Bhagat B. Lal was born on 1st Sept1899 at Karnal (Punjab). His father, Rai Bahadur Dr. Umrao Raja Lal, L. M & S. was the Civil Surgeon and later the Assistant Surgeon to the Viceroy.
He graduated from St. Stephens College, Delhi in 1922 with BA in Economics & Philosophy. He had an energetic outlook on life which was reflected in his taking a leading part in all important social activities he connected actively with the College, Boy Scouts and Rover Movements.
His career started as proprietor of a Gramophone agency (1924-1926) and later became sales manager of British Motor Car Company (1927-1930) selling cars to Indian Princes.
Bhagat B. Lal had a great spirit of adventure with an urge to fly at an early age. He was disappointed at his inability to join the Air Force during the World War I.
When the Delhi Flying Club was founded in May 1928, Bhagat B. Lal took the opportunity to become its Flying Member. Formal opening of the Club was performed by the Viceroy, Lord Irwin on 28 January 1929. Flying activities of the Club started at RAF Aerodrome in Delhi Cantonment on 19 January 1929 with two Europeans and one Indian. The first Indian to receive flying training was Bhagat B. Lal who became the first Indian to qualify for Pilot’s ‘A’ license in March 1929 and also the Federation Aeronautique Internationale Certificate (No. 5) issued by the Royal Aero Club of India and Burma.
He did his first solo flight on 17th March 1929 after 8hrs 45mins dual in a DH 60 Gypsy Moth. His instructor was Capt Alan Riley. Bhagat B Lal then became first winner of Sutherland Cup awarded by the Duke of Sutherland, Chairman Air League of the British Empire, for best all round progress in flying in 1930.
He was the first Indian to qualify for the Commercial Pilot’s ‘B’ license in January 1931 and was appointed Assistant Pilot Instructor at the Delhi Flying Club.
He was the Leader of the Formation Flight of Delhi Flying Club Aircraft which took part in the Royal Air Force Display at Delhi on 14 February 1931.
He was the winner of the Air Race held on 15 November 1931 on occasion of opening of the Jodhpur Flying Club.
Bhagat B. Lal was the first pilot to be sent out by Government of India on a scholarship to Air Services Training Ltd, Hamble (UK), for training in Instrument Flying and for the Flying Instructors Course from June-Sept. 1932. He held Instrument Flying Certificate from Air Services Training Ltd and Flying Instructors Certificate (Category A2) issued by the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators of the British Empire. He was elected Associate of the Guild in Sept 1933.
He was the first Indian to be appointed Chief Instructor of the Delhi Flying Club with the approval of the Director of Civil Aviation, Sir Frederick Tymms in Dec 1933 on retirement of Capt Alan Riley. He was also the first to organize regular and systematic courses for training of Private pilots, Commercial Pilots and Ground Engineers for their Licenses.
During the period Jan 1932 –July 1933 when Delhi Flying Club was operating contract Air Mail Service between Delhi and Karachi for the Government of India, there were several occasions when Bhagat B Lal was required to carry Air Mail to ensure regularity of service. The mail was carried in a DH Gypsy Moth in good, bad and indifferent weather across the Sind Desert to 97% schedule. He also carried very important persons both Indian and European on Chartered flights to distant places in India.
He was the first Indian pilot to land a 3-seater Puss Moth VT-ABZ in the Kullu Valley on 27 September 1934. In recognition of his valuable services to Civil Aviation in India and indirectly upon the Delhi Flying Club, Bhagat B Lal was the first Indian Pilot to be conferred the title of MBE in the New Year Honors List on 1 January 1941.
During the emergency of World War II the Delhi Flying Club was taken over by the Royal Air Force. Bhagat B. Lal was then appointed Technical Officer- in- charge Training and Licenses in the Directorate of Civil Aviation from Dec 1942 to Feb1946.
On completion of his contract with the Directorate of Civil Aviation Bhagat B. Lal rejoined the Delhi Flying Club as its Chief Instructor and also as Secretary on 1st March 1946 and reorganized the Club after it has been in cold storage during the War.
Under his supervision and guidance the Delhi Flying Club trained the largest number of Commercial Pilots, Flying Instructors and Aircraft Engineers who then held senior positions in the Directorate of Civil Aviation, Airlines, Flying Clubs and HAL. Some of his old pupils held senior ranks in the Indian Air Force, namely, Air Commodore RHD Singh (1932), Air Chief Marshal PC Lal (1934), Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh (1948-1950) and Air Marshal Satish C. Lal, his son in 1949.
Among the Indian Princes trained were Raja Ravishar Singh of Kalsia (1930), H.H. Maharaja Umed Singh Bahadur of Jodhpur (1931) and H.H. Nawab Aminuddin Ahmed of Laharu (1931).Bhagat B. Lal during his lifetime played a pioneering role in the development of Civil Aviation, Commercial Flying and Sports Flying in India and in the promotion of air mindedness and confidence of the Indian Public.
During his flying career spanning 30 years Bhagat B. Lal has flown a vast variety of aircraft of those days namely, DH Moth, Tiger Moth, Puss Moth, Fox Moth, Leopard Moth, Hornet Moth, Chipmonk, BA Eagle, BA Swallow, Stinson L5, Beech Bonanza, Hawker Hart, Wapiti, Avro Cadet, Avro X, Miles Hawk, Blackburn Bluebird, Comper Swift, DeSutter, Airspeed Courier, BAC Drone, Auster and Piper. He retired from the Delhi Flying Club in 1958. During his flying career he had flown over 8600 hours in the air. He was later appointed Secretary General Aero Club of India. Bhagat B. Lal passed away on 2nd December 1975.
Extracts from Letters Extract from letter dated 1st January 1941, from Sir Frederick Tymms, Director of Civil Aviation in Indian:-
“I am glad the recognition comes in the form of a British Empire Order for the value of your work extends far beyond Delhi. I hope and believe in the years in which there will be a greater growth of Civil Flying in India, you will still be there playing a leading role and helping to lead your Country along sound lines of development”.
Extract from letter dated 1st January 1941, from The Hon’ble Sir Andrew Clow, Member for Communications & Railways, Government of India:-“Hearty congratulations on the Honour which His Majesty has conferred upon you. I was very glad to see this recognition of the valuable services you have rendered to Civil Aviation in India.”