It was an honour flying the president in a Sukhoi: Pilot

Pune, Nov 25 ( Flying President Pratibha Patil in a Sukhoi-30MKI was an honour and a pleasure, Wing Commander S. Sajan said Wednesday.

“I am honoured by the experience and it was a pleasure flying the president,” said a beaming Sajan shortly after landing safely with his distinguished ‘co-pilot’ at the Lohegaon Air Base near Pune.

He gave full marks to Patil, who became the world’s first woman president to fly in a fighter jet. She was “extremely confident and comfortable” right from the beginning and till the end of the 30-minute sortie, Sajan said.

“She was extremely comfortable from the minute she stepped inside the Sukhoi and during the take-off and in flight. Initially, we started at 600 km/h, then we were at 700 km/h and she wanted to go faster so we touched around 800 km/h plus,” he said.

All through, Sajan said that she was extremely well-oriented at the height of around 2.5 km (around 10,000 feet) and she handled some of the controls of the aircraft.

“She had been preparing for the flight since quite some time and she took a keen interest in what was going on during the flight, the various controls, she kept asking me what was there on the right and left, the names of some of the towns over Maharashtra which we flew over,” said Sajan.

She also handled a few simple manoeuvres like turns comfortably and Sajan kept explaining to her what he was doing during the flight to help her understand the experience.

“Except during take-off and landing, we were in the medium to higher speeds regime and the trip profile was planned out well in advance keeping in mind the president’s comfort levels,” he explained.

Maintaining that “every mission is challenging and different”, Sajan said “Whether it is a routine flight, a training flight or flying the supreme commander of India’s armed forces, it is always a challenge.”

Sajan is an ace IAF pilot having flown several versions of the Sukhoi family of fighter jets with over 3,200 hours of flying experience.

Holding a private pilot’s licence, he was commissioned into the IAF fighter stream in 1992 and assigned to the Rhino Squadron, which turned 40 this month.

He topped the IAF Academy for overall best performance and was awarded the Sword of Honour, the President’s Plaque for standing first in the merit list and was also awarded the Chief of Air Staff Trophy.