Aspy Engineer

Air Marshal Aspy Merwan Engineer DFC (15 December 1912 1 May 2002) was an officer in the Indian Air Force who rose through the ranks to become independent India's second Chief of the Air Staff, succeeding Subroto Mukerjee in 1960 and preceding Arjan Singh.

Aspy Engineer

Air Marshal Aspy Merwan Engineer
5th Chief of Air Staff
In office
December 1, 1960  July 31, 1964
PresidentRajendra Prasad
Prime MinisterJawaharlal Nehru
Preceded bySubroto Mukerjee
Succeeded byArjan Singh
Personal details
Born(1912-12-15)December 15, 1912
Lahore, British India.
DiedMay 1, 2002(2002-05-01) (aged 89)
Mumbai, India
Alma materRAF Cranwell
Military service
Allegiance British India (1933-1947)
 India (from 1947)
Branch/service Royal Air Force
 Indian Air Force
Years of service1933-1964
Rank Air Marshal
CommandsChief of the Air Staff (India) (1960–1964)
No.1 Operational Group
No.2 Squadron
Battles/warsWaziristan campaign (1936–39)
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947
Operation Vijay
Sino-Indian War

His flying career began in 1930 at the age of 17, when as a co-pilot he accompanied his friend R. N. Chawla to Croydon Airport, London, from Karachi British India, by flight and were the first Indians to do so. Shortly afterwards, he won the Aga Khan contest for being the first Indian to fly the journey between England and India, solo and within a one month time frame.

Engineer subsequently joined the Royal Indian Air Force, trained at RAF Cranwell, saw action on the North Western Frontier Provinces (NWFP) and at Burma and as a result was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). By the end of the Second World War he became Wing Commander.

Following retirement, he served as India's ambassador to Iran and later spent time living in California, before his last days in Mumbai.

Early life

Aspy Merwan Irani was born on 15 December 1912 in Lahore, British India[1] to Divisional Engineer for the North Western Railway,[2] Meherwan Irani and Maneckbai. His interest in mechanics led his friends to rename him Engineer.[1][3][4][5]

At the age of 7, Engineer witnessed aviators Alcock and Brown make an emergency aircraft landing on the Race Course grounds opposite his father’s railway bungalow in Hyderabad, Sindh. He later recounted, “I dreamt of nothing else thereafter but aircraft landing on the roof-top of our spacious bungalow.” [4]

He completed his early education from the Billimoria Parsi School.[4], and DJ Science College.[6]

On his 17th birthday, his father presented him with a second-hand de Havilland Gipsy Moth and after less than three months of lessons, he obtained from the Karachi Aero Club, his license to fly.[4]

Aga Khan contest

In November 1929, enthusiastic in aviation, the Aga Khan, 48th Iman of the Ismailai sect of Muslims[7] announced a prize of £500[7] to the first Indian who could fly solo between England and India within a one month time frame.[8]

Shortly after the announcement, Engineer as co-pilot and his friend R. N. Chawla set on a flight to England in March 1930, at a time lacking Radio communications or Air Traffic Control. On 21 March 1930, they flew into Croydon Airport where the Lord Mayor of London and the press greeted them with garlands.[4][9]

The other contestants included; J. R. D. Tata, who later founded Tata Motors and Air India, and another Bristol trained pilot, Man Mohan Singh.[7][8] Engineer left Croydon on the 25th of April 1930, crossing paths with Tata in Cairo. Tata gave Engineer the spare much needed spark plug which allowed Engineer to complete the journey from Croydon Airport, England, to PAF Base Faisal, Karachi now in Pakistan, in his Gipsy Moth and was awarded the prize, winning over Man Mohan Singh by one day.[1][5][10]

In response, Sir Frederick Sykes, governor of Bombay, arranged for a public reception at Bombay and the Legislative Council of India awarded Engineer 10 000 rupees. However, as a result of an aircraft accident at Bhuj, he instead flew to his old school and landed on its playing field.[4]

Indian Air Force

In 1931, Engineer joined the Royal Indian Air Force and was sent to RAF Cranwell for training, following which he was posted at Drigh Road, Karachi and later to the North Western Frontier Provinces (NWFP) as a flight commander. Here, he flew a Westland Wapiti and saw action in the Waziristan campaign (1936–1939).[4][11]

He was often mentioned in dispatches for bravery in action and for his role in the NWFP was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in addition to being appointed the Officer Commanding Kohat. He returned to the NWFP following brief action in Burma and by the end of the Second World War, he was Wing Commander.[12][13]

In 1960, he became Chief of the Air Staff, succeeding Subroto Mukerjee.[7][14]

Personal and family

Engineer's brothers, Minoo and Ronnie, were also recipients of the DFC.[4] One other brother, Jungoo, had also joined the Airforce and there were a further four siblings.[2]

Later life

He retired from the Indian Air Force on 31 July 1964 after which he served as India’s ambassador to Iran. Around 1990, he moved to Southern California where he founded the California Zoroastrian Center.[4]

Death and legacy

Engineer died on 1 May 2002 in Mumbai.[4]


  1. "Aspy Engineer (1912 - 2002) - SP's Aviation". Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  2. Singh, Farida. "Brothers-in-Arms : The Flying Engineer Brothers". Retrieved 2019-02-19.
  3. Pillaristetti, Jagan (6 February 2007). "Air Marshal Aspy Merwan Engineer DFC [Air Chiefs Since 1947]". Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  4. Sorabji, Rusi (2012). "The First historical landmark in the annals of Aviation, both Civil or Military in the Sub-Continent, the Aga Khan Race 1930" (PDF). HAMAZOR (2): 47–53.
  5. Sapru, Somnath (2014). Combat Lore: Indian Air Force 1930-1945: Indian Air Force 1930-1945. KW Publishers Pvt Ltd. ISBN 9789383649259.
  6. Newspaper, From the (May 3, 2016). "Karachi's air history". DAWN.COM.
  7. Chowdhry, Mohindra S. (2018). Defence of Europe by Sikh Soldiers in the World Wars. Troubador Publishing Ltd. p. 369. ISBN 9781788037983.
  8. Rao, Prof L. S. Seshagiri (2000). J. R. D. TATA. Sapna Book House (P) Ltd. ISBN 9788128017438.
  9. "Flashback of first flier who flew farthest in 1930". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  10. "The Aga Khan Prize" (PDF). Flight: 559. 23 May 1930.
  11. Engineer, Air Marshal Aspy. "Air Marshal Aspy Engineer's Recollections". Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  12. Flying Magazine. January 1945. p. 150.
  13. Ahluwalia, A. (2012). Airborne to Chairborne: Memoirs of a War Veteran Aviator-Lawyer of the Indian Air Force. Xlibris Corporation. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-4691-9657-2.
  14. Khan, J. A. (2004). Air Power And Challenges To Iaf. APH Publishing. p. 194. ISBN 81-7648-593-4.
Military offices
Preceded by
Subroto Mukerjee
Chief of the Air Staff (India)
Succeeded by
Arjan Singh
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