President Patil flies in a fighter jet (Roundup)

Pune, Nov 25 ( President Pratibha Patil, who wore an olive green G-suit instead of her trademark sari Wednesday and flew in a fighter jet, the Sukhoi Su-30 of the Indian Air Force (IAF), called her experience wonderful and unique.

An elated Patil flashed a victory sign and a beaming smile as she alighted after a nearly 30-minute subsonic (less than the speed of the sound) flight. Then a confident-looking president shook hands with all the air warriors present at the Lohegaon Air Base here.

Asked later if she was planning to go supersonic in her next flight, Patil said: “Why not? Yes, of course.”

“There was not any sort of apprehension, but there was excitement. I was, right from the beginning, very confident. I’m confident even now,” Patil told reporters after the sortie.

The president, who almost always wears saris, looked strikingly different in her olive green G-suit and IAF cap.

“Today I had a wonderful and unique experience. I am reassured that we are well equipped and they (the armed forces) have the strength to protect our border. I feel proud at this moment… The aircraft was very sophisticated. I was instructed by the pilot how to manoeuvre and I could do that.”

“Today I am proud and every Indian should be proud of the ability and the spirit of sacrifice and the talent and capability of our defence forces. I have all admiration for them,” said Patil.

The president has been preparing for over two months now for the flight in the Russian-built twin-engine jet.

“I usually do yoga, treadmill. Then they (IAF officials) came and told me what precautions are to be taken. Otherwise also I am quite regular in my daily life. May be that helped me. They (IAF officials) familiarised me with everything. I was confident when I got into the cockpit,” said Patil when asked about her fitness regime.

Wing Commander S. Sajan flew the president, the supreme commander of the Indian armed forces. Sajan, commanding officer of the No. 30 Squadron (the Rhinos), is an ace at flying Sukhoi-30 variants and also a fully operational pilot on the MiG-21 aircraft.

He has over 3,200 hours of flying experience in various aircrafts. Of this, 1,500 hours are on the Sukhoi variants.

The sortie on a sunny morning took the aircraft to an altitude of 10,000 feet at a speed of around 800 kmph or 0.9 Mach (speed of sound). Sajan did not push it to supersonic levels of around 1,100 kmph, an IAF spokesman said.

The Su-30 MKI carrying Patil, 74, took off at around 10.55 a.m. after the president was accorded a ceremonial guard of honour by a smartly-turned out contingent of air warriors donning the IAF colours of sky-blue shirts and grey trousers.

Prior to the flight Patil had breakfast and underwent a mandatory pre-flight medical test and was found fit to undertake the flight.

After the medical test, she donned a G-Suit (anti-gravity suit) which helps the flier withstand high gravitational pressure by preventing excessive blood from flowing to the brain.

Besides the aircraft in which Patil travelled in the rear seat, two other Sukhois flew alongside to enable her to experience what fighter jets look like in flight at that altitude and at such high speeds.

Just before the flight, the president asked for a glass of water, but later declined to drink, indicating her state of nervous excitement.

She stepped inside the aircraft at 10.35 a.m., assisted by some airmen, even as the national and international media was present in large numbers to cover the historic event.

Maharashtra Governor S.C. Jamir and Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik were present on the occasion.