New Delhi: India's Air Chief on Wednesday flew a one-hour sortie in a Sukhoi combat jet in a bid to restore his pilots' confidence after doubts were raised over the aircraft's safety following a crash on December 13, the third since the plane was inducted in 1997.
After the flight, Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne told the personnel at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Lohegaon in Pune that he was there with them not only to fly the Sukhoi SU-30MKI, but also to assure them that the potent air superiority fighter jet's fleet is "in good and capable hands".
After the crash near Pune on December 13, the IAF had grounded the fleet of nearly 120 Sukhois to carry out checks in which the Russian partners assisted India.
The fleet remained on the ground for three or four days and returned to its usual flying schedule late last week.
The Defence Ministry, concerned over the crashes, constituted a committee to probe the crash. The previous two crashes of the SU-30 had occurred in 2009.
"I wanted to be here to not only fly the Su-30, but also to meet all of you and assure you that the fleet is in good and capable hands," Browne said.
"Our boys have been doing an excellent job and the momentum of building up the new SU-30 squadrons needs to be maintained. Our people should remain our highest priority because it is then that a cohesive team translates itself in to a success story," he added.
The Air Chief was on a working visit to the base, which he had commanded from 2001 to 2003.
During his visit, Browne interacted with the Sukhoi squadron pilots, engineers and all personnel and met the key officers of the station.
During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow from December 15-17 for an annual summit, India signed a new protocol for licensed production of another 42 SU-30s by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, taking the jet's fleet to 272.
India had in 1996 bought 50 Sukhois from Russia in a fly-away condition. In 2000, an agreement was signed for licensed production of 140 planes in India. This was followed up with a protocol for an additional 40 aircraft.
First Published: Wednesday, December 21, 2011, 15:57