A Griffin Personified

A Griffin Personified

Fellow fighter pilots, seniors and his colleagues will remember Wg Cdr Nauman Akram (Shaheed) for the wonderful and brave pilot that he was. He had a passion for flying and the honour to serve his country. His, is a story of guts and glory. His records were enviable, which grew systematically, and soared into PAF’s history after winning the coveted Top Gun title ‘Sher Afgan’. He embodied the spirit of a PAF officer through the principled life he led and unselfishly, time and again, gave himself to this nation. For protecting their liberty and freedom till the very last, his countrymen will always remain in debt to him.

The roaring turbo-prop engines of the mighty Hercules winds down and there is complete silence. The aircraft presents a solemn, soaked figure in the heavy rain, parked morosely on the tarmac of PAF Base Mushaf. Its crew had to undertake a task which can bring the strongest of men to their knees; they had to fly in the remains of their fallen comrade. The Hercules lowers its ramp. The crew gets down and salutes in honor of the martyr. Amidst roaring thunder claps and incessant rain, the casket of the fallen warrior emerges from behind the C-130. The coffin is wrapped in green and white, colors for which he lived his entire life, and colors for which he breathed his last.

Arranged in two flanks, comrades from all rank and files present to Shaheed, an arms salute. The sky shakes with another clap of thunder but the gathered remain unmoved. The funeral prayers are offered sombrely and the Shaheed starts the journey which would be his last. Leading the congregation is none other than Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, himself, who salutes as the casket is lifted. The men in blue pay homage to their fallen brother, the one and only Wg Cdr Nauman Akram (Shaheed).

To the family of Wg Cdr Nauman Akram, there is nothing that can be said that will take away or lessen the pain they are feeling. What they can be told is that they are not alone in their grief. In Mushaf Air Force Base Sargodha, officers are having a hard time envisioning a life without their fallen comrade. “He was an integral part of our team and our hearts are heavy with his loss,” said Base Commander, Air Cdre Ali Naeem.

Wg Cdr Nauman Akram took off for Islamabad on a hazy day with heavy clouds lurking towards east. He passed above the parade ground close to the speed of sound. With the roar of his F-16, louder than the boom of splitting atoms, he pulled up into a high pitched climb. It was a beautiful manoeuvre, people gathered below were enthralled. What happened next has now become part of the history. We will never truly know his final thoughts or the split second decisions he may have taken. But the trajectory of the crash was such that nearby civilians lives on the ground were saved.

The din of disbelief at Mushaf was palpable. Eyes searched for the fallen comrade. “We kept expecting him to walk through those doors any minute. It took us the whole day, and then some, to come to terms with the altered reality. Sqn Ldr Ammar Shoaib, one of his under command officers said.

Born into a military family, Nauman Akram joined PAF after his FSc, living and loving the role that would shape his future. He was proud of being a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force and deemed it his highest achievement. He had completed various training programmes ranging from conversion courses from one jet fighter to another as well as Senior Command and Staff Courses. After finishing a four-year tenure in Qatar, Nauman Akram was appointed as Flight Commander Operations till May 2019. From then on the Wg Cdr was appointed as OC No 9 Squadron, which was also his last held position.

Besides being awarded Chief of Air Staff Commendation Certificates as well as Excellence Badge, in 2019, Nauman Akram was bestowed Tamgha-e-Basalat for his service during Operation Zarb-e-Azb. In October, 2019, Nauman Akram won the Sher Afghan trophy during the Inter-Squadron Armament Competition (ISAC). His No 9 Squadron came in second place.

“To win the Sher Afghan trophy is one of the highest honours. But he was such a strong team player that his preference of a team win would outweigh that of an individual win. He always put his squadron before himself. Nauman used to say that he would swap his Sher Afghan trophy for the ISAC title any day,” said, Sqn Ldr Ammar Shoaib, who was Nauman Akram’s wingman during the competition last year.

Fellow fighter pilots, seniors and his colleagues will remember Wg Cdr Nauman Akram Shaheed for the wonderful and brave pilot that he was. As they reminisced about their fallen comrade, their memories and anecdotes were a testament of the fearless late fighter pilot, who touched the lives of many.

“He was a loving husband to his wife, an amazing father to his two children, and our fellow warrior and friend – a friend who could be trusted in the toughest of times. Always courteous and polite, his presence would make you want to be on that next level of mannerisms and respect. The world needs more people like him, with a big heart,” said one of his under command pilots who knew Nauman Akram as a professional that was not only proficient at his job, but also passionate about it.

So much so that the Wg Cdr was selected to fly Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in his F-16, during his visit to the Base, recently.

The Air Force is a close-knit family, and the loss of one of our own affects all of us, said OC Flying, Gp Capt Muhammad Jahanzeb Khan.

“To be the OC of one of the elite squadrons is to be the best of the best. That says it all about Nauman Akram,” Jahanzeb Khan said.

Those who served with Wg Cdr Nauman Akram believe that their passion and commitment would not burn so brightly if it were not for the example and guidance of their dear friend.

Base Commander, Air Cdre Ali Naeem, was one of Nauman’s instructors and described the Shaheed as the one whose mind was rarer than radium.

“He was the sharpest officer. His mind absorbed lessons like a sponge absorbs water. He executed a task with grease lightening ease,” Air Cdre Ali Naeem reminisced. “We are proud of the training system we have, our men are trained for challenges. His loss is a solemn reminder of the dangerous work that airmen do every day.” Despite the inherent risks, flying is also the reward for pilots. For them the show must go on. His colleagues, friends and family members, take comfort in their faith, and the knowledge that Wg Cdr Nauman Akram sacrificed his life doing what he loved best: serving his country and pursuing his lifelong dream to be a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force.

“We will never forget his smile that started with his eyes,” said Sqn Ldr Ammar Shoaib.