Name: Malik Nur Khan
Pak No: Pak 1658
Father’s Name Malik Mehar Khan
Date of Birth: 22 Feb 1923
Place of Birth: Taman
GD(P) Course: 6th Pilots Course (PC) (RIAF Pre-Partition)
Date of Commission: Joined IAF 6-1-1941
Date of Retirement: 1 Sep 1969
Date of Demise: 15 Dec 2011
Gallantry Awards: HJ, HS
Foreign Awards: Jordanian Order of Istiqlal (2nd Class), Commander of the National Order of the Cedars of Lebanon, Grand Officer in the Order of Range Nassau with Swords by the Dutch Government.
Early Life/Career: Malik Nur Khan was born on 22nd Feb 1923 at Taman. He hailed from a family with military traditions, whose elders belonged to the Malik Awan tribe of ancient repute. His father, Malik Mehr Khan, was a captain in the Indian Army and served in 20th Lancers. His maternal grandfather, Malik Ameer Muhammad Khan, was the Nawab of Kalabagh. Nur Khan got his primary education from Government Middle School Taman. After finishing his fifth class, he was admitted to Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College (RIMC), Dehra Dun. At RIMC, he emerged as a promising young cadet and showed all-round performance in curricular and co-curricular activities.
To satiate his flying urge, Malik Nur Khan learnt flying at Lahore Flying Club Walton at the family expense. On successful completion of flying training, he got his pilot’s A-licence on Tiger Moth biplane. He later applied and was inducted in the Indian Air Force volunteer reserve. In Dec 1940, he went for air crew training. He was commissioned on 6 Jan 1941 as a fighter pilot in the Royal Indian Air Force at the age of seventeen years and ten months only. He belonged to the 6th Pilots Course (PC) of RIAF. The course was unique in that it had other Muslim officers who later formed the backbone of the new PAF. They included Plt Off Asghar Khan, who due to his Army service had seniority above him, Plt Off M Akhtar and Plt Off M M A Cheema; all of them later rose to senior positions in PAF.
After initial training, he flew with RAF instructors on the more powerful Hawker Hart and Audax biplanes. On completion of the course, he earned the honour to be the only student of his course to have achieved “Above Average” assessments in armament, gunnery and bombing.
His first posting after training was to No 3 Sqn at Kohat in Dec 1941. The Sqn then was equipped with Hawker Audaxes. Over the following year, he would fly proscription sorties in the Miranshah area, dropping leaflets, flying road opening sorties, occasionally undertaking punitive bombing against warlords. In Oct 1942, he was promoted to the rank of Flg Off, along with Asghar, Cheema and Akhtar who happened to be with the same Sqn as well. Nur Khan stayed with 3 Sqn till mid 1943 at which point he went for Vengeance Conversion at the Operational Training Unit in Peshawar.
On 8th May 1944, Nur Khan reported to No 7 Sqn which was at that time operating the Vultee Vengeance Dive bomber under Sqn Ldr Hem Chaudhry. Nur Khan was put in ‘B’ Flt then under the command of Flt Lt Erlic Pinto. (Interestingly- the other Flt Cdr of the Sqn was none other than P C Lal, who later went on to command the IAF in 1965, opposite Air Mshl Nur Khan). Nur Khan flew his first dive- bombing sorties two days later on the 10th. Over the next month, Nur Khan flew several missions. By 12th Jun 1944, the Sqn found itself relocated to Charra. During this time, Nur Khan took over the role of the Sqn Sports Officer.
In Nov 1944, the Sqn converted to the Hurricane fighter-bomber. Towards the end of Jan 1945, he was posted to No 9 Sqn, which was then equipped with Hurricanes on the Burma Front. He actively participated in the war and flew numerous successful close support missions against Japanese army. It was here that Nur Khan honed his flying skills and soon became famous, sometimes bordering on being a reckless pilot. In those days, Nur Khan used to make landing approaches in a Hurricane – while flying inverted! This involved approaching the runway for landing in inverted position, then at the right moment lower the undercarriage (which in this case would open upwards) and then does a last- minute roll before flare out and touch down. Handling a Hurricane during such a manoeuvre required utmost confidence and handling skills. One can easily deduce that Nur Khan was a “Flying Genius,” never losing an opportunity to fly a new type of aircraft. Even in his last years in PAF, he ensured that he was up to speed on all new aircraft being inducted, flying such types as the F-104, F-6 and the Mirage III aircraft.
