“Ubiquitous and versatile aviation marvel,” is how Rajesh Isser describes the helicopter – colloquially referred to as a “chopper”, because the rotor blades of the helicopter chops the air to provide the required “lift” for staying afloat. The Air Vice-Marshal, an IAF veteran who flew various types of helicopters during his illustrious career spanning over three-and-a-half decades, passionately recounts his professional journey. He unwraps numerous missions that he undertook, captivatingly narrated through small anecdotes in the book curiously titled – ‘I’d rather fly a chopper’

In what is called the “Top Gun” syndrome, it is believed that every cadet who chooses military flying wants to become a fighter pilot, which is not true. Yes, fighter flying is a craze among the young cadets and there is a natural attraction for the “awe” and “flamboyance” that comes with it, but there are many who opt to fly transport aeroplanes or helicopters, though their merit in flying and physical standards qualify them to fly fighter jets. Rajesh Isser was one such cadet who chose to fly a helicopter despite achieving the merit for fighter flying. 

Liberation of Bangladesh 

Isser captures the imagination of readers through engaging, short, and humorous tales drawn from his professional and private life, making it easy to read and consume, unlike serious books of military operations. Being the son of an Indian diplomat who returned to India from East Pakistan, just prior to the Indo-Pak War of 1971, the author briefly narrates the mayhem in Dacca, before their family managed the ‘great escape’ after eight months of house arrest. In the war that followed, the role played by IAF in liberating Bangladesh motivated young Rajesh to choose IAF as a career. Kudos to him that he relentlessly pursued his dream and earned his coveted “Wings” in 1982. 

Numerous incidents narrated in the book reverberate with many of us who served in IAF, going through similar experiences. Trysts with elephants, panthers, and cobras in remote IAF stations of the North-East, appetite to take risk and bending of rules for the overall good, bar-time discussions, all-faith prayers before important events, joy of celebrating Holi, Eid, Diwali, and X’mas across the communities, and many more such experiences, which all the air-warriors cherish, regardless of their branch, rank ,or gender. Having served in stations, such as Mohanbari (Dibrugarh) and Chabua mentioned in the book, and having frequented the Advanced Landing Grounds that the author talks about, many stories of valour and dismay, echo my own experiences and emotions. In that sense, this book would kindle the thoughts of veteran soldiers to re-live their experiences once again, and the civilians to understand the lives of combatants much better. 

Giving credence to the story of Baba Harbhajan Singh of Nathu La in Sikkim, sanctity of protecting the Brahm Baba shrine in Bakshi-ka-talab, the story of an ancient banyan tree at Mohanbari airfield, retention of a mosque adjacent to the Jammu runway, existence of a sun temple inside the Air Force Station, Bihta, and many such places, which harness the beliefs of the local population are purposely protected and revered, keeping the local sensitivities in view, which go a long way in securing the respect and support from the local population. The author thoughtfully names many of his compatriots, seniors, and subordinates, giving credit where due, and also dutifully mentions Viru, Rustom, Ismail, Kamra Ram, and such others who have been his domestic help and played a role in his life, which is appreciable. 

Saving lives 

As regards the operations, Isser covers interesting episodes of his combat missions during the Kargil conflict, Sri Lanka operations, Operation Megh Dooth (Siachen Glacier), UN Peace Keeping Mission at Congo, and many others. The author also brings out the most significant role being played by helicopters in combating the Maoists along India’s Red Corridor. Describing in detail, what Special Heli-Borne Operations are, he credits the top-brass of Indian Army and IAF for this innovative technique first devised during the 1971 Operations, which since has become the most preferred mode for both Special Forces and the infantry brigades. 

From saving lives during floods, cyclones, and tsunamis to flying VIP passengers and politicians, Rajesh seems to have enjoyed every minute of his helicopter flying. Affirming that “the one thing an IAF helicopter pilot has surely done is save lives –in more ways than imaginable”, AVM Rajesh Isser concludes, “this book is every chopper pilot’s story”. An inspiring book by an accomplished chopper pilot. 

(The reviewer, Gp Capt Dr R Venkataraman, is an IAF veteran, currently serving as General Manager, Madras Management Association) 

About the book

Published: HarperCollins 

Price: ₹324

Pages: 261 

Click the linkto check out the book on Amazon.