The Nation will forever be grateful to the Eagle.
His prime was as if the gods were vying with one another to shower him with gallantry and accolades and decorate him with the crown of glory for his contribution to the respective Air forces which he has served. But it is a feeling of remorse that one is to overcome that the departure of a brave heart—of a legend—who has gone finally to meet the Almighty whose nearness he must have felt often up in the vast blue expanse when he was chasing Indian fighters in the 1965 Indo-Pak War or Israeli Mystères in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, has gone almost unnoticed in the history books.
He was revered as one of the most feared fighter pilots the world has ever seen. Today is the first death anniversary of this renowned fighter pilot Group Captain Saiful Azam. He was a war veteran who had the privilege to hold the record of 4 Israeli jets shot down in the 1967 war, a record which is still unbroken to this day and served 4 different Air Forces (Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq and Bangladesh).
Born in Pabna in 1941, he grew up studying in East Pakistan and later moved to West Pakistan to finish college and eventually join the Pakistan Air Force academy Risalpur in 1958. In 1960 he was commissioned in the General Duties pilot (GDP) branch as a fighter pilot in the 38th GDP course, this was itself an achievement as the Pakistanis hand picked Bengali officers to become fighter pilots.
It was during his time in Pakistan Air force from 1960-1971 that he introduced himself to the world. During his time in PAF he was stationed and trained in various operational squadrons and was one of the top students in his class. He attended the Advanced Fighter Course in the US and earned the most coveted “Top Gun Trophy,” an award earned only by the world’s best fighter pilots for excellence in flying skills.
1965 Indo-Pak War
During the 1965 war Saiful azam was a fighter instructor in PAF Base Sargodha with 17th Squadron flying F-86s. As an instructor he fought in the 65’ war and inflicted a great threat to Indian Air force. He shot down one Indian jet. Throughout the 1965 war, Azam took part in various ground-attack and air attack missions which wrecked heavy damage to the Indian forces. As a result he was awarded the third highest military award by the Pakistan government “Sitara-e-Jurat”.
1967 Arab-Israel War
In November 1966, he was sent by the Pakistan Air Force on deputation as an adviser to the Royal Jordanian Air Force. During the 1967 Arab Israel war, in just two combat sorties in two days during the 1967 Arab-Israel War, he downed four Israeli fighters and fighter-bombers. This feat is exceptional even in 20th century air combat in several respects.
Azam shot down a Dassault Mystère IV, a supersonic aircraft belonging to the Israeli Air Force, while flying a Hawker Hunter jet. The very next day he was posted to Iraqi air force, where he had the honor of shooting down a Vautour Bomber and a Mirage jet belonging to Israeli Air Force.
Due to his fearless missions the Jordanian government awarded him “Wisam al-istiqlal-Order of Freedom” gallantry award and the Iraqi government awarded him “Nawt as-Shaja’ah (Medal of Valour).
Azam with Iraq Army chief in 1967 (R)
He is the only pilot to have earned gallantry awards from three countries (Pakistan, Jordan & Iraq).
1971 Bangladesh Independence War
During the liberation war Saiful Azam was arrested by Pakistan Army Intelligence and taken as a prisoner of war. In 1974, he returned to Bangladesh and enlisted in the Bangladesh Air Force. He served various important duties in the Bangladesh Air Force and was also the Base Commander of Base Bashar in Dhaka. He retired in 1979.
He has left a lasting legacy and his name has become a symbol of pride in Jordan and Iraq. He was a good friend with the late king of Jordan King Hussein. He was always greeted by the late King whenever he visited Jordan and he was also hosted by the Jordanian Air Force on numerous occasions to talk with the Jordanian pilots. His reputation as a battle tested fighter pilot also earned him the unique distinction of being included in the International Hall of Fame by the US Government as one of the world’s “22 Living Eagle” in the year 2000, for his outstanding war skills and courage, thereby joining the illustrious company of a handful of legendary pilots ever to grace the skies.
His accomplishment is well-known among Israelis, Middle Eastern countries, and combat aviation enthusiasts in the West all around the world till this day.
The news of his demise brought huge sadness and grief, even Israel paid tributes to this great sky warrior. King Abdullah of Jordan paid tributes to Azam’s family along with Iraq and Palestinians who have praised this fearless aviator with respect and honor. Group Captain Azam (Retd) was laid to rest on 15th of June last year in Shaheen Graveyard. May the Almighty bless him in the highest ranks in heaven.