Syed Muhammad Ahmad (1925-2017) was the oldest son of Dr. Mir Muhammad Ismail and the nephew of MGA. He served as a Spitfire pilot in the Royal Indian Air Force during World War II, before being called by Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad to fly one of two planes purchased by the Ahmadiyya Community during the Partition. Afterwards he joined the Pakistan Air force where he rose to the rank of wing commander. He was a member of the Electoral College of Khilafat for three elections (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023). He was Ahmadi #92 on the famous list of Ahmadi officers in 1947, listed as S.M. Ahmad.
The essays translated in this book were first published in the daily Urdu newspaper of the Ahmadiyya Community the Alfazl in three parts under the title کے ہوائی جہازوں کی مختصر ی ۔جما ت ع احمد ی ش ت
ددا ٹ یش ن کے زمانے کی چند یا
کہانی (Partition ke zamane ki chand yaddashten: Jama‘at
Ahmadiyya ke hawai jahazon ki mukhtasir kahani) between 26 to 30 August 2010.
He has a daughter named Ayesha Ahmad (from Hummelstown, PA), she wrote the forward of “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023.
He is born.
Some 15 years before Partition, towards the end of 1932, a small three-seater plane called a Puss Moth came to Qadian. The plane landed on a large field to the west of the railway station. The owner and pilot of the aircraft was Mr. R N Chawla who in 1930 was the first Indian to fly a de Havilland Puss Moth from India to England. He had brought his plane to Qadian with the intention of taking it to London and then flying from there to Karachi to create a record for the shortest ever air journey between the two cities. At the time, the airport in Karachi was considered the centre of civil aviation in India (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
In 1939, when I was 14, I passed my Matriculation exam from Talimul-Islam High School in Qadian with a score of 68 per cent—a first division grade. I had the fifth highest score in my class. I wanted to attend Government College Lahore in the FSc Pre-Medical programme, as by then I wished to become a doctor. Despite knowing of my desire, my father had decided that I should become a civil engineer. He had me admitted to an FSc Pre-Engineering course, with the idea that after completing this, I would go to Mughalpura Engineering College, which is now the University of Engineering and Technology. Back then, only 30 boys were admitted to the college every year and of those only four gained entry on an open merit. The rest of the places were reserved for the sons of railway engineers and Public Works Department engineers. Therefore, to be sure of gaining admission, I needed a grade of at least 75 per cent in my FSc exams
and this I was not able to achieve (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
In this photo, Syed Muhammad Ahmad (extreme right) is standing next to Mirza Tahir Ahmad, and Deputy Muhammad Latif (middle)(he can be seen in his Air Force uniform). Syed Muhammad Ahmad is roughly 17 years old. Mirza Tahir Ahmad is roughly 15 years old. Syed Muhammad Ahmad was commissioned in the Royal Air Force in this year also.
In August 1943, he joined the Air Force as a flight lieutenant. Due to an urgent demand for trained pilots during the Second World War, our flight training was accelerated and completed in short order. We were taught the four stages of flying (basic flying, applied flying, operational flying and air gunnery and weapons) in only 18 months. Nowadays, it takes five years to complete this level of instruction. We received our training at the Air Force bases in Pune, Begumpet, Ambala and Peshawar. Being a bright student, I was selected for the Empire Flying Training Scheme in Canada during our training period in Begumpet. However I could not go because the program was ultimately cancelled, and I returned to Begumpet after
basic training in Bombay (Mumbai)(See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
In 1944 I was commissioned in Ambala. In March 1945, immediately after completing my training in Peshawar, I was sent with the No. 8 Fighter Squadron to the Burma (Myanmar) front. Our squadron was based northeast of Calcutta (Kolkata) at the Baigachi Air Force base in what is now Bangladesh and our job was to protect Calcutta from Japanese air raids. We flew the British Spitfire Model 9 aircraft. The threat of attack never materialised, so to maintain our sharpness, we had mock dog fights almost every day with the Lightning P-38 fighter planes from a nearby US Air Force base. We nearly always won because in those days the British system of flight training was better than the American one. This is no longer the case and the Americans now lead the way (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
His name was written as Flt Lt S M Ahmad. He crash landed in Rangoon in 1945 and lived there for 8 months.
After WW-2 ended, he was in South India around the Hyderabad Deccan area and even made contact with the famous Seth Abdullah Allahdin.
By chance, certain faculty members of Talim-ul-Islam College in Qadian were, at the time, being
trained at the RAF Technical Training School (TTS/NTTS) in Hyderabad Deccan at the suggestion of Mirza Nasir Ahmad. They included Chaudhry Muhammad Ali who was later promoted to Professor of Psychology at TI College, Fazal Ahmad who went on to become the inspector general in the Indian Police Service and possibly Master Fazaldad, later a senior staff member at TI College. I met with them when I went to the RAF TTS to get help in fixing the broken rudder(See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
In 1947 I was transferred under a special programme to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and began to fly with Indian National Airways in Delhi. The situation in Punjab had already started to deteriorate because of the looming independence and partition of India. In July, I had to go to Qadian after learning of the death of my father, Dr. Mir Muhammad Ismail. Due to nationwide disturbances, means of communication and travel routes were greatly disrupted. I received the news of his passing very late and the train journey took so long that I only reached Qadian two days after his funeral. After remaining there for a few days, I returned to Delhi to resume my work (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
In 1947 both of us had the honour of serving the community by flying a small fleet of aircraft that the community owned. Spate said that he saw the torso of a crashed plane for preliminary aeronautical instruction.
