157 HU: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy

157 HU: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy

The 157HU (Helicopter Unit) is perhaps one of the youngest units of the Indian Air Force. Named Tarakshaya, the unit was raised exactly 11 years ago at AFS Barrackpore (Uttar Pradesh), on 9th April 2013. The motto of the unit is “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy”. The unit was based around the Mil Mi-17V5 Utility Transport helicopter, which it still continues to operate till date. 

The Mi-17 Helicopter:

The Mil Mi-17 (NATO Callsign: Hip), is a family of large military utility transport helicopters designed by stalwart helicopter engineer Mikhail Mil . It entered service with the Soviet Air Forces in 1975. India received its first Mi-17s in 1985, which then formed the 127 HU “First Ranas” on 10th January 1985. India initially operated the Mi-17 1V variant, which is a predecessor to the Mi-17 V5.

The Mi-17 initially saw combat during Operation Pawan (Indian Peacekeeping Force’s intervention in Northern Sri Lanka), where it was used to insert and recover troops from the battlefield as well as ferry supplies and personnel. Apart from its usual duties as a transport helicopter, the Mi-17 was also used as a Helicopter Gunship (basically a helicopter armed with weapons to attack designated targets) during Operation Safed Sagar (Kargil Conflict) in the summer of 1999. Unfortunately during one such assault missions over Tololing on 28th May 1999, an Mi-17 was lost due to a MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defense System). The Mi-17 has also been deployed for COIN (Counter Insurgency) Operations across the country. During relatively peaceful times, the Mi-17 has been an excellent platform to conduct disaster management operations and evacuations.  In India, the Mi-17 has served as a backbone of disaster management over the past decade.

The Mi-17 V5 is an upgraded version of the Mi-17 1V, with improved navigation and self protection systems. The aircraft also features a unique ‘Dolphin Nose’, which is absent in the Mi-17 1V. The aircraft also has an improved all weather operational capability with extended range and engine.

Despite being a nascent unit, the pilots and aircrew of the 157 HU demonstrated their professionalism and skill. Within 6 months of the raising, the 157HU was deployed for HADR (High Availability Disaster Relief) operations during the Uttarakhand landslide and flash floods. On 21st June 2013, the IAF commenced Operation Rahat to evacuate stranded pilgrims in Uttarakhand and provide disaster relief supplies.

During these operations, Wing Commander Darryl Castelino’s helicopter crashed whilst returning from a HADR sortie due to bad weather. Wg Cdr Castelino, who had been a part of this operation from the 21st June 2013, had saved over 190 lives since then. Even on the fateful day, he saved close to 40 people. Despite warnings that the weather was deteriorating faster than expected, he decided to fly another mission as he wanted to save as many lives as possible, at the earliest. 

However, during the return flight from the evacuation, his helicopter collided with the side of a mountain cliff, killing all aboard. For his unwavering determination towards the act of saving human lives with absolute disregard for his personal safety, Wing Commander Darryl Castelinowas posthumously decorated with the Kirti Chakra, India’s 3rd highest award for act of gallantry during peacetime. Junior Warrant Officer Akhilesh Kumar Singh who was aboard the same chopper, was posthumously awarded the Vayusena Medal.

157 HU and its complement of officers and ranks have distinguished themselves with superior standards of operationality despite being a very newly formed unit, thereby keeping up with the highest ethos of the Indian Air Force’s tradition of “People First, Mission Always”

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