A pair of American-built F-86F Sabre jet fighters streaked through the skies above the Punjab region of Pakistan on September 7, 1965, holding formation as their General Electric J47 Turbojet engines sending them hurtling through the air at speeds in excess of 450 miles an hour. In the lead aircraft, Squadron Leader Muhammad Mahmood Alam, commander of Number 11 Squadron, Pakistan Air Force, kept his eyes peeled, straining to make out shapes of enemy aircraft somewhere on the horizon. He and his wingman had been scrambled fifteen minutes earlier, when the Combat Air Patrol over Sarghoda issued a distress signal requesting immediate assistance, and Alam had an uncontrollable urge to kill everything in sight, an overdeveloped need to satiate his blood-lust on a tasty dish of murderous vengeance, and an itchy trigger finger hovering over a six-pack of Browning M-2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns embedded in the nose of his aircraft.
His wingman came on the radio with a sentence that wouldn't have been more beautiful to Alam's ears if it had been written as a Beethoven concerto: "Contact. Bogeys, one o'clock low."
It only took the excellently-mustached, awesomely-sunglassesed Pakistani fighter pilot a moment to notice the five Indian Air Force Hawker Hunter jet fighters screaming through the cloudless sky, maintaining perfect formation just 200 yards above the Punjabi treetops.
Without hesitation, Squadron Leader M. M. Alam rolled his F-86 into a dive and flicked the lever to arm the pair of AIM-6 Sidewinder missiles lovingly tucked beneath the wings of his flying, jet-fuel-powered, Mach-1-capable, machine-gun-equipped steel murder-box.
A 12-year veteran of the Pakistan Air Force commanding the first fighter-jet-equipped attack squadron in his country's history, Squadron Leader Alam was already being hailed as the PAF's greatest hero, thanks in no small part to his appearance resembling that of a 1980s cop show action TV series hero, but also for his brave actions just a day earlier, when he had engaged the enemy in a series of bullet-riddled dogfights that netted him two Hawker Hunter kills at close-range with his heavy machine guns. This action, enough for most people, netted the Squadron Commander the Pakistan Star of Courage – the highest award offered for bravery by his country – and it would mark the first time in his country's history that a combat medal of any kind was issued to a member of the Pak Air Force. Alam, not satisfied with his insane ability to use a machine gun mounted on a flying vehicle moving at 600 miles an hour to somehow hit another vehicle also flying 600 miles an hour, was still monumentally pissed off because during the battle the Indian Air Force shot down and killed two men from his command. Alam, having developed a taste for blood and vengeance and probably beef, had jumped at the chance to get back in the air and get his eye-for-an-eye on.
Personal vendettas aside, it didn't help that there is really no love lost between India and Pakistan, two currently-nuclear-equipped nations that share a border, a common history, and a mutual desire to bomb the other one into a smoking crater filled with corpses. Alam had actually been born in British India in 1935, but his family moved to Pakistan after it seceded in 1947, and the two countries have basically hated each other ever since. This particular outbreak of hostilities, known as the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, had started out as a dispute over Kashmir, a disputed region claimed by both countries (as well as China for some reason), but was really just a good opportunity for two countries that hate each other super bad to beat the hell out of each other all the time.
The lock-on indicator growled menacingly as Alam slammed the stick sharply into a bowel-crushing dive, aiming the nose of his F-86 for the last aircraft in the Indian formation. The back pair of Hawker Hunters, hearing the sound of their impending doom breathing down their necks, broke hard, deftly shaking Alam's AIM-6 Sidewinder and sending the supposedly-heat-seeking air-to-air missile to miss its target, exploding semi-harmlessly into the trees below. Alam, unfazed, rolled his craft towards the two, tracking them down like a lion running down stragglers he'd separated from the herd. He dropped in behind them, armed his second missile, and fired, sending the heat-seeker hurtling towards the Hawkers.
The Sidewinder went off before it hit the fuselage, the explosion destroying the fuel lines of the Hawker Hunter and forcing the pilot to punch out of there and eject.
But Alam wasn't done. He swung his craft around, left the other straggler to his wingman, and immediately slammed the throttle open. He wasn't letting the rest of the formation get away.
30 seconds had elapsed.
Alam dropped his craft down and rocketed onwards, screaming through the skies just 200 yards above the deck, the fuselage of his aircraft dangerously close to the treetops zipping below him. Ahead, he noticed the rest of the IAF squadron, still holding line-astern formation, racing for the safety of the Indian border and its friendly AA guns.
They didn't notice the mildly-psychotic Pakistani dude on their tail until it was too late.
Forgetting about his unreliable missiles, M. M. Alam wanted to do this the old-fashioned way – he closed to machine gun range. In a jet fighter. At 200 feet elevation. Against three enemy jets flying in formation, with, unbeknownst to Alam, two additional fighters charging straight-in on his position.
Six Browning heavy machine guns spewed out hundreds of rounds of .50-caliber ammunition in one short, controlled burst, as Alam – an expert pilot who had routinely received awards and honors for his aerial gunnery – opened a six-pack of whup-ass up the tailpipe of the last aircraft in the IAF formation. Bullets ripped through the craft's fuselage, sending it plummeting to the earth in flames.
The two surviving aircraft broke hard to the right. Alam was ready for it. He had studied aircraft piloting in the United States and UK, including a training course with the Royal Air Force that involved serious flight time in the Hawker Hunter. He knew exactly what that plane was capable of, and how to stop it. He banked hard, releasing two more bursts, each one riddling the enemy with dozens of rounds.
Then, almost from nowhere, those two other IAF Hawkers showed up, flying straight at Alam head-on.
He banked hard towards them, and they basically flew right into his crosshairs. He didn't hesitate to pull the trigger twice more. They both burst into flames and plummeted to the earth.
Official Pakistani sources (including several others) credit Muhammad Mahmood Alam with killing five enemy aircraft in one minute – including 4 kills in 30 seconds. Not only has this never been done before, but it also makes Squadron Leader Alam the only fighter pilot in human history, from any country, to become Ace (five kills) in a Day from the cockpit of a jet fighter. Other sources credit him with 3 kills, 2 damaged, which, I would argue is just as impressive, considering he did still hit five enemy planes in sixty seconds, and hit them hard enough to mess their asses up. Regardless of how you want to score it, his actions on this day netted him his second Pakistan Star of Courage in two days.
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 would last just 17 days. Muhammad Mahmood Alam would fly 40 missions, netting 9 enemy aircraft kills, a number that to this day makes him the highest-scoring fighter pilot ever to fly on the Indian subcontinent.
Alam continued serving in the Pakistan Air Force for over 30 years, commanding a squadron of Mirages in another war against India in the 70s and allying himself with anti-Taliban Afghan warrior Ahmad Shah Massoud in the Mujahedeen's struggle against the Soviet Union in the 80s. He Retired in 1982 as an Air Commodore (which is just a cool way of saying One-Star General), and, as an added badass bonus, some sources suggest that the was forced out by High Command because he was on a Ned Stark mission to expose corruption in the highest levels of the Pakistani military.
M. M. Alam, the greatest hero of the Pakistan Air Force and a national hero of the country, died of respiratory failure in March 2013 at the age of 78. Nowadays there's a major commercial street named after him in downtown Lahore, and, if you ever visit the Pakistan Air Force Hall of Fame in Karachi, you'll see his name is the first one listed on the wall.
Alam's Speed Shooting Classic
International Herald Tribune
F-86 Saber Details
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