After less than six months with No 9 Sqn, Nur Khan earned his promotion to the rank of Flt Lt and was posted to No 4 Sqn RIAF in Jun 1945. No 4 Sqn was at Yelahanka, flying the Spitfire VIII under the command of Sqn Ldr Boyd-Berry.
No 4 Sqn soon moved to Japan as part of the British Common Wealth Occupation Force in early 1946. In one of the first display flights over Japan, Nur Khan led a formation of Ten Spitfires in the shape of a “4.” His stint as a Flt Cdr lasted about 18 months and in Nov 1946, Nur Khan was transferred to the HQ BCAIR (The Air Component of the BCOF) as a Staff Officer in the rank of Sqn Ldr. When the Indian Component of BCOF wound up in Japan, Independence was around the corner. The Indian Armed Forces were being partitioned and officers being given options to join one or the other country. As he hailed from an area of Punjab that is now part of Pakistan, and for the fact that many of his colleagues he served with in 3 and 9 Sqns were going to Pakistan (Asghar, Cheema etc), it was a natural decision for Nur Khan to opt for PAF.
Nur Khan Opts for Pakistan: On the eve of partition in 1947, Nur Khan was given the prestigious command of Chaklala Air Base. In Jan 1948, he was sent to London to serve as a Liaison Officer at the Pakistan High Commission. After a brief stay there, he returned to Pakistan in Sep 1948 and was posted as Commandant of PAF College at Risalpur. Later, he served as Director of Organisation in Air Headquarters from Jan 1950 till Mar 1951, and remained involved in the induction of aircraft under US military aid. He also pursued the procurement of F-86s instead of F-84s. During the Indo-Pak conflict in 1965, the world witnessed the stunning performance of the aircrew and the aircraft. He commanded Peshawar Station from 1955 to 1956. Having commanded PAF Station Mauripur from 1956 to 1957 and accomplishing the task of converting PAF from piston to Jet-engine aircraft, he served at Air Headquarters before he was appointed as Air Officer Commanding of the first re-organised Operation Group. When Field Marshal Ayub Khan came into power in 1958, he appointed Air Cdre Nur Khan as Managing Director PIA and Chief Administrator of Civil Aviation and Tourism in Mar 1959. His passion for flying was not limited to flying fighter aircraft but he also tried his hands on civil airliners. As the head of PIA Investments Limited, he put up 5 five- star hotels, like the Roosevelt in New York, Scribe in Paris, Centre Hotel in Abu Dhabi and Minhal in Riyadh. He also set up the Intercontinental chain of hotels in Pakistan and the Malam Jabba ski resort.
At the Helm: On 23 Jul 1965, Nur Khan was back in PAF as its C-in-C. He took quick briefs and underwent a conversion on advanced jet fighters on the PAF inventory. Being away from fighter cockpit for about six years, he did quick checkout on T-33, before converting on F-104, the Star Fighter. He also flew Sabres and soon got into the groove.
As C-in-C of PAF, he established the foundations of aggressive tactics, construed the time according to situation, and adopted ways and means that were in the best interest of service. As a true leader, he knew the art of winning hearts and minds of the under command. He remained involved in the affairs of the PAF airmen, cared for them and took actions that raised their morale.
As PAF Chief, it was his leadership that in 1965 War, he led a small but courageous and well-trained air force that faced and knocked out three times bigger air force. Each one gave his best during the war. The world saw him, his war strategy, and his force that gained air superiority in the first 24 hours. The war ended with lot of success and glory. While expressing his feelings about being an aviator and the War, he said, “It was good fortune to have assessed the situation correctly and to have commanded an organisation of 100% dedicated pilots, ground crew and technicians’, the performance of men was far beyond the expectations.”
His Leadership at the Best: Under the visionary leadership of Air Mshl Nur Khan, the aim of PAF was to neutralise selected vital elements of IAF by strikes in strength against them in order to reduce the margin of superiority of IAF, thereby preventing it from interfering effectively in the land battle. His plan worked well and PAF did superbly in the war. The resilient PAF pilots under him blasted the enemy aircraft out of skies and shattered them on ground; they pounded their airfields and installations and demolished their radars; they smashed their tanks and guns on the battlefield and blew their trains on the tracks. With their Sabres, Star Fighters, B-57s, C-130s, and even with Harvards and T-33s, they wrought such havoc in the enemy’s ranks that the enemy had no stomach left to fight.
Despite all its weaknesses and lapses in the face of an opponent four times its size, the men in blue under the legendary command of Air Mshl Nur Khan came out of the duel with flying colours. Much credit goes to the icon, Air Mshl Nur Khan.
