New Delhi: Six days before the government officially announces a Vir Chakra for Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot received better news on Thursday. After a series of tests, Varthaman has been found medically fit to fly a fighter plane again, say sources.
Currently posted at the Suratgarh air base in Rajasthan , Varthaman is in charge of administrative duties. According to sources, he will start flying the Mig-21 soon. Varthaman will undergo a final medical test at the Bengaluru-based Institute of Aerospace Medicine. Sources say he is likely to pass with flying colours.
Varthaman became an aviation legend when he downed a Pakistani F-16 with his vintage Mig-21 Bison on February 27 — that is a bit like a Maruti 800 outracing a Mercedes-Benz. His aircraft was subsequently shot down and Varthaman taken a prisoner of war (POW) by Pakistan.
An ejection is never easy on a fight pilot. Even with a safe ejection, a spinal injury is a given — Varthaman also suffered it. Also, given his trauma of being in Pakistani captivity, he had to undergo a series of psychological tests and multiple debriefs.
Grounded for the last six months, Varthaman had to get back to being A1G1, a fitness level all fighter pilots are expected to maintain. He is likely to be back in the cockpit by the end of August, with his Vir Chakra proudly pinned to his uniform. The Vir Chakra is India's third highest war time gallantry award. As is tradition, the official announcement will be made on August 14, a day ahead of Independence Day.
Fighter pilots often say an ejection changes their life. Almost 50% of all fighter pilots who eject cannot go back to flying a fighter jet again. Group Captain Nachiket, who had ejected during the Kargil war 20 years ago and taken POW, could never go back to flying fighters due to his injuries.
The aerial skirmishes between the two nations took place a day after India conducted cross-border air strikes at Balakot on February 26. Varthaman remained in custody across the border for two days. After he was captured, Varthaman showed courage and grace in handling the most difficult circumstances for which he was praised by politicians, strategic affairs experts, ex-servicemen, celebrities and people in general.
Earlier in April, the IAF had transferred Varthaman out of the Srinagar airbase where he was posted amid concerns over his security in the Kashmir Valley. The officer was shifted to an important airbase in the Western sector along the Pakistan border.