The PAF Shaheens of International Fame

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“Although the Air Force gladly gives most credit to the Army, this is perhaps over generous. India with roughly five times greater air-power expected an easy air-superiority. Her total failure to attain it may be seen retrospectively as a vital, possibly the most vital, of the whole conflict” – The Guardian, London (Sept 24, 1965)

Meet the PAF Shaheens of International Fame who have not only served Pakistan but have fought for military causes all across the globe and trained generations of foreign pilots. We take a look at the lives of 4 internationally renowned pilots. The information is taken from the book “Sentinels in the Sky” by Col (R) Azam Qadri & GP Capt. Muhammad Ali. Special thanks to Air Vice Marshal (R) Sajid Habib for introducing us to this wonderful book.


Air Cdr Sittar Alvi SJ, SI(M)

Abdus Sattar Alvi, son of the officer of Indian Royal Army, was known for his inquisitive mind since childhood. As his father’s nature of the job demanded frequent postings, Sattar received his primary education from various parts of the country. He did his matriculation from Government High School Bannu and FSc from Emerson College, Multan. Later in 1963, Sattar joined the PAF Academy Risalpur and received flying training on the newly introduced T-37 aircraft.

After two years at the academy, when Sattar was officially a Pilot Officer, the 1965 war broke out between Pakistan and India. Sattar and five other newly graduates were selected as “Mail Runners” to convey messages from one base to another and Sattar displayed his zeal and devotion until the ceasefire took place.

Sattar also performed aerobatics on several occasions during the visit of dignitaries for two years. Later in 1970, he was sent to Iraq to set up Fighter Leaders School on the pattern of PAF. As he was engrossed in the training of Iraqi pilots, war broke out in Pakistan. Sattar insisted on coming back to Pakistan. He flew the Quick Reaction Close Support Missions especially in Shakargarh, where the battle was the most turbulent.

Sattar1When the Yom Kippur War broke out, Sattar was one of PAF fighter pilots who volunteered to support Egypt and Syria. However, when Alvi and his fellow fighters arrived, Egypt and Israel had already concluded a ceasefire while Syria remained in war with Israel. Sattar joined the Syrian Air Force along with Air Marshal Nur Khan.

On 19th April 1974, Sattar was flying in an eight-ship formation with a fellow PAF pilot and a Flight Leader when he encountered a pair of Mirages approaching them. Israel jammed the radio so Sattar cannot warn the rest of the formation, but Sattar decided to engage the enemy alone in order to prevent the main formation from the attack. Sattar dropped his speed to zero and brought one of the mirages within his gun sight. He shot a missile and within seconds, the Israeli mirage disappeared into history.

The second mirage, low on fuel and morale, decided to flee and Sattar safely made it to Dumayr. After the news spread, the Syrians acknowledged that the bravery of Pakistani Pilots paid off.

After the engagements, Sattar Alvi and Formation Leader Major Arif Manzoor were awarded Syria’s highest decorations for gallantry; the Wisaam Faris and Wisaam Shuja’at by the President of Syria. The Government of Pakistan also awarded him with the Sitara-e-Jurat.


Wg Cdr Saif-ul-Islam, SJ, SBt

Saif-ul-Azam is among the most celebrated fighter pilots of PAF. He was born in Khagarbaria, East Bengal in 1941. His family moved to East Pakistan after the partition and moved to West Pakistan later in 1955 where he attended his high school. His piloting skills were recognized by his instructors when he joined PAF Sargodha. His attacks were always well executed and an inspiration for many.

He graduated in 1960 and was commissioned as a pilot officer in PAF. Later, he did an Advanced Fighter Course from Luke AFB, Arizona where he earned the title of ‘Top Gun’ from the United Stated Air Force.

Saif was a part of the 1965 war with India. On 19th September 1965, he successfully executed a ground attack strike. Right after the attack, his formation was attacked by two IAF Gnats. Saif shot down one and the other surrendered. He was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for his exceptional flying, courage and devotion to the mission.

saif-ul-azamLater in 1966, while Saif was on a deputation at the Royal Jordanian Air Force, Azam scored victories at the Air Bases in Jordan and Western Iraq which earned him Jordan’s Wisam-al-Istaqbal and Iraq’s Medal of Bravery, the Nawt-al-Shuja’a.

Saif-ul-Azam has the unique distinction of being a part of three different Air Forces and annihilating four different types of aircrafts. He also has the distinction of being the only Pilot chosen from the sub continent for the International Hall of Fame and being honored as the 13th Best Aviator in the world.

