The first batch of five French Rafale fighter jets touched down at Haryana's Ambala on Wednesday. The fighter jets took off from the Merignac airbase in French port city of Bordeaux on Monday, made a halt in the United Arab Emirates before arriving in India on Wednesday.
It was a proud moment for India and the pilots who flew the combat aircraft to India from France. They were welcomed by the Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Air Command Air Marshal B. Suresh.
Captain Harkirat Singh
It has been 19 years since Singh donned the blue uniform of the Indian Armed Forces, and is the first commanding officer of the Golden Arrow 17 Squadron of Rafale and led the group that flew jets from France.
The group captain is a Shaurya Chakra Awardee, for his courage during a mission in 2008, where he not only saved lives but also his aircraft from crashing while flying a MiG 21 Bison aircraft during a practice interception.
Wing Commander Arun Kumar
Among the five Rafale pilots was Wing Commander Arun Kumar, who hails from Bihar. He had joined the National Defence Academy after passing out of the defence grooming school in Vijayapura in 2001.
Wing Commander Abhishek Tripathi
Wing Commander Abhishek Tripathi was among the aircrew flying the Rafale to India. A native of Rajasthan, Tripathi was a wrestling enthusiast in his young days. He was promoted to the post of Flying Lieutenant, Squadron Leader and is currently serving as the Wing Commander at Ambala.
Wing Commander Manish Singh
An IAF pilot from Uttar Pradesh, Manish was part of the pilots picked to get trained in France on the Rafale. Many of his family members have served the forces and he continued with the tradition after studying in a Sainik School and joining the National Defence Academy. Singh was commissioned in the Air Force in 2003.
Group Captain Rohit Kataria
Rohit Kataria is also among the aircrew and hails from village Basai in Gurugram, Haryana. The fighter pilot's father was an army officer. Kataria studied in Sainik School, Tilaiya, in Jharkhand and was commissioned in 2003.
Air Commodore Hilal Ahmed Rather
Presently serving as India's Air Attaché in France, Air Cmdre Hilal Ahmad Rather became the first Indian pilot to fly a Rafale jet and supervised the take-off of the first batch of the fighter jets. But that's not the only reason why he has been in praises.
Since the 2016 Inter government agreement with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets, Hilal has been among the officials ensuring India to get the deal out of the agreement.
He hails from Kashmir's Anantnag district and was commissioned in IAF as a fighter pilot on December 17, 1988. He became flight lieutenant in 1993, wing commander in 2004, group captain in 2016 and air commodore in 2019.
The pilots were trained on for 35-30 hours before undertaking a 7,000 km sortie with just one stoppage, news agency ANI reported. The arrival of Rafales has marked a new era in the Indian Air Force's war capabilities. The jets will be used extensively to develop new tactics and operational capabilities.