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Friday, February 12, 2010

Great fighter aircraft, and...

Arthur Lundh, 71 and of Swedish ancestry, alongwith his erudite and very caring wife Bernice were among the best hosts that I had during my two month-something Rotary Club-sponsored trip in and around Arizona, USA, back in the summer of 1991. Very quickly Arthur and I discovered a deep and informed shared love of aircraft (he had been a bomber pilot during the Korean war, and I had got my first serious assignment with a major English newspaper based in Calcutta after wowing the editorial staff with technical information about top-of-the-line fighters around the world that I could reel off from memory in an emergency). As a very exclusive treat (in which none of my travel partners were interested) he drove me to Luke Air Force Base out in the desert, and to the remarkable Champlin Fighter Museum in a little town called Mesa, and we had a whale of a time together: chatting up the museum staff and air force personnel about their magnificent machines. It made my day when I managed to pose beside the most famous fighter aircraft in all history - the Spitfire which won the Battle of Britain. A real plane, not a mockup model, and in ready-to-fly condition (God doesn't grant all our dreams: I didn't get to fly in it!) Click here to look up a few photos...

Arthur had started off as a restaurant waiter in his youth, gone on to join the air force, left it to study architecture and used that skill to become a senior engineer with Greyhound Bus Corporation, and in his old age, he had joined college once again to cultivate a talent he had newly discovered: painting. He isn't likely to be alive today, and we became friends before the internet and email became all-pervasive. Sometimes I really feel sorry that certain kinds of technology arrived too late. In case you are around and happen to read this, Arthur, you'll transport me to the seventh heaven of joy if you drop a line. If not, God rest your soul.


Shilpi said...

Suvro da,
I'm glad that you wrote this post. This is one story that I've wanted to know more about for some 8 years. I remember seeing the photos by myself one morning, and had been terribly curious about your visit to this place with these old yet perfectly maintained fighter aircrafts. I had no idea what the different aircrafts were but one photo I seem to remember, and if I had been a thief - I would have stolen it, enlarged it, framed it, and put it up on my wall. There was something in the photo, which didn't seem to be of this world as we know it in an everyday way. There was a grandeur and an easy grace about it, and it seemed frozen in time. There's that same something in this post of yours.

Do they fly the Spitfire around ? If it's in a mint condition - does anyone actually get around to fly in it, I wonder.

Can't quite imagine that none of your travel partners were interested in doing the trip.

And yes, I can quite see you rattling off technical information and all - I had to grin at that bit.

I'm glad you got to meet someone like Arthur Lundh. He sounds like a fascinating gentleman - someone with whom you would no doubt have bonded.
One thing I feel sad about is that you don't get to meet more of the same tribe.

This post is somewhat unreal despite its very real quality.
I could chatter for longer but I'll end this comment for now. It was wondrous to read this post...and some other things besides.

Thank you enormously for sharing this one...I wish it had gone on for much longer.

Take care. Love,

Rajdeep said...

Amazing! I wish you would find your friend.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Thanks for sharing this story. I have heard from my father and you about people such as Arthur. I have met a few here too. These people are brilliant mix of courage and destiny.



Krishanu said...

Respected Sir,
Thank you very much for this post;more so because it touched upon one of my most favourite fields of interest, that of the Second World War. I don't know why, but I have always had a fascination about those tumultuous years between 1939-1945.

I have always believed that over and above the tactical supremacy of the Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Force,one of the main reasons behind the failure of the Luftwaffe to regain air superiority at the most crucial stages of the war, was the failure of the Germans to develop a befitting answer to the Supermarine Spitfire. The Messerschmitt Bf109,though technically comparable to the Spitfire, could not take back the initiative at the later stages of the war,although it had proved to be a formidable opponent earlier. In my opinion, what the Luftwaffe lacked was the presence of the Me-262, the world's first operational jet fighter. Had it not been for the consistent refusal of Adolf Hitler (who dismissed the Me-262 as being too small and lightweight to carry bombs), and Goering, who had, by the end of 1944, almost lost control over the Luftwaffe, the Allies would have been in trouble to stave off the jet fighter;they simply had no answer for it.It was due to the efforts of Major Adolf Galland that around 100 Me-262s actually saw combat, and had claimed allied aircraft in the ratio of 5:1.This, and the failure of the much vaunted 'Wonder Weapons', thankfully led to the collapse of the Luftwaffe by April,1945. The War would have been extended by at-least 6 to 8 more months,had it not been for the blunders committed by the Germans.

