Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman undertakes sortie in Sukhoi

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New Delhi: Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first full-time woman defence minister, flew a sortie on a Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter from the air force station in Jodhpur on Wednesday.

Sitharaman sat in the rear seat behind the pilot, wearing the G-suit—a flight suit worn by aviators who are subject to high levels of acceleration force when inside the aircraft.

“In her 45 minutes of sortie, she was demonstrated some of the unique characteristics and strengths of this mighty twin engine Air Superiority Fighter (ASF),” the defence ministry said in a statement.

Sukhoi-30 MKI is a nuclear-capable aircraft which can penetrate deep into enemy territory. It was recently tested for the BrahMos supersonic air-launched cruise missile and Astra beyond visual range air-to-air missile.

Former Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha said while such sorties by dignitaries may be “tokenism,” they served as a morale booster for the armed forces.

“Ministers, prime ministers go to the front line to the border areas to show solidarity with the soldiers, air warriors, sailors. This is in a similar fashion. When you are flying a fighter aircraft, this means more that the person is ready to take more risk that is inherent in such flying, especially combat flying. It shows one’s concern for the services..,” Raha, 63, a former fighter pilot himself, said. “It’s a moral booster to see raksha mantri (defence minister) fly—not everyone can fly, you have to be physically fit to do so”.

Before getting on the plane, a civilian is acquainted with the flying gear, the helmet, G-suit and other gear. Then the individual is briefed on the drills to be followed in case of an emergency and familiarised with on-board equipment.

“Because you are sitting on the ejection seat, you have to be prepared for everything,” Raha said.

Civilians are also given an explainer on what to expect when inside the fighter jet. “Your anxiety levels go up. You may have phobia of height, or closed space; then there could be problems,” Raha said.

“People feel a great sense of achievement after flying it, Raha added. “The way it climbs, the way it turns, the way grounding passes so fast. It’s a different feeling.livemint