President trades sari for G-suit, flies in fighter jet (IntroRoundup)

Pune, Nov 25 ( President Pratibha Patil looked natty in an olive green G-suit instead of her usual sari Wednesday and flew in a Sukhoi Su-30 jet of the Indian Air Force (IAF), calling her experience wonderful and unique and said a decision to induct women into the fighter stream would be considered.

An elated Patil, 74, flashed a victory sign and a beaming smile as she alighted after a nearly 30-minute subsonic (less than the speed of sound) flight. She then 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,” Patil told reporters after the sortie.

Patil looked strikingly different in her olive green G-suit and IAF cap, saying later that she had prepared for it both mentally and physically with her regular yoga routine.

“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 said she has been preparing for over two months 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, who is the supreme commander of the Indian armed forces. Sajan, the commanding officer of the No.30 Squadron (the Rhinos), has over 3,200 hours of flying experience in various aircraft.

The sortie on a sunny morning took the aircraft to an altitude of 10,000 feet at a speed of around 1,100 kmph or 0.9 Mach (the speed of sound). Sajan did not push it to supersonic levels of around 1,234 kmph, an IAF spokesman said.

The Su-30 MKI 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.

Just before the flight, the president asked for a glass of water, but later declined to drink, indicating her state of nervous excitement. She then stepped inside the aircraft at 10.35 a.m., assisted by airmen.

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

After completing her sortie, Patil told reporters that a decision to induct women into the fighter stream will be taken after due consideration.

“The technical requirement and the qualification and the situation which one has to face are the issues which the IAF and the government will decide or consider. But let me tell you I have full faith in the ability of a woman,” Patil said.

“Earlier the three forces did not have women. It was discussed and then they (women) were allowed. Now we have helicopter and transport pilots and women officers in all the three services. And now we are talking of bringing them into the fighter stream. The country has proactive thinking and women are also proactive. Let us see when a decision is taken,” said Patil.

IAF vice chief Vice Admiral P.K. Barbora’s comment this month kicked up a storm after he said that it was not economically feasible to have women fighter pilots. Barbora added that even in the future if women are allowed in the fighter stream there may be riders with respect to pregnancy.

The IAF currently has 748 women in different arms, barring the fighter stream.