In 1919, JRD Tata first journeyed into the open skies as a passenger at the tender age of 15. This was the beginning of his love affair with flying, which he had developed from watching famous pilots Adolphe Pegoud and his neighbour Louis Perliot take to the air.
JOURNEY TO THE TOP
In 1925, JRD Tata was sent to India by his father, leading him to cut short his studies at Cambridge, and joined Tata Sons as an unpaid apprentice. 13 years later, he would go on to be elected the Chairman of Tata Sons, and led the company to unparalleled growth and success, while also focusing greatly on philanthropy.
THE PIONEER AVIATOR
To promote the sport of flying, the Royal Aero Club of India and Burma was set up in 1927 in Bombay, and in 1929, JRD Tata became the first person to be issued a license to pilot aeroplanes in the country, after clocking three hours and forty five minutes of flying time. This was an ‘A’ license that permitted him to fly ‘all types of landplanes’.
HE WHO DARES, WINS
He loved flying to the point where, just a year after obtaining his license, he competed in the Aga Khan Air Race between India and the UK, where he finished second!
GIVING INDIA WINGS
1932 can be considered a milestone year for aviation in India as JRD Tata founded Tata Aviation and on October 15th of that year, himself piloted a de Havilland Puss Moth aircraft from Karachi to Bombay via Ahmedabad carrying 25kg of mail, held to be the nation’s maiden flight. In 1948, Tata aviation was incorporated as Air India, which was owned and run by JRD until 1953, when it was nationalised by the Indian government. Even then the government appointed him Chairman of Air India, believing him to be the best person to have in-charge of the airline.
JRD also ensured that aviation became a profitable venture in India. With little government support, by 1934, Tata Aviation registered a slim profit of Rs.10,000 in an industry that was a notorious loss-maker in its early years.
THE NATION’S APPRECIATION
For his contributions to civil aviation and humanitarian causes, JRD was presented with the honorary rank of Group Captain by the Indian Air Force in 1948, which was elevated to that of Air Vice Marshall in 1974. He was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1955 and granted the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, in 1992.
In honour of his maiden flight back in 1932, JRD recreated the flight from Karachi to Bombay in 1962 to celebrate 30 years of Air India, and again in 1982 for its Golden Jubilee
For his various contributions to civil aviation, JRD Tata was decorated with numerous awards including the Tony Jannus Award in 1979, the Edward Warner Award in 1986, the Guggenheim Award in 1988, the Gold Medal from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in 1995 and numerous others.
BEYOND THE COCKPIT
JRD Tata was considered by many to be the pioneer not only of civil aviation but also of the family planning movement in the country, long before it became an official government policy. To this end, he was awarded the United Nations Population Award in 1992.
A MARK OF RESPECT
JRD Tata passed away in Geneva, Switzerland in 1993, and on the occasion, the Indian Parliament adjourned its session as a mark of respect to him – an act that rarely occurs.