Sabre Killers- Keelor Brothers


It was immediately after the 20 day war with Pakistan in 1965, I saw a documentary film from Film Division which has been etched in my memory. The narrator said “watch that Pak Sabre plane flying over Indian territory and Ghat flown by Squardon Leader Keelor chasing it. Soon Knat fired a missile and it hit Pak plane and the Sabre was shown hitting ground and going in flames. Though  Keelor brothers did not get highest military honors but they had became household names during the 1965 war for their daring air raids deep into Pakistani territory as pilots of the small Indian Air Force Gnats. In this article I have collected information about these two brothers from various sources including Bharat Rakshak.

Air chief Marshal Arjan Singh said in an interview “Gnats were very small aircraft, difficult to spot on the radar. As you know radar beams hit the metal of the aircraft and on return gives the blip. The smaller the aircraft, smaller the blip. So Gnats became famous. Even the radar controller would take time to decide if it is a fighter aircraft. We found Gnats very maneuverable. For fighters the most important thing is turning in a circle. If you turn faster your attack is safe. This aircraft had a small turning circle. But it was giving us lots of technical problems.

We lost many test pilots in accidents involving Gnats. We didn’t have much confidence till one of the Keelor brothers shot from the aircraft in the Chamb-Jaurian area. They both fought very well and both got the Veer Chakra.

Once one of the brothers shot down a superior Pakistani aircraft, our people got tremendous confidence. Then everybody wanted to fight using Gnats.”

Knat was a much smaller aircraft as compared with Sabre. Specifications of two are indicated below for comparison:

Manufacturer: Folland Aircraft (later, Hawker Siddeley)
Designation: FO-141
Nickname: Gnat
Type: Fighter


Length: 29′  9”
Height: 8′  9”
Wingspan: 22′  2”
Gross Weight: 6,650 to 8,885 lbs.


No. of Engines: 1
Power plant: Bristol Siddeley Orpheus 701 turbojet
Pounds of static thrust (each): 4,520


Range: 500 miles (1 hour 30 min)
Max Speed: 695 mph  (Mach 0.98)

Designed in a private venture by Folland Aircraft, Ltd. in the United Kingdom, designers wanted to see just how small they could make an aircraft, yet still be effective. Intended for sale as an export, India, Yugoslavia and Finland purchased Gnats. India liked the aircraft so much, that the Bangalore Division of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. continued construction and Gnats were flown very successfully by the Indian Air Force. The little plane carried only 240 gallons of fuel internally and 60 gallons in two underwing jettisionable tanks.

Sabre Specifications: orth American F-86F-30


Wing span: 39 ft 1 in (11.91 m)
Length: 37 ft 0 in (11.27 m)
Height: 14 ft 0 in (4.26 m)
Wing Area: 288 sq ft (26.75 sq m)


Empty: 10,815 lb (4,906 kg)
Gross T/O: 17,772 lb (8,061 kg)


Maximum Speed:  688 mph (1,107 km/h) @ sea level.
Service Ceiling: 48,000 ft (14,630 m)
Cruising Speed: 513 mph (826 km/h)
Normal Range: 463 miles (745 km)
Maximum Range: 1,317 miles (2,120 km)


Single J47-GE-27 (no afterburner) rated @ 5,910 lbs (2,708 kg) thrust


Six .50 caliber M-3 machine guns – 265 rpg.
2,000 lb (907 kg) bombs or 16 x .5 in rockets.

In its  50 years of independence issue in 1997,India Today listed film star Nargis , Everest hero Tenzing Norgay  and also in the top-gun bravado of the Keelor brothers, Denzil and Trevor, aces in wars with Pakistan as  post-Independence heroes.

Wg Cdr(Retd) Trevor Joseph Keelor, Vr.C, VM

Sqn.Ldr.Treevor Jospeh Keelor Veer Chakra Vayu Medal; Got his first combat kill on 3rd Sept 1965(Photo   courtesy IAF museum)

Born on December 8, 1934, in Lucknow, Trevor Joseph Keelor had studied in St Francis? High School, Lucknow, St Georges College, Mussorie, and La Martiniere College, Lucknow, before joining the Indian Air Force in 1953.  Trevor retired from his service in 1978 .Trevor Joseph Keelor passed away on April 27, 2002.


