President Pratibha Patil entered the record books by becoming the first woman head of state to fly in a frontline, multi-role fighter jet aircraft as she undertook a 30-minute sortie in a Russian made Sukhoi-30 MKI.
Flashing a victory sign after landing at the Lohegoan air force base here, the 74-year old President shook hands with the pilot Wing Commander S Sajan of the two-seater Sukhoi and patted him for a smooth sortie in the combat jet plane.
Patil, who has also become the oldest woman to fly in a warplane, posed for photographs on the tarmac with the pilot, who has over 3200 hours of flying experience, top officers and the aircraft maintenance staff.
Shortly after landing, the President was driven to a rest house where she underwent a medical check up.
Before taking off, Patil was briefed about emergency exit procedures and various parameters of the flight in the Sukhoi-30 aircraft of city-based 30 squadron, the 'Rhinos'.
Patil is the second President to fly in a fighter aircraft after A P J Abdul Kalam who was flown at speeds a few notches below supersonic levels for 30 minutes without sharp manoeuvres also from the Lohegaon airbase.
Patil, who was seated in the co-pilot's seat in the aircraft, had donned a 'G-suit' worn by fighter pilots to counter the gravitational effects due to high speed manoeuvres.
A Sukhoi, India's most advanced fighter plane, can carry eight tonnes of armaments and fly over 3000 kms with onboard fuel and can undertake an extended journey of upto 5000 kms with a single air-to-air refuelling.
The aircraft flying the President, who is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was accompanied by two other Sukhoi jets which flew in a formation. A special red-carpet welcome was given to Patil before she got into the cockpit wearing a helmet and the gear donned by fighter pilots.
The jet flew at a speed of about 0.9 Mach which is few notches below the supersonic levels starting at one Mach which is about 1,236 km per hour. Kalam was flown in a Sukhoi in 2006.
The pre-flight medical test had given the President a green signal for undertaking the journey.
After a sortie without manouevres and flying at a height of 8,000 feet around the Lohegaon air force base here, the President came out of the cockpit flashing a victory sign and patted the Commanding Officer of the 30-squadron, Wing Commander S Sajjan, for the smooth ride.
To a question on induction of women as fighter pilots, Patil, who flew at a subsonic speed of about 0.9 Mach (about 900 km per hour), said, "The technical requirements, qualifications and situation one has to face are the issues which the experts and government will decide or consider".
"But let me tell you that I have full faith in the ability of women to perform and that they have capacity and capability to perform excellently. I have no doubt about their capability," 74-year-old Patil told reporters after the flight.
Patil said now that she had experienced flight in a combat aircraft, she would not mind crossing the sound barrier."It was an out of the world experience. I was thrilled and overjoyed and I am proud of IAF for the work they are doing in securing the nation," she told PTI
On the issue of women flying combat aircraft, Patil said, "Previously, there were no women in any of the three forces. Then there were discussions and it was decided they could join. Now they are flying transport aircraft and helicopters.
"They are in the army and in the navy. The Government has proactive thinking. It (discussions) is a continuous process. Let us see...a proper decision will be taken," she said.
Patil said aim of this flight was to experience the efficiency with which air force pilots fly planes with sophisticated and new technology and also bring into focus the "spirit of sacrifice" that defence forces have.
"We also wanted to show to the defence forces that the country is with you," she said.
Before taking off, Patil was briefed about emergency exit procedures at the 30-Squadron also known as 'Rhinos'.
'I usually do yoga and treadmill regularly in daily life and that probably helped me in the cockpit. They told me about the precautions to be taken. I am quite regular in my daily life ...I was confident when I sat in the cockpit," she said about her preparations.
Patil is the second President to fly in a fighter aircraft after A P J Abdul Kalam who was also flown from here in a Sukhoi-30. Kalam was taken to a height of 20,000 feet at subsonic levels with some air-manouvres in 2006.
"I have had the opportunity to fly a technically advanced aircraft and today I am proud and I think that every Indian would be proud about the abilities of the armed forces," Patil said.
On being asked whether she has a desire to fly at a supersonic speed, the President quipped, "Yes of-course". She, however, did not reply to a poser if she wanted to travel in a submarine.
Sukhoi, India's most advanced fighter plane, can carry eight tonnes of armaments and fly over 3000 kms with onboard fuel and can undertake an extended journey of upto 5000 kms with a single air-to-air refuelling. PTI