In a move to install confidence among fighter pilots, the Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne on Wednesday flew the frontline fighter, Sukhoi MKI30, a week after the Indian Air Forces suffered a third crash of this fly-by-wire machine.

Taking a leaf from his predecessor Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, who flew the MiG21 a decade ago after a series of crashes, Air Chief Browne took a one hour sortie taking off from the Lohegoan airbase in Pune.

He told the air warriors that he was there not only to fly the aircraft but also to meet them and assure them “that our SU-30 fleet is in good and capable hands. Our boys have been doing an excellent job and the momentum of building up the new SU-30 Squadrons needs to be maintained. Our people should remain our highest priority because it is then that a cohesive team translates itself in to a success story,” IAF Assistant Public Relations Officer Squadron Leader Priya Joshi said.

The Air Chief was on a working visit to the airbase, which he had previously commanded as the Air Officer Commanding between 2001 and 2003. Last week, the IAF lost a Sukhoi-30 some 15 minutes after it took off from Lohegoan airbase. The pilots — Wing Commander G.S. Sohal and Flight Lieutenant U. Nautiyal — ejected safely.

The Air Chief Marshal was accompanied by Wing Commander Anurag Sharma, Commanding Officer of the SU-30 MKI squadron, based in Pune.

Earlier, the Defence Minister told Parliament that the IAF had lost 30 fighter aircraft, including 16 MiG21 series and 10 helicopters, from 2008 to December 3, this year. The accidents resulted in the death of 26 defence personnel, including 13 pilots, while 6 civilians were also killed.

This year, besides the December 13 Sukhoi-30 accident, 8 fighter aircraft and four helicopters of the defence forces crashed leading to death of 10 people including, 9 pilots and service personnel.

The IAF decided to procure from Russia 230 Sukhoi aircraft, 50 of them in fly-way condition and the rest to be produced under licence by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which has by 2010-11 delivered 99 of the 180 aircraft. Last month, India decided to acquire 42 additional aircraft.