New Delhi/Pathankot: Besides flying a sortie on MiG 21 jet, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa have two more things in common — ejecting an aircraft and fighting Pakistan.
"This is my last sortie on a fighter jet. Both of us have two things in common — first, both of us ejected and second, both of us have fought Pakistanis. I fought in Kargil, he fought after Balakot. And third, I've flown with his father. It's an honour for me to do my last sortie in the IAF, in a fighter aircraft, with his son," Dhanoa told reporters.
Drawing similarities further, the Air Chief Marshal said that he too had to wait for nine months to return to the fighter cockpit after ejecting from the combat jet in 1988. "He (Varthaman) has got back his flying category in less than six months which is good," said Dhanoa, adding it was his last sortie on a fighter jet before retirement.
Both Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa and Varthaman, without his signature handlebar moustache, posed for photographs while standing on the cockpit of the twin-seater trainer aircraft.
Photo-journalists and a video crew were taken inside the Pathankot air base to record the 30-minute sortie, seen as an attempt by the IAF to publicly acknowledge Varthaman's bravery in shooting down a Pakistani F-16 jet during the February 27 aerial combat.
Varthaman returned to the fighter cockpit around two weeks ago after IAF's Bengaluru-based Institute of Aerospace Medicine gave him the go-ahead to fly again following a thorough medical evaluation.
As a young pilot, the Air Force chief flew the Mig 21 jet with Varthaman senior, Simhakutty Varthaman, who retired as air marshal. Air Marshal Simhakutty joined the IAF in 1973 and has around 4,000 hours of flying experience.
Abhinandan Varthaman was conferred the Vir Chakra, the coveted wartime gallantry medal, for downing the F-16 jet of Pakistan during the aerial combat. The Vir Chakra is the third highest gallantry award after the Paramvir Chakra and the Mahavir Chakra.
Days after he returned from Pakistan, Varthaman conveyed to the IAF brass his wish to return to fighter cockpit at the earliest.
After he was captured, Varthaman came in for widespread praise from politicians, strategic affairs experts, celebrities and others for his courage and grace in handling the most difficult circumstances.
The IAF pilot underwent a nearly two-week debriefing by security agencies following his return from Pakistan. IAF fighter jets bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26, nearly two weeks after the Pulwama strike. Pakistan retaliated on February 27 by attempting to target Indian military installations.
(With inputs from PTI)