In 1971, when East Pakistan separated itself from West Pakistan, he became the Director of Flight Safety and later, Director of Operations for the Bangladesh Air Force. In 1977, he took his position as the Wing Commander and Base Commander of the BAF Base. Saif also served as the Chairman, Civil Aviation Authority, twice after retiring. Currently, he directs a travel agency along with his wife.


Sqn Ldr Arif Manzoor, SJ, TBt

The tall, lean and handsome Arif Manzoor was born to a well known Session Judge. Arif got his primary education from Karachi. He later joined Lawrence College, Murree for his further studies. Arif was not only exceptional in his studies but he also bagged several awards for athletics as well.

Arif was born with the dream of becoming a fighter pilot, and to pursue this dream he joined the PAF Academy Risalpur in 1959. He made his way up to the top cadets within a year and earned his wings in 1960. Arif was later selected for Advanced Flying Training Course at USA.

Arif was serving the elite No 9 Sqn when the India Pakistan War broke out in 1965. Arif was the junior most pilot of the Sqn but he did not once hesitate to be a part of the war, instead, he participated with all his devotion and enthusiasm. He flew several CAP missions and Close Support missions in Wagah, Chamb and Philora sector.

PAF decided to induct French Mirage Aircraft in Pakistan and Arif was amongst the six pilots who flew the first batch of Mirage-III strike interceptors from France. He was also one of the first officers who shifted to the latest weapon system. Arif participated in 1971 War and led several strike missions against Pathankot and Avantipura.

Arif1After the war, Arif Manzoor went to Syria to head the Air Force Group. Tales of his bravery and resilience started to spread across Syria. He not only earned fame for himself, but also the PAF and its pilots. He, along with his team of young fighters, participated in many defence missions against Israeli Air Force. He led the formation which destroyed the Israeli aircraft on 19th December 1973. The Government of Syria presented him with the highest gallantry award.

Arif Manzoor continued serving the Syrian Air Force with unparalleled devotion but on 12th July 1974, while he was training a young Syrian fighter pilot, he attained shahadat. Little did the brave warrior know what future held for him; his daughter celebrated her first birthday without her beloved father.


Wg Cdr Hameed Anwar

Hameed Anwar, one of the most exceptional fighter pilots of Pakistan, was born in Lahore on 20th June 1934. He received his primary education from Lawrence College, Murree. Later in 1953, he joined PAF as a flight cadet. He earned his wings in 1954 and joined the elite No 9 Sqn as a fighter pilot. Later, he served the elite No 14 Sqn at Mauripur where his devotion and exceptional piloting skills earned him massive respect. Hameed served in five different air forces, namely; PAF, RAF, USAF, RJAF and ADAF.

Hameed Anwar was a part of several aerobatics teams including the famous ‘Falcon’ Team. In 1958, the team was asked to prepare for an outstanding show in the honor of Afghan King Zahir Shah’s visit to Pakistan. The team performed on 2nd February 1958 and set a world record.

From 1960 to 1962, Hameed served the Royal Air Force as a Pakistani Pilot on exchange posting. He was a part of the RAF National Aerobatic Team and he didn’t miss the opportunity to fly the proud flag of Pakistan all across Europe and NATO countries including Greece, Tehran, Norway, Cyprus and Malta. He was later awarded with a souvenir by the Blue Diamond’s Aerobatic Team at the team’s reunion ceremony in 2005.

He joined the Royal Jordanian Air Force as the Instructor Pilot. Initially, he wasn’t liked much because the Jordanian pilots didn’t like the idea of training under a Pakistani. Later when Hameed showed his extraordinary piloting skills and capabilities, everyone accepted and respected him as a mentor. He trained them with such devotion that they became the best in the Arab world. He also trained them for a performance for Field Marshal Abdul Hakim, the First Vice President of Egypt. The performance was so outstanding that the Field Marshal was speechless. He gifted Hameed a Titanium wristwatch that is still a part of his historical archive.

Hameed2In December 1964, he sent two pairs of jets to deal with the Israeli Air Force Jets that were heading towards the area north of the Dead Sea. The aircraft annihilated one Israeli Jet and damaged the other one. This was the first time Jordanian aircrafts shot down an Israeli jet. King Hussain sent Hameed a telegram from UK congratulating him on this amazing victory.

Anwar also formed the Hashmite Diamond Aerobatics Team for RJAF on King Hussain’s request. He promised the King he would raise a team of 9 aircrafts within 11 days. He trained the pilots day and night, and honored his pledge on 19th October 1964. Hashmite Diamonds is, till date, Middle East’s first and only nine aircraft aerobatics team. King Hussain truly admired Hameed for his personality and skills that he described him as “One of the best pilots and men I have been fortunate to know”.

Hameed Anwar has also authored a booklet on Aerobatics which became a pocket book treasure for every fighter pilot.


Written by Salman Bokhari 

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