When the French-made Rafale multi-role fighter aircraft procured by India touch down at Ambala later this month, the country’s oldest airbase would have witnessed a century of amazing transformation and borne testimony to some of the most significant moments in Indian military aviation.
What was initially an unpaved strip catering to flimsy biplanes of yore is now a massive sprawl gearing up to house one of the most advanced flying machines. The first batch of six Rafales out of the contracted 36, are reported to arrive at the frontline base on July 27, with a major infrastructure upgrade, including hardened shelters, hangars and maintenance facilities coming up over the past three years.
“Ambala’s tryst with military aviation dates back to 1919 when ‘Camp Umballa’ was created and 99 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF), equipped with Bristol fighters, was located here. Ambala’s next ‘avatar’ was as headquarters of the RAF India Command in 1922,” reads a plaque at the air force station. It saw several changes in its role before coming to its present designation of No. 7 Wing on August 1, 1954.