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Photo: Sondeep Shankar Saab Press
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By George, what a plane!

He has refused to don formal suits even when he had to meet foreign heads of state.

But on June 22, Defence Minister George Fernandes shed his favourite kurta-pyjama and slipped into a state-of-the-art anti-gravity suit.

After all, it isn't often that a defence minister, and a civilian at that, gets to undertake a sortie in the world's best fighter aircraft.

At 0815 hours, after undergoing the mandatory medical test, Fernandes climbed into a SU-30MKI from the Lohegaon Air Force Station near Pune. Wing Commander Nirmal Singh flew the twin seater.

As any fighter pilot, Fernandes received his pre-flight meals and then changed over to the G-suit for flying. He was on board the aircraft for at least 40 minutes.

After the sortie, Fernandes confidently said, 'We have our own best aircraft.'

The SU 30 MKI (the 'I' stands for the Indian version) was inducted into the Indian Air Force in September and is considered to be the most advanced version of the Sukhoi aircraft currently in existence. It is now the IAF's strategic mainstay.

The reins of the Sukhois have been given to the IAF's most decorated squadron, the No 20 Lightning. The squadron's crew is mainly drawn from the first Sukhoi unit, the No 24 Squadron.

And, oh did we tell you one thing? Fernandes flew 19 days after turning 76!

Text: R Swaminathan

George flies the Sukhoi

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