President of India Pratibha Patil made history on Wednesday when she flew in fighter jet Sukhoi 30 MKI (SB 139) in Pune. She thus became at a speed that was close to the supersonic level. Ms. Patil arrived at the Lohegaon air force base in Pune at 9.30 a.m. along with Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Naik and Air Marshal P.S. Bhangu. She later changed into an anti-gravity suit. After a medical examination that is mandatory just before such a flight, she was ready for take-off. Her pilot for the flight was Wing Commander S. Sajan.

The plane took off at 11:03 a.m. During the 20 minute-sortie without manoeuvres, she flew at a speed of more than 800 kmph at a height of 2.2 km. She flew over Rajgurunagar, Shirur, Baramati and Pune parts of the district.The jet plane carrying the President was accompanied by two other Sukhoi planes which flew in a formation with her aircraft.

Speaking to the media after landing, she said she was happy to have flown in the Sukhoi, but the overwhelming feeling was one of pride for the Indian Air Force (IAF). She said that the force’s dedication and willingness to sacrifice for the nation were unparalleled. She added that she decided to fly in the Sukhoi in order to boost the morale of the IAF. The President expressed confidence that the IAF was ready to counter any kind of attack on the country.

She said that the IAF was fully equipped with modern aircraft in its repertoire and assured the nation that it was safe in the hands of the IAF. Asked if women were ready to be inducted as fighter pilots in the IAF, Ms. Patil said that she had no doubt about the capability of women but the technical requirements and qualifications had to be considered by experts. She added that previously there were no women in any of the three bodies of the armed forces. Gradually, they entered the army and the navy and were pilots in the IAF of transport aircraft and helicopters.

As for the preparations for her own flight, she said that doing yoga and using the treadmill helped her in the cockpit. Wing Commander S. Sajan said that it was an unforgettable moment for him to have flown the supreme commander of the armed forces. The flight gave a boost the morale of the entire IAF, he said.

Ms. Patil is the second President to fly in a Sukhoi after her predecessor Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who also flew from Pune in a Sukhoi 30. The difference was that Dr. Kalam flew at a height of 20,000 feet at subsonic levels with some air manoeuvres in 2006.

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