“I was no good at studies and wanted to get out of the house. I always loved planes, so that’s why I joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)”, laughed Wing Commander (retired) Hamid Anwar, or ‘Uncle Harry’ as we called him as I finally sat down to interview him a couple of years ago. He was my father’s best friend of more than 60 years (they had met while training as young pilots with the PAF) and although he was now settled in the US, every winter without fail he would come to Lahore to spend time with my father and to meet his nephews and cousins and old air force buddies. Chicago can be bitingly cold in winters and in recent years he admitted that “his bones could no longer take the cold”. But his British wife Laila and four sons are all settled there and as much as he loved Pakistan he could not leave the US.
For years I had heard about his legendary exploits as a dashing young pilot who was selected to fly with the famous British Royal Air Force Blue Diamonds aerobatics team as an exchange officer (no one else was ever asked!). He eventually left the PAF for first the UAE air force and then the Royal Jordanian Air Force, where he became close friends with the late King Hussein, himself a keen aviator. I decided to formally interview him well into his 70s, as Uncle Anwar had published a book on his own expense, which was a guide to the art of formation aerobatics.
He eventually left the PAF for UAE Air Force and then Royal Jordanian Air Force
During Uncle Anwar’s youth, the Pakistan Air Force was well known in the world for its formation aerobatics team. The ‘Falcons’ of the PAF even performed for the visiting King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan with a record breaking 16 Falcon aircraft. On the 2nd of February 1958, the PAF made aviation history. Hamid Anwar was flying at the No. 4 position and remembers that the event made it to the front page of newspapers in England. The British Royal Air Force then quickly flew a team of 22 aircraft in a loop to “show that the colonialists were still superior!” he recalled with his customary good humour. In all my years of knowing him he would always be cheerful and smiling, often teasing his friends and generally being the “life of the party”. He was charming, loved people and most people loved him.
In the exchange posting later on, Uncle Anwar flew with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1961 and performed with their national aerobatics team, the ‘Blue Diamonds’. Only the top fighter pilots were selected for the team, which flew 16 Hunter aircraft. According to Anwar, “That was probably the last 16 jet aircraft team in the world. I guess that makes me the only aviator to have been in the first 16 aircraft team and the last 16 jet aircraft team to perform formation aerobatics”. That probably qualified him for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. He was also the only non RAF pilot ever to fly in this team.
In those heady days Pakistani fighter pilots were far from conservative
A book dedicated to the RAF’s 92 Squadron has this hilarious description of him: “St Clair was dispatched to the railway station to collect a Pakistani exchange officer. Soon Hamid Anwar appeared through the hole in the roof or at least a bowler hat appeared with a brown moustachioed face grinning happily. The face was fed with beer and so grinned even more happily. The rest of the body never really arrived but didn’t seem to matter as the hat, the grin, and the ale entry part were all present… Soon after this the Squadron received the terrific news that they were to replace the ‘Black Arrows’ of No 111 Squadron as the Royal Air Force’s premier aerobatic team. Soon, once again the name of 92 Squadron was to become a household word in the air minded homes of Great Britain, Western Europe and the Middle East”. Hamid Anwar was also described by his British officers as a “good fellow” and a “very competent flyer”. In those heady days Pakistani fighter pilots were far from conservative and Uncle Anwar often complained about the bar culture coming to an end in 1977. The Bar was where the young pilots interacted with the older ones and learnt about life after flying hours in a relaxed atmosphere. “Now they allow the young pilots to wear beards while flying. I mean, either be a Mullah or a pilot!” he would say.
He certainly was a skilled fighter pilot with few equals. He explained to me that the pilots had to practice a lot – it was not easy for a fighter pilot to be selected for formation aerobatics. But Uncle Anwar had an innate talent that shone through. He wrote in the preface of his guidebook (for formation aerobatics): “You are a chosen few, feel proud of yourselves. Use your head at all times and please do not screw up!” The book, entitled “The Essentials of Formation Aerobatics”, was written as a gift to the Pakistan Air Force. Having flown in the formation aerobatics teams for 4 different countries: Pakistan, United Kingdom, UAE and Jordan, he was somewhat of an authority on the subject. He told me at the time: “I would like it to become mandatory reading in the PAF… I don’t want any money for it. I just want the young pilots to read it. I wrote it for them”.