I also loved the description of your gracious host. It was very masterly, and I would have given anything to meet someone like him, and that too in such a setting!

I look forward to reading more such posts in the very near future. Please keep going, Sir.

Yours' Respectfully,
Krishanu Chatterjee

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

reminds me of this one from the collection "You could have heard a pin drop."

Robert Whiting, an elderly US gentleman of 83, arrived in Paris by plane. At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry on.

"You have been to France before, monsieur?" the customs officer asked sarcastically.

Mr. Whiting admitted that he had been to France previously.

"Then you should know enough to have your passport ready."

The American said, 'The last time I was here, I didn't have to show it."

"Impossible. Americans always have to show your passports on arrival in France !"

The American senior gave the Frenchman a long hard look. Then he quietly explained, ''Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 to help liberate this country,
I couldn't find a single Frenchman to show a passport to."

You could have heard a pin drop.

Sunup said...

Dear Sir,

War planes have fascinated me since my schooldays and the library in St. Xavier's, Durgapur, had a huge contribution to make. But I always have a tinge of doubt when I read the books on war planes. Most of them are/were written by Americans or Europeans and hence would definitely have a lean towards their planes. For that matter, even programs/features on Discovery Channel like Wings, Boys Toys, Extreme Machines etc., are heavily biased towards Western war machines. They rarely mention or showcase Soviet/Russian/Asian technology. So where could I read something completely unbiased and neutral?
I am pretty sure that the Japanese Nakajima and Mitsubishi fighter planes were as good (if not better) as the Spitfire or the Curtis Hawk fighters. But then there was no one to talk/write/advocate/market/praise them unlike their Western rivals.



Subhadip said...

Dear Suvro Sir,
My fascination for war planes had started from one of our adda sessions. I distinctly remember that day when i had kept on wondering for almost the whole day what remarkable expertise or may be simply the love for planes it must take for one to be able to identify the make of an aircraft from the sound produced by different fighter-craft engines.
That day i had come to know about your love for war planes and there was something so wonderous in your description of those engines, fighter aircrafts, sounds and that entire period of World War II that i had taken an instant fascination for technical information on engines.
This post makes me all the more glad to find you standing right in front of one of those real things. It must have been a really exclusive treat to have ben able to pose in front of the Spitfire and it has been a treat for me that you shared such a wonderful experience with us.
Thank you,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Interesting, how different people respond to different angles of the same short post! I won't answer any of them right now, beyond saying thanks, because this only whets my appetite for more comments...

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

How absolutely amazing it must have been to see all those planes! The pictures are all very good, I love anything to do with both the world wars and had I been there I would have surely gotten goosebumps. I do not know much about the fighter planes used, I shall look them up! I sincerely hope you find your friend again Sir!


Sunup said...


Spot on, sir! Now that you have mentioned it, it struck me too. I liked the one by Subhasis Graham a lot. And I have one more to contribute -- one that has a different angle from any of the above comments.
I still remember you narrating your US trip to our class 8 Moral Science class, and I found it very interesting that time. Your post brought back all those school-day memories back. The things that you narrated -- like the US kids who don't rise up and say 'Good morning Sir/Miss' etc when their teachers walk in; how those kids would sit with an utmost casual attitude (legs up on table etc.; how they were all bewildered and amazed when you showed them a photo of your Enfield Explorer and when they got to know that it was the vehicle that you used to commute etc etc...the list goes on. Thanks once again for the post.
Warm regards,

Shuvojit said...

@ Sunup you hit the the right memory.
While reading the post i was fondly reminded of the corner shelf which had the books & the long afternoons which Sir patiently waited for us.

Regarding the bias towards the Americans & British superiority do remember that "History" is always written by the "Victors"