I had been back in Delhi for only a few days, this was either at the end of July or the beginning of August 1947, I do remember that it was Ramadan as I was fasting, when I was woken up one night by a visitor from Qadian. My residence back then was in the house of Sahibzada Mirza Munir Ahmad in Ballygunge. The visitor handed me a letter from Mirza Bashir Ahmad, telling me to go to Lahore immediately and fly the community’s L-5 plane to Qadian, which was stationed in Lahore’s Walton Airport under the supervision of the CAA. Along with his letter was a letter of authorisation to the manager of Walton Airport permitting the delivery of the plane to me(See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023). He fixed the aircraft and flew it to Qadian in 45 mins. Syed Muhammad Ahmad flew an aircraft that was owned by the Mirza family from Lahore to Qadian, once at Qadian, Mirza Nasir Ahmad took over with its security. Syed Muhammad Ahmad flew missions over Qadian and the surrounding villages and gave reports to the 2nd Khalifa about security and etc. Syed Muhammad Ahmad reports that the Mirza family was running patrols with a jeep and would wave a flag whenever it wanted him to land. After Aug-17, 1947, when Qadian was given to India, his air patrols ceased.
After 17 August our air surveys were discontinued. Since Qadian was now a part of India, we had to fly more frequently from Qadian to Lahore and back. Each day we would take a worker of the community to Walton Airport, who carried with him important papers, documents, records and funds belonging to Sadar Anjuman Ahmadiyya and Tehrik-e-Jadid, as well as detailed accounts, historical records and photographs. The community worker would spend the day in Lahore taking care of essential business and then return to the airport late in the afternoon before being flown back to Qadian around sunset.
Mirza Bashir Ahmad is mentioned by Syed Muhammad Ahmad in terms of a story about some of the manuscripts of the english commentary of the Quran at the Walton Airport near Lahore. Mirza Bashir Ahmad told Syed Muhammad Ahmad to lie about Shaikh Bashir Ahmad and how he forgot this bag of manuscripts on the Tarmac and they were almost lost.
Syed Muhammad Ahmad then tells how he bribed the Jet Fuel distributors in Lahore and was able to obtain additional fuel for food from Qadian. He also tells how the Mirza family was able to steal another L-5 aircraft from an Indian man. It now had 2 identical L-5 airplanes and Deputy Muhammad Latif quit his job at Bombay and was now working full time for the Mirza family as a pilot (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
Electricity poles and wires ran the length of this path, therefore, there was only a short unpaved stretch of about 250 yards in its eastern extension where a small light airplane could land. After this short trip, Deputy Muhammad Latif flew the L-5 to Walton Airport in Lahore and left it under the care of the CAA, while he returned to his job in Bombay (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
The Mirza family was able to steal another L-5 aircraft from an Indian man, it now had 2 identical L-5 airplanes and Deputy Muhammad Latif quit his job at Bombay and was now working full time for the Mirza family as a pilot (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
In early September, the East Punjab government issued orders to impound our planes. As the pilots landed, they hurriedly took off and went back to Lahore. Even after the police showed up as such and demanded that these aircraft be impounded, Syed Muhammad Ahmad brazenly kept flying surveillance missions and helping Ahmadi refugees from Qadian. However, soon thereafter, the police and military units at Qadian began firing at his plane. Even after this order,
Syed Muhammad Ahmad flew into India and dropped important messages/letters at Qadian. He kept flying these daring missions until he hit a cow in Sep-1947 on the runway at Walton Airport, Mirza Munir Ahmad almost died (a son of Mirza Bashir Ahmad), since the aircraft flipped over. This left the Ahmadiyya Community with only one airplane. Deputy Muhammad Latif also asked for leave to go and find a job, thus, the Ahmadiyya Community was only left with one pilot and one aircraft.
War in Kashmir and Rejoining the Air Force
Some time later, in October 1947, war broke out in Kashmir. I had to fly the community’s airplane to Sialkot and Rawalpindi numerous times as the Grand Trunk Road between Lahore and Gujranwala was broken in many places or submerged in water due to flooding. Most of these flights were undertaken on official business of the Muslim League or the administration of Azad Kashmir.
Towards the end of October 1947, Huzoor was informed that the de Havilland company had four Fox Moth airplanes for sale in their all-India office in Karachi. These planes had been initially imported from Canada by a Hindu party. They had arrived by sea in containers and were now finally being assembled at Karachi Airport in a hangar owned by de Havilland. During Partition, the Pakistan government had forbidden these planes from leaving the country, making it necessary for de Havilland to sell them within Pakistan. The price for one airplane was £2000 or Rs 29,200. Two of the planes had already been bought by the government of Sindh for the Chief Minister, Muhammad Ayub Khuhro.