Vayu Sena Medal

On the 5th February 1964, Flt Lt Keelor was detailed to ferry a Gnat from Poona to Palam in a formation of five aircraft. The last part of the flight had to be undertaken at a height of 41,000 feet. While descending to land at Palam, he discovered, at a height of 15,000 feet that there was no response from the engine to the throttle movements. After informing the leader, Flt Lt Kellor immediately broke off the formation and attempted a landing at Palam, knowing fully well that previous attempts to force land a Gnat had resulted in fatal or serious injury to the pilot. With great presence of mind and careful handling, he accomplished the forced landing successfully without any damage to the aircraft. Flt Lt Trevor Kellor displayed courage, presence of mind and a high standard of professional skill in the best traditions of the Indian Air Force.

Veer Chakra

On 3rd September 1965, on receipt of a report that a formation of Pakistani fighters were circling over our Army position in the Chhamb Sector of J&K, a formation of Gnat aircraft was ordered to intercept the intruders.

Approaching the area, Sq Ldr Trevor Keelor, who was a section leader in the Gnat formation, sighted enemy F-86 Sabre jets and engaged them in air battle. When the combat was in progress, F-104 Starfighters of the Pakistani Air Force also joined in.

Unmindful of the numerical superiority of the enemy, Sq Ldr Keelor chased a Sabre jet and pressed home his attack until the enemy aircraft caught fire and disintegrated in the air. This was the first victory of our Air Force in the air battles against the Pakistani Air Force.

In this operation, Sqn Ldr Keelor displayed courage and leadership of a high order in the best traditions of the Air Force.

Air Marshal (Retd) Denzil Joseph Keelor, AVSM, KC, VSM, Vr.C

Sqn.Ldr.Denzil Keelor Veer Chakra the elder Keelor shot Pak Sabre on 19th Sept 1965(Photo courtesy IAF museum)

Air Marshal(Red) Denzil Keelor was born on 7th Dec 1933 and studied in La Martinier college Lucknow.He joined IAF on  6th Nov 1954.He had very eventful career and was honored with Veer Chakra,Visisth Sewa Medal,Keerti Chakra and Ati Visisht Sewa Medal. He rose to the rank of Air Marshal. He retired from service on in 1991He worked as President of YMCA for 10 years. He continues to be actively involved with a number of activities and presently is chairman of Special Olympics Bharat.


Param Vishist Sewa Medal: Awarded on 26th Jan 1989 (Citation not available)

ATI VISHIST SEWA MEDAL : Awarded on 26th Jan 1986(Citation not available)


Gp. Capt. Keelor who had rich and wide combat experience and the destruction of a Sabre aircraft to his credit, was flying a MiG-21 U trainer on 27 Mar 78, when due to structural failure the canopy of the aircraft detached and flew off. Gp Capt Keelor felt sudden decompression and loss of control, but managed to fly back to base and execute a safe emergency landing without the canopy. Later on 17 May 78, during firing trials one of the 23 mm Cannon Shells exploded causing extensive damage and total electrical failure to his aircraft. He successfully executed another safe landing back at his airbase.

On 19th September 1965, Sqn Ldr Denzil Keelor was providing fighter escort to Mystere aircraft during a strike mission in the operations against Pakistan. His  section of four Gnat aircraft was engaged by four enemy Sabre jet aircraft and the battle was fought at a height of less than 2,000 feet from the ground where enemy anti-aircraft guns were also active.

Under his guidance, his subsection leader shot down a Sabre jet aircraft. Thereafter Sqn Ldr Keelor himself engaged another Sabre jet and crippled it. Throughout the operations, Sqn Ldr Keelor was a source of inspiration to his pilots and ground personnel. His courage and devotion to duty were in the best traditions of the Air Force. For this he was awarded the Vir Chakra.

The Sabre kill by Denzil earned the Keelor family a unique distinction. Both the brothers now had Sabres to their credit and both earned the Veer Chakra, making it the first time brothers had won the Veer Chakra for identical feats.  

Ramesh Lalwani, New Delhi

Author: Ramesh Lalwani- New Delhi