta planform has its own limitations and is much ‘draggier’ than conventional swept wings. The Mirage F-1, on the other hand, has a swept wing and is a vastly improved aircraft, but unfortunately it could not compete with the even more advanced Mirage 2000 that became its contemporary. Our Mirage-III/5 have served the PAF very well. As I stated earlier, I have enjoyed flying this machine more than any other. The high points have included several Mach 2 flights during air test missions, as well as some hairy flying at 80 knots during deep-stalled air combat. In between these two extremes, it has been sheer fun all the way.
You were one of very few fortunate GDPs who had the honor to fly Fighting Falcon F-16 in mid 80s. How was the experience? How do you comment on its performance?
Kaiser Tufail: Even though I first flew the F-16 in 1984, by today’s standards, the F-16 continues to be a very advanced aircraft. It can be easily modified with newer avionics as the design has plenty of growth potential. Since the airframe life is as much as three times the conventional Western aircraft, the PAF will surely fly it for a long time to come. I think it is one of the finest fighters ever built, and one of the most capable for its value. Conceptually, fly-by-wire, bubble canopy, side stick controller, aft centre of gravity, tilting seat and a most powerful engine — all of these features still seem so very futuristic, despite having been around for three decades now.
Which technology is the most reliable – French, US, Russian or Chinese?
Kaiser Tufail: Of course US. No match.
If you were to rate combat aircrafts, how would you rate PAF inventory – plane wise?
Kaiser Tufail: F-16C, F-16A, JF-17, Mirage-III/5, F-7PG and F-7 in that order.
How is PAF of today different from PAF of your era?
Kaiser Tufail: It has much more modern and capable aircraft. The officers are more professional. However, I think we had more initiative and were bolder, if you will. Now, there is over-supervision which is not always a good thing, no matter that the assets are very costly and have to be taken care of with greater vigilance.
What would you say if you have to define a fighter pilot’s life in one sentence?
Kaiser Tufail: Better than anything I can imagine.
What are top 5 skills needed for a fighter pilot?
Kaiser Tufail: Analytical thinking, hand-mind coordination, sharp reflexes, steel nerves and a good sense of humour!
You had the chance to meet two living legends of PAF – Saif ul Azam and MM Aalam. In your book “Great Air Battles of Pakistan Air Force” there are chapters describing heroic and gallant of these two gentlemen who were stars during war of 1965 against India and 1967 against Israel. How did you find them as individuals?
Kaiser Tufail: Humble. Humble to the core. Very simple. But then age does that to most!!
Since you are retired now. What do you do to keep yourself busy?
Kaiser Tufail: After flying, my second passion was reading and writing. So now, I have all the time in the world to indulge in these.
What else entices you other than flying? Your hobbies?
Kaiser Tufail: I love the outdoors and enjoy adventure and travel. For the past one year, I have been doing a series of articles in the newspapers on adventure/travel/exploration of unique places that I have visited in Pakistan and abroad. Other interests include planetary science and space, archaeology, bird watching and genetics. I am planning scuba diving and aim to get an advanced certification, hopefully. I never miss thinking about fighter flying of yester years, which has also become a hobby now!
Your first book was well received by readers. Are you working on any new project to pen air force?
Kaiser Tufail: Yes, I am working on “Air War – 1971”. It is about half done.
When is it hitting book shelves in the market?
Kaiser Tufail: Hopefully, I should be able to give it to the publishers some time early next year and it should be on the bookstands late next year.
Why didn’t you opt for commercial flying?
Kaiser Tufail: I thought I’d upset myself trying to adjust to something I wasn’t cut out for. Only fighters enthralled me … and still do.
Did you ever have the luck to face any interceptor or go as intruder? If yes, how was it?
Kaiser Tufail: We flew a lot of air defence patrols on F-16s over the Western border between 1985-88 when the Soviets were getting a lick by the Mujahideen. That was the closest I have been to flying operational missions. Only once did we get into a head-to-head pass with four Su-22s, but lucky for those blokes, we had to turn back as we were right over the border and there was no guarantee that their wreckage would fall inside Pakistan.
What is your take on capability of Indian Air Force if compared to Pakistan?
Kaiser Tufail: I’d be lying if I said IAF would be a walkover.
What is your opinion about Su-30 MKI and Mig-29? Is F-16 better?
Kaiser Tufail: As I said earlier, Russian aircraft are no match for the F-16, especially the F-16C and the under-modification F-16A (MLU).
How do you rate medium multirole combat aircraft – JF17 Thunder? Is it better than Indian Tejas (LCA)?
Kaiser Tufail: By and large, both have similar capabilities. So far, both aircraft do not have the final avionics and EW suite, so the comparison might be pre-mature. However, the Tejas design is a highly swept delta, with a very low aspect ratio, which translates into very high drag rise during manoeuvring. In fact it has the lowest aspect ratio of any jet fighter ever designed, which is rather unusual. I’d be happy to tire it out in combat anytime, if I was sitting in a Thunder.
Why PAF has been a failure so far to stop US drones? Is it incompetent for such minor surgical strikes or there are other reasons?
Kaiser Tufail: Address this question to the Prime Minister, please.
What is your message to readers of this interview; serving fighter pilots of PAF and people of Pakistan?
Kaiser Tufail: Just do what you think is right, no matter what the consequences. You can never go wrong on this one. It will be good for you, good for the family, good for the PAF and good for the country.
The interview was first published on Faisal Riaz’s blog on Aug 24, 2011.