When Huzoor found out, he immediately sent me to Karachi with instructions to buy both the remaining planes. One would be for the community which it would pay for. The other would be for the government of Azad Kashmir and they would make the payment for the purchase. Back then, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was to some extent involved in the administrative affairs of Kashmir.
I remember when Huzoor went to Rabwah for its inauguration in June 1948. Two days earlier, I had flown to Rabwah in the Fox Moth and landed in the spot where Qasr-e-Khilafat now stands. At that time both this area and the area where Darul Sadar, the Sadar Anjuman and Tehrik-e-Jadid offices and the homes of community workers now stand, was an uneven rocky field. After staying there for a few hours, I laid down some chalk lines on the ground with the help of a community member to mark off a future landing ground for Rabwah. This, however never came
to fruition (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
I made many flights for the community. This was in 1948 when the community had sent an infantry battalion of Ahmadi volunteers (the Furqan Battalion) to join the Pakistan Army fighting in Kashmir. The training centre for the Furqan Battalion was a few miles south of Sarai Alamgir, on the banks of the River Jehlum. Whenever I flew between Lahore and Rawalpindi on official
work, I would fly over the centre and buzz them. The Furqan Battalion was led by Colonel Muhammad Hayat Qaisrani. They were on the front line during the Kashmir War and not only defended their territory with great determination, but performed as well as any battalion of the Pakistan Army. On one occasion, Huzoor flew with me in the Fox Moth from Sialkot to Lahore. Accompanying him were his wife Syeda Mehr Apa and his daughter Amtul Basit. For technical reasons, Walton Airport was closed that day and we landed in the Lahore Cantonment airport which back then was an Air Force base where civilian craft were not allowed to land. On another occasion, I was supposed to fly to Quetta in Balochistan, but due to floods in Sindh and roads being blocked, I had to leave the plane in Jacobabad in Sindh for technical reasons(See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023).
In 1950, the 2nd Khalifa decided to sell both of the community’s planes. Flying the planes in turn, I took them to Karachi. The community in Karachi tried to sell the planes according to Huzoor’s instructions, but could not find any buyers. In addition, the cost of parking them and maintaining their flight worthiness (See “Wings of Duty A Memoir” by Syed Muhammad Ahmad, 2023). was very high. Huzoor eventually decided to donate both planes to an organisation.
The 2nd Khalifa then allowed Syed Muhammad Ahmad to join the Pakistani Air Force where I served from 1950 to 1965. During my time in the Air Force, I was an instructor at the Operational Flying School before taking command of two different fighter squadrons the No. 5 Squadron which was the second jet fighter squadron of Pakistan and the No. 15 Squadron.
In 1952, I first attended the Instrument Rating Examiners (IRE) course at RAF Station Syerston
in Nottinghamshire, followed by the Air Gunnery Instructor’s Course (AGIC) and the Central Gunnery Command (CGC) at RAF station Leconfield, Yorkshire.
In 1953, I attended the Fighter Leaders’ Course (FLC) at the Central Fighter Establishment at
RAF station West Raynham, Norfolk.
I then commanded the 33 Jet Fighter Wing. At the same time I was a member of the Pakistan Air Force’s famous aerobatics team, the Falcons. On 2 February 1958 this team made aviation history when a formation of 16 F-86 Sabres performed a simultaneous loop. I still have a photograph of it. In 1958, I graduated from the Air Force Staff College with the PSA symbol (BSc in War Studies).
From 1960 to 1963, I spent over two years as an instructor at the Army Command and Staff College in Quetta. My final posting before retiring was as head of one of the branches in the War Planning Department of Air Headquarters in Peshawar.
I retired after the 1965 War. He was also part of the electoral college that elected Mirza Nasir Ahmad as Khalifa in Rabwah.
He was also part of the electoral college that elected Mirza Tahir Ahmad as Khalifa in Rabwah.
He was also part of the electoral college that elected Mirza Masroor Ahmad as Khalifa in London.
It is now 2010 and, at the age of 86, I am in America, at my daughter Dr Ayesha Ahmad’s house, writing down my memories of things that happened over 60 years ago. I feel it is important to record these events so that future generations might come to know of what happened in Qadian in 1947 and be acquainted with the story of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s small fleet of airplanes.
He died in the USA.
Links and Related Essay’s
Who is Mehr Appa? The 7th wife of the Mirza Basheer ud Din Mahmud, the transgendered wife (1919–1997)
Who is Dr. Mir Muhammad Isma‘il (1877–1943/1947)? The brother-in-law of MGA
Qadian and Ahmadis mentioned in “India and Pakistan: A General and Regional Geography” by O. H. K. Spate (1954)
Click to access Wings-of-Duty.pdf
In 1932, Mirza Basheer ud Din Mahmud Ahmad spent 500 rupees (from Chanda money) for his family to ride in an airplane around Qadian
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