Formed on 1 October 1951, Indian Air Force’s No.17 Squadron also known as Golden Arrows has an elaborated history. Recently equipped with Indian Air Force’s most advanced and multirole fighter Rafales, this Squadron is all set to celebrate its 70th year of formations in 2021.
Interestingly, for three years (2016-2019) this unit was in suspended owing to the retirement of their MiG21Ms aircraft at AFS Bhatinda in Punjab. But for the fact that when squadrons were to be chosen for receiving the new Dassault Rafale F3-R, the CAS was Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa who had been CO No.17 Squadron during the Kargil operations in the summer of 1999. The rest is history!
The Squadron was created by the IAF to provide a helping hand to the Indian Army in curbing down the militancy in the subcontinent. Supported by Pakistan, these militants were constantly trying to entre Indian territory so IAF was under severe constraint in terms of equipment and funding at the time but a number of new squadrons were rapidly raised with whatever aircraft could be obtained from reserves within the country. The IAF’s combat force then consisted of some six fighter squadrons with the Tempest II and Spitfire Mk.XVIII, some Vampires and two units with reclaimed B-24 Liberators.
On the same note, No.17 was formed at Ambala and due to the shortage of the aircraft, this unit received 12 Harvard IIB training aircraft of which few were moved from the Advanced Flying School and others overhauled by HAL. After receiving its machine, the unit conducted its first flight on 25 October 1951 and later was deployed to a new airbase in Punjab.
In early 1954, No.17 was finally slated for re-equipment with contemporary aircraft and earmarked for conversion to the Vampire jet fighter. During the course of the year, No.17 received is first Vampire FB. Mk.52s and a couple of T.Mk.55s as operational trainers. In December 1954, Squadron leader Lakshman Katre (later Air Chief Marshal and CAS, IAF) took over as CO of No.17. In April 1956, the Squadron moved to Poona where it was allocated the task of air defence of Greater Bombay. Since then, Golden Arrows operated many fighters of the IAF and won many awards such as ‘Best Fighter Squadron’ in Western Air Command in 1976, and winning of the Bombing Trophy in the Inter-Command Gunnery Meet in 1976 and 1978 and the Rocketry Trophy in 1975 and 1981.
17 years later, the Golden Arrows were number plated and later resurrected on 10 September 2019 at AFS Ambala where now CAS Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, was present along with Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar, AOCin-C WAC. The CO designate of No.17 Squadron Group Captain Harkirat Singh SC was presented a plaque and amidst the announcement that the Golden Arrows would be the first unit of the IAF to be equipped with the Dassault Rafale F3-R.