'Flying Tejas felt like being on top of the world'

Bengaluru:  Flying the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) after its induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF) was like being on top of the world, said Group Captain Madhav Rangachari here on Friday. "I felt like being on top of the world when flying the Tejas fighter. It's an honour and a privilege to pilot the inaugural flight of the LCA soon after its induction," Rangachari told reporters after a 10-minute solo sortie under a cloudy sky and windy conditions. The 40-year-old test pilot is the commanding officer of the IAF's 45 squadron nicknamed Flying Daggers. With 3,000 flying hours experience, Rangachari was part of the Mirage 2000 squadron before flying the multirole Tejas since a year.  Taking off from the IAF's Aircraft System Testing Establishment (ASTE) tarmac in the city's eastern suburb and adjacent to the defence airport of the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Rangachari flew the multi-role supersonic fighter up to 1,500 feet altitude at 900 km speed (450 knots) within visual range in the Bengaluru sky. "I could do only horizontal profile and not vertical due to the cloudy sky. It's an excellent aircraft and generation ahead of other fighters in the world. Being the only of its kind (light combat), it's not comparable with other military aircraft," Rangachari asserted. Though the aircraft did not have weapons under its wings for the sortie, Rangachari said he had flown it with air-to-air missiles and laser-guided bombs during test flights and had verified its strike power. "For flight demonstrations and aerobatics, we do not carry weapons, though Tejas is capable of flying with four-tonne payloads, including missiles and bombs and hitting targets accurately," Rangachari claimed. As the Tejas squadron will operate from Bengaluru for the next two years before moving to its designated air base at Sulur near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, the air force will deploy more test pilots and technicians to fly them for final operational clearance and training. "The squadron has six test pilots, 20 technicians to fly the LCA and more fighter pilots will join us, as we induct two more of them this year and three more next year when delivered by HAL," Rangachari said. On landing after a flawless flight demo, the olive green aircraft was greeted with a water salute as it taxied onto the base from the runway.