Rajnath Singh on Thursday flew in the Tejas fighter aircraft from the HAL airport in Bengaluru, becoming the first defence minister to fly in the indigenously-built light combat aircraft (LCA).
After the sortie which lasted for around 30 minutes, the defence minister said he chose the aircraft because it was built indigenously and that the experience of flying in the aircraft was thrilling.
'Flight very smooth, comfortable, I was thrilled. It was one of the most memorable events of my life,' said Singh after alighting from the aircraft.
Wearing a G suit, holding his helmet under his arms and sporting aviator glasses, Singh looked every inch a fighter pilot.
'I want to congratulate HAL, DRDO and several agencies concerned. We have reached a level where we can export fighter planes across the world...Countries in South East Asia have shown interest in purchasing Tejas aircraft,' he said.
An official said the minister also 'controlled' and flew the aircraft for around two minutes. However, the minister said he was following orders.
'But those two minutes were memorable,' he said.
The minister had earlier buckled himself in the seat behind the pilot in the aircraft. He was accompanied by air vice marshal N. Tiwari, who is also the project director, National Flight Test Centre, Aeronautical Development Agency in Bengaluru.
A defence ministry official had said on Wednesday that the minister would be 'taking a sortie' in order to boost the morale of officers who have been involved in the development of the 'indigenously-made Tejas.'
'It will also boost the morale of IAF pilots who are flying these aircraft,' the official had said.
The IAF has already inducted a batch of Tejas aircraft. The naval version of the LCA is in development stage.
Last Friday in Goa, Tejas had successfully carried out an 'arrested landing,' a key performance, demonstrating its ability to land on board an aircraft carrier, making it a major milestone in development of the naval variant of the fighter jet.
On Thursday, Singh would also be attending an exhibition of products of the Defence Research and Development Organisation in Bengaluru.
Initially, the IAF had placed an order with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 40 Tejas aircraft. Last year, the IAF issued the request for proposal to HAL for the procurement of another batch of 83 Tejas aircraft at a cost of over Rs 50,000 crore.
The Tejas is an indigenous light weight, multi-role supersonic aircraft developed in both fighter and trainer versions.
Advanced materials like composites are used in its manufacture to reduce weight and increase the component life.
The Tejas is designed to carry a veritable plethora of air-to-air and air-to-surface precision-guided and standoff weaponry.