PUNE: "I am a contented man. My childhood dream has been fulfilled," gushed President A P J Abdul Kalam after his 30-minute joy ride in the rear cockpit of a fighter aircraft (SU-30 MKI Flanker) on Thursday. This feat has made the President the oldest Indian to fly a fighter aircraft.
As he was helped out of the aircraft by "co-pilot" Wing Commander Ajay Rathore, after it touched base at the Lohegaon Air Force station, the President's eyes gleamed with excitement. So affected was Kalam by the experience that he kept smiling with childlike glee. Clad in the flying gear of a fighter pilot and sporting a cap with the Air Force insignia, the President narrated his experience to the assembled media.
"I pushed to the left and pushed to the right, then went up and down. Everything is so beautiful from the top," he said. After a refresher course prior to the flight, to familiarise him with the aircraft, Rathore escorted Kalam to the two-seat, multi-role fighter bomber. According to sources, as he donned the pilot's gear, the 74-year-old President — the father of India's missile technology — was visibly excited. "He moved like a young man. He could not stop smiling as he was helped into the aircraft," said an Air Force source.
The sortie included mild maneuvers, simulated air-to-air attack and air-to-ground strikes. The aircraft flew at supersonic speed giving the President a glimpse of its extensive capabilities. He did some minor controlling at the dual controls of the aircraft and helped navigate it through steep turns, a loop and barrel rolls.
Wing Commander Ajay Rathore mostly kept away from the media. "It was a privilege to fly with the President. It was an exciting ride," he said. Clocking over 700 flying hours with the Sukhoi, this commanding officer of the Number 20 Squadron (Lightnings) has also flown the MiG 27, MiG 21 (Bison) and the SU-30 K. This flight though must have been his most memorable one.
Interestingly, Kalam had failed to qualify as a pilot for the Air Force in 1958. In his informal interaction with the media at the same venue, the President felt that the youth had to be more outgoing. "There is so much to do. The youth must be more adventurous. The country can then benefit by this adventurous spirit," he said.
Meanwhile, a MIG 29 crashes
JAMNAGAR: While the President took off in a Sukhoi on Thursday setting a record, a MIG 29 came crashing down off the Jamnagar coast. However, both the pilots were saved as they ejected from the plane and were later rescued by Indian Air Force choppers.
The plane crashed 22 nautical miles away from Jamnagar city in the open sea, near Pirotan Island. This area is part of the Gulf of Kutch Marine National Park and harbours a rich variety of corals and marine life. It is also on the heavily trafficked ship route. The flight took off from Jamnagar Air Force base before noon for a regular flight exercise. They ejected from the plane when they realised that the plane had a technical fault. An IAF rescue rescued the pilots.