Rajnath Singh became the country's first Defence Minister to get a first-hand feel of the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas when he co-piloted a trainer version for nearly about 30 minutes in Bengaluru on Thursday morning.
The sortie took off from the HAL defence airport before 10 a.m. Mr Singh, 68, co-piloted to a height of 13,000 feet and pulled about 2.5 G but the flight was so smooth that he did not feel its high speed of nearly 1 mach, the pilot, Air Vice Marshal N. Tiwari of the National Test Flight Centre, later said.
The event is a morale booster to the plane's design and production houses, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the Defence Research and Development Organisation; and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
On his return, the Minister told the media, “I am thrilled by this very special experience in my life. It was a smooth and comfortable flight. I did whatever my pilot asked me to.”
He said he chose to fly the Tejas as he wanted to see for himself the kind of fighters Indian air warriors would be using in combat. “I wanted to know the conditions under which our pilots fly the aircraft and I salute their valour. I am proud of this product of the scientists of the DRDO, ADA and the HAL and I congratulate them on its superior skills.”
Not only India, the LCA could even serve other countries. Certain South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia have shown interest in acquiring the LCA and the export process would be initiated, he said.
Air Vice Marshal Tiwari said Mr. Singh was familiarised with only a few videos earlier. “He controlled the flight for about 2 minutes. I was showing him more of the avionics and sophisticated systems onboard like the laser designator pod that can pick up targets even at 25 km; the smooth approach and landing.”
DRDO Chairman and Secretary, Defence R&D, G. Satheesh Reddy; HAL chairman R. Madhavan; DRDO Director General (Aero Systems) Tessy Thomas; ADA Director Girish Deodhare, scientists and engineers of DRDO and HAL witnessed the event.
The HAL has completed the initial IAF order of 16 LCAs out of the 40 aircraft for the Air Force. It is currently in price talks for manufacturing the government-approved set of 83 LCAs in the improved Mark 1A configuration, Mr. Madhavan said.