The Indian Air Force chief’s son performed a “salsa in the sky” at Pokhran on Friday as the President, Prime Minister, defence minister and a proud daddy watched the Sukhoi 30Mki combat jet piloted by Squadron Leader Omar Browne take a gravity-defying tumble-turn.
Stung by the VVIP chopper scam that has pointed at a former head of the IAF, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne hosted the VVIPs in the desert field firing range for five hours in which his fleet demonstrated its firepower by day and night.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who showed up at Pokhran even as Parliament began its budget session and the Hyderabad blasts cast a pall of gloom, stayed right till the end of display, surprising the service officers.
Yet, the display was not flawless: twice, once in daylight, Sukhoi 30 Mkis (the most powerful aircraft in the IAF combat fleet) aborted the mission to bomb its target at the last second.
A Sukhoi 30Mki had crashed here on Tuesday during a rehearsal. A preliminary inquiry has indicated that the bomb it had tossed at the target (an “enemy marshalling area”) exploded too close to the plane. The two pilots ejected but the aircraft was lost.
The “indigenous” Tejas light combat aircraft debuted in an air force exercise for the first time, displaying tight turns and firing rockets at mock-up of an enemy ground target. Defence public sector Hindustan Aeronautics-built light combat helicopter showed it can go into reverse gear in mid-air.
But for the assembled air force officers and men, it was the antics of the air chief’s son Omar, a pilot with the IAF’s 30 (Sukhoi) squadron, and his captain, Wing Commander Karlos, that was a moment to treasure.
Karlos and Omar took their Sukhoi 30Mki in a loop, a tumble and the yawing “cobra” manoeuvre, sliding back from a sharp climb and toppling out of the blue before ending in a “verticle charlie” — a straight flight nose-up into the sky — dispensing flares.
The government watched as a fighter-pilot air chief’s fighter-pilot son performed in times when the credibility of a former fighter-pilot air chief is suspect.