Restructuring the PAF Fleet: After the ceasefire in 1965 War, Pakistan suffered from US sanctions and Arms Embargo, which adversely affected PAF and all of its US – based weapon systems were grounded. At this very crucial juncture, Air Mshl Nur Khan once again rose to the occasion. He called upon his visionary skills by looking to China for military assistance to overcome the considerable problems the PAF had suffered from a lack of spares. He made two visits to China for the procurement of F-6s. The first was in Nov 1965 and second in Dec 1967. Normally, PM Chou En Lai did not meet Military Chiefs, but he had a liking for Nur Khan and thus graciously had dinner with him. “F-6s were provided to PAF promptly at a crucial juncture that too at almost free of cost”.
Nur Khan also played a key role in the selection and procurement of state-of- the-art French Mirage aircraft as well. He made considerable efforts in convincing the French to deliver the aircraft as per the PAF requirements. His relentless efforts bore fruit in Mar 1968 when the first batch of Mirage III Es landed at Sargodha.
Later Endeavours: Air Mshl Nur Khan can be truly termed as an icon who not only excelled as the best C-in-C but also led from the front, wherever he was placed to lead. After retirement in Jul 1969, Air Mshl Nur Khan held various senior administrative posts in the government. The prominent positions include Governor West Pakistan, Chairman PIA, Minister of Labour, Education, and Head of Hockey, Cricket and Squash. He is known as a great sports enthusiast. During his times, Cricket, Hockey, and Squash flourished in Pakistan,thus winning the major titles in each of these sports.
Praise from an Israeli Air Force Chief: Air Mshl Nur Khan was also part of the Pakistani contingent that clashed with the Israeli Air Force during the Six – Day War. In fact, the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who was also the Commander of the Israeli Air Force and the Minister of Defence of Israel, wrote in his autobiography that: “Nr Khan was a formidable fellow and I was glad that he was Pakistani and not Egyptian”.
Citation of the Gallantry Award: “Air Mshl Nur Khan assumed command of PAF in Jul 1965. During 1965 War, he set a personal example by flying several operational missions that kept the morale of his officers and men at an exceptionally higher level. His inspiring leadership and selfless devotion to duty significantly affected the course of air war in which PAF managed to dictate terms to an overwhelmingly larger and better-equipped enemy. For his valour, courage, and distinguished leadership during 1965 War, he was conferred upon the gallantry award of HJ”.
Family Details: Malik Nur Khan got married to Begum Farhat in 1952. She stood shoulder-to-shoulder to him through every thick and thin, providing care and happiness to the family and bringing up the children in the best possible manner. They were blessed with four children, a son Mansur Khan and three daughters, Faiqa, Nighat and Asma. All his children are happily married and settled with their families.
Honours and Awards: Air Mshl Nur Khan was a very proud, patriotic, devoted and decorated “SON” of Pakistan. His charismatic personality, dynamic leadership, visionary wisdom, razor-sharp intelligence, outstanding management abilities, and inexhaustible diligence made him the most accomplished person.
His long, distinguished, and illustrious services in diverse fields earned him a name that would be surely remembered until the end of times. He was the man with Midas touch; whatever he touched became gold, whatever he envisaged became reality, whatever he pursued became exemplary- truly “Giant among Men.” His services were acknowledged both at national and international levels. He was the proud recipient of various military and civil honours which included SPk, SQA HJ and HSt. The King of Jordan awarded him the Order of Istiqlal (2nd Class) and was decorated as Commander of the National Order of the Cedars by the President of Lebanon, besides the award of Grand Officer in the order of Range Nassau with Swords by the Dutch Government.
End of the Hero: The saga of epic quests and achievements ended when the legend expired on Dec 15, 2011, leaving behind a trail of courage, professionalism, and dedication for the nation to cherish and follow. An ace fighter pilot, a visionary commander, and an epitome of a leader, Air Mshl Nur Khan was given a historic farewell at his service funeral held at Islamabad. Air Chiefs, Generals, officers, men, civilians and common people gathered at PAF Complex E-9 on the hazy afternoon of 15 Dec to say good-bye to the legend. A smartly turned out contingent of PAF personnel carried his casket wrapped in national colour. Later in the afternoon, he was laid to rest with full military honours in his native town at Taman.
The nation has very befittingly acknowledged the services of the great leader. A postal stamp was issued on his first death anniversary. PAF has renamed one of its Main Operating Bases at Chaklala after his name as ‘PAF Base Nur Khan’, located in the centre of Rawalpindi, which reminds the nation of the countless services rendered by the proud son of the soil.