“King Hussein liked me a lot”
Although he left the PAF while still very young, Uncle Anwar remained very patriotic towards Pakistan. He promptly appeared at Air Headquarters during the 1965 and 1971 wars with India and demanded to fly fighter combat missions even though he had retired and settled abroad! His restless spirit has taken him to the air forces of the UAE and Jordan. It was in Jordan that he struck up a lasting friendship with King Hussein. “That’s how the Hashemite Diamonds were formed. I did a special fire power demonstration at Amman airport and he enjoyed the show so much, we started talking afterwards. I had a bet with the King that I could make an aerobatics team of 9 aircraft since Israel had a team of only 6. He considered it an impossible task. He lost the bet when the team carried out formation aerobatics with 9 aircraft in just eleven days – but he loved it!” he recalled. Hamid Anwar not only taught the Jordanian pilots formation aerobatics but also dog-fighting on their Hunter aircraft. In fact, he was put in charge of training all the fighter pilots of the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF).
During December of 1964, a famous dog-fight took place between four Israeli Mirage aircraft and four Hunter aircraft of the RJAF over the West Bank. The ensuing battle resulted in the Hunters shooting down two Israeli Mirages and damaging one without any loss to the RJAF aircraft. Uncle Anwar later met the Israeli Air Force Commander, Ezer Weiszman (who became President of Israel). He invited Uncle Anwar for a visit in 2003 when he had retired. In his letter of invitation, Weiszman wrote: “I am still an ardent optimist who thinks that despite the Israelis and Arabs, we shall definitely come to an understanding and to an agreement and live safely and happily ever after… it is not easy but the trends of the world indicate that it is possible”.
He was described by his British officers as a “good fellow”
Unfortunately, during the 1967 Six Day War with Israel, most of the Royal Jordanian Air Force was decimated on the ground – by then, however, Uncle Anwar had already moved to Chicago. “King Hussein liked me a lot. People started getting jealous and all these palace intrigues started. There were just too many politics so I decided it was time for me to go and I left” was how he described his migration to the US. He never lost touch with Jordan or King Hussein, however, and every year after his annual visit to Pakistan, he would fly to Jordan on his way back to the US to meet with his old friends. In Chicago, Uncle Anwar started a successful construction business from scratch. Upon his retirement he moved with his wife to the picturesque Apple Lake Canyon near Chicago to live in his spacious lake house.
Looking back, he told me he enjoyed his time in the Royal Jordanian Air Force the most. So perhaps it was in his destiny to breathe his last on Jordanian soil. This year, after his annual trip to Pakistan where he came heartbroken to condole the death of his best friend, my father Saeed Khan who passed away this December, he proceeded onwards to Jordan as planned. Uncle Anwar’s health was ailing with fainting spells but since this tests were clear he saw no reason to cut his visit short. “When it’s time to go, you go,” he told my sister. He died in Jordan this April from sudden heart failure, a couple of months before his 81st birthday. He was given full protocol by the Royal Jordanian Air Force, and they sent his remains back to the US in their own aircraft. As the old adage goes, he went out with his boots on. May he rest in peace.
Nice read about an interesting personality. Can’t help noticing though how many ex-PAF officers ended up settled in North America.
I had the pleasure to fly with Anwar sb. in 1971 when he came to Pakistan to take part in the war with Indian. I went to pick him from Lahore in Beech Bonanza. He flew all the way to Peshawer deck level. I also had the pleasure of flying with Saeed sb. In Abu Dhabi Air Force he converted me on DHC-5 (Buffalo). They were both great people to know. RIP.
Hamid Anwar was an honourable man, one of the kindest, most generous souls ever I have ever known. I miss him, and I miss that laugh of his. Although I left Lahore five years ago, Harry’s telephone calls and emails had kept me posted on the old town. Dr.Miki
for all his great personality…uncle harry happened to be too close to comfort to both king hussain and the zionist ezer wizman…these two zionists were responsible for worst atrocities against palestinians …and thus makes him an imperialist toady like gen ayub and other generals of Pak army- selling out the palestinian cause..nothing to write home about ! ! !
I am so pleased to hear this news story of my grandfathers work overseas,when I first saw this article and began to tear up as it perfectly wrapped up his story. Being his oldest grandchild, I was amazed to see some of these photos I had never seen when we went through the photo books together. Although his passing hit us very hard we were happy to know that he died a legend. Thank you -Elizabeth Anwar
I am so pleased to hear this news story of my grandfathers work overseas,when I first saw this article and began to tear up as it perfectly wrapped up his story. Being his oldest grandchild, I was amazed to see some of these photos I had never seen when we went through the photo books together. Although his passing hit us very hard we were happy to know that he died a legend. THANK YOU