David Shaftel at Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine:
Like many things in India, civil aviation was subservient to the monsoon. Since the rains, which begin mid-June, have typically abated by early September, the subcontinent’s first regularly scheduled airmail service was to have been inaugurated on September 15, 1932. But that year, the rain and lashing wind persisted, making the Juhu airfield, Bombay’s first airport, a quagmire. In those days, the field was little more than a dried mud flat on the Indian Ocean coast, north of what was then the city center, and in what is now the hub of India’s famous film industry, Bollywood. It took another month before the airfield dried out enough to permit the first flight of the new service, a venture that would grow into Air-India, the national carrier.
That it started at all was due to the persistence and vision of a tycoon and adventurer named J.R.D. Tata. In 1932, the 28-year-old industrialist cut a dashing figure. With his tidy mustache, trim frame, and pomaded hair, he looked like Errol Flynn. Finally, in October, after three years of lobbying the British colonial government, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, known to millions of Indians today as J.R.D., boarded a second-hand Puss Moth at Drigh Road airport in Karachi (in what is now Pakistan) for the flight to Bombay. Equipped with only a pair of goggles and the slide rule he used for navigating, J.R.D. took off with 120 pounds of mail. He stopped as planned in Ahmedabad, the halfway point in the 600-mile journey. “I was fuelled by Burmah Shell out of 2 gallon tins brought to the airfield in a bullock-cart,” J.R.D. remembered, according to materials in the Tata archives. “My only thought was to be on my way as quickly as possible so as to reach Juhu on schedule…and I managed to take off after 20 minutes in Ahmedabad after a lemonade and a brief talk to the press.”
The flight to Bombay (today, Mumbai) was “bumpy and hot” but otherwise uneventful, except for what an internal Tata Group review of the founding of the airline describes as the “killing of a bird which flew into the cabin of his machine.” More: