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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sukhoi flight 'exhilarates' president Patil

Pune: The thumbs-up sign from 74-year-old president Pratibha Devisingh Patil and the pat that she gave Wing Commander S Sajan who piloted her sortie in the Sukhoi 30 MKI for 30 minutes on Wednesday showed her delight. "It was an exhilarating experience to fly in a Sukhoi 30," Patil told media persons.

The president, who is also the supreme commander of the defence forces, scripted history at the Indian Air Force (IAF) Lohegaon airbase near Pune when she became the oldest lady head of a nation to fly in a supersonic combat aircraft.

Her predecessor, APJ Abdul Kalam, on June 8, 2006 became the first Indian president to have undertaken a 30-minute sortie in the Su-30 MKI from Lohegaon. Kalam was also 74 years old.

Patil's sortie began at 11.03 am and the aircraft flew at an altitude of 2.7 km and gained a maximum speed of 850 kmph, close to the 0.9 MACH speed reported on Wednesday. After a smooth take-off, the fighter bomber took a circuitous path over Rajgurunagar, Shirur and Baramati in Pune district before returning to the airbase. While the manoeuvres were restricted to general turns, Patil did some minor controlling during the flight, Sajan said.

The president was dressed in an indigenously manufactured green G-suit (gravitational suit). She wore the integrated helmet and sat in the rear portion of the cockpit. She underwent pre-flight medical check-ups and sat for a briefing with Sajan.

"I suddenly felt that I was leaping forward as the aircraft took off. Within moments, it had soared high into the skies," Patil said. She said that the sortie was to understand new techniques used in fighter aircraft and how effectively the pilots operate them. "I also wanted to reassure the defence forces that the nation is behind them in their endeavour. After my flight, I can say that the nation is in safe hands," she said. The president attributed her high fitness level to regular yoga and the treadmill. "I followed instructions," she said, adding that she was "excited and confident from the very beginning."

At Rajgurunagar, she spotted two other Su 30s flying side by side and quizzed Sajan about the fighter jets. The three aircraft then proceeded in a 'trident' formation before returning to the airbase.

"She was extremely composed and confident during the entire sortie. I explained the technicalities of the fighter jet to her," Sajan said. Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, air officer Commanding-in-Chief South Western Air Command and Air Marshal PS Bhangu witnessed the event. Patil's cavalcade reached the airbase at about 9:35 am. She took the guard of honour before getting ready for the sortie.

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