For the last few days, Indian Air Force’s Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is dominating in all international headlines and trends. The valour with which he has shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet with his older version of Mig-21, and still managed to eject from the plane safe and finally returned to India safe, is a history to be remembered by everyone alive today. This is a matter of discussion in all international forums and all defense experts are amazed to see this extraordinary feat of Indian Air Force brave heart. His demonstration was so spectacular that many Indian youths want to demonstrate their courage and be a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force. However, joining IAF is never easy and the conditions to fulfill before one can become another Abhinandan are even tougher.
The First Hurdle – Exam
NDA is the most known exam for entering into uniformed services. If you want to join Uniformed Services you need to take NDA entrance exam that happens twice a year. The first exam for 2019 will be held on 21st April and the notification for the same and submission of online application forms are all over. You can, however, try for the next exam that will be held in September and a notification for the same is likely to be published by the UPSC in June 2019.
This exam will help you get into the National Defence Academy and Naval Academy cadets. In April exam, UPSC announced to fill 208 positions for Army, 42 for Navy and 92 for Air Force.
Age, sex and marital status
To apply for the NDA exam you need to be an unmarried male with (15 – 18) years of age. Normally UPSC gives the cut off regarding the date of birth. Like for the April 2019 exam, the cut-off of DOB was between 2nd July 2018 to 1st July 2003.
Please note women are not eligible for these roles (feminists may be disappointed, but they can’t shout rape in the battleground).
Please note you can’t marry until the completion of the full training. If you do, you will be discharged from your duties and you will have to pay complete expenditure incurred for your training.
For the Army wing, you need to be 12th class pass in any stream (Science, Commerce, and Arts). But for the Naval wing, you need to be 12th class passed with Mathematics and Physics as subjects. If you are appearing for your 10+2 exam in that year, you can also apply provided you can furnish the pass certificate in time.
The physical standard required for these examinations is very stringent. You need to be physically and mentally fit before you can even apply for NDA. The online application form has detailed requirements of the physical standard for these three services, you can refer to that. For the Army, the height required is less compared to that of the Air Force. However, for people from certain areas like North-East regions, Garhwal and Kumaon the height requirement is less.
NDA has strict criteria for many physical parameters including but not limited to height to weight ratio with age, leg length, thigh length, sitting height etc. You are also required to maintain a certain physical standard like running 2.4 Km within 15 minutes, pushup and sit up each 20 at a time etc.
Since the requirement is lengthy and is subject to change, you are requested to refer to the application form for details.
Combined Defence Services Exam (CDSE)
CDSE is another exam that can ensure your entry into the Indian Air Force. This exam is also taken twice a year and the first exam for 2019 is already over in early February. Minimum eligibility criteria are 10+2 with Science subjects but and you can check UPSC notification for this exam. Females are eligible only for Officers’ Training Academy course which are non-combat roles and main combat roles are reserved for males.
There is one more way to get into the Indian air force is through NCC. Only males with Air Wing ‘C’ certificate holders get a chance here. Single men and women can also join Air Force through AFCAT for Short Service Commission (SSC) for a period of 14 years (not extendable).
There are enough guidance and courses available that will tell you how to prepare for these exams so will not delve into that. If you check any of the available information you will know that the exam and the interview process is tedious and needs a lot of dedication to get through.
Pilot Aptitude Battery Test (PABT)
Once you clear the initial tests, for getting into the pilot role you need to take PABT designed by DRDO scientists and hence it needs special mention. This test is designed in a manner to test your physical ability, fast response, the presence of mind, fast judgment making ability, controlling ability of your limbs and nerves and coordination of your different response system. By this description itself, you can understand how difficult this test is.
One more important point to note here is you are allowed to take PABT exam only once in your lifetime. It seems this exam tests your natural ability to become a pilot and that ability can’t be groomed and one who doesn’t have this ability naturally, can never be able to develop this skill.
This test is divided into three categories –
- Written assessment and instrument reading
- The Light Control test
- Drum test or Control of velocity test
In the first category, you are given debriefing about various apparatus used by pilots and you are supposed to understand the details and give answers to scenario-based questions.
The last two tests are designed to test your coordination between different senses and reflexes. The last test about your judgment on velocity. All these tests primarily need you to be extremely calm, composed and relaxed both physically and mentally. This is a quality needed in all pilots.
The Air Force Training
If you are selected in Indian Air Force, you need to undergo a three-year flying training at Indian Air Force establishments. It is important to discuss the training focus in these three years in brief.
As you can understand that life as a (fighter) pilot in IAF is not only about flying, it is more than that. You are given sufficient training in physical, mental and leadership skills. You are taught to work in groups and also individually. In short, your quality of life is improved in possible spheres.
In these three years of training, you will get comprehensive training on different subjects and cross-subjects. It will include science and technology as well as languages, History, and Geography. At the end of it, you will get your degree (BA, BSC, BTech) from JNU.
One important point to mention here is that the students need to take cross stream subjects. Like the B. Sc. Computer Science graduates need to take History, Political Science, Geography and Economics. Similarly, B. Tech students (of any discipline) need to take foreign languages like French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese.
So, you understand that academics in NDA is quite comprehensive and elaborate. Other than being only physically and mentally fit, you need to be academically sound as well.
The training with core Air Force starts in Vth term with aviation related subjects. Flying training starts from the VIth semester.
Joint Forces Training
Post Kargil war, NDA curriculum has introduced a joint training system where a cadet is given training in multiple disciplines. Like someone joining the IAF is given training of Army or Navy and vice versa. In this 60-day training one is mentally conditioned and physically toughened up to adapt to the military ways of life. The focus of this training is to cover all common aspects of military life, like – weapon handling, map reading, military law, history of each service, analysis of military services and campaigns etc.
This capsule also includes training in areas like debates, public speaking, conducting seminars etc. So, you understand that this training ensures that one officer becomes more than capable in all spheres of life before taking on the coveted role at the border.
Life in NDA
Every cadet needs to take several vows and follow a strict code of conduct throughout his life post selection in NDA. The vows are towards their own group of cadets, towards the institution and towards the services of the nation. Cadets also take a vow not to lie in any circumstances and always server their country in all circumstances (important to clarify today as many political leaders of India are asking for evidence of India’s surgical strike 2, they think everyone is a liar like them). Throughout their tenure in NDA, they are supposed to follow these, and these become their normal way of living. That is why we get amazed by the extremely disciplined life of personnel in Uniformed Services.
Qualities of a Fighter Pilot
The easiest way to understand the qualities needed in a fighter pilot is to understand what Abhinandan has recently done due to which he has become a national hero in India.
Abhinandan’s Dog Fight with F-16
So far, I have discussed the general qualities of a flying officer in the Indian Air Force has. But the combat officers are special of the lot and need special qualities. Before we understand why the life of an Air-Force officer has no parallel in civilian life and why they ‘enjoy’ so many facilities as many women have recently objected to, we need to understand what they are expected to do in the air while flying. To understand this, I will explain with Abhinandan’s recent fight with Pakistani F16, so that you understand.
Abhinandan was flying a Mig 21 Bison supersonic (that can speed more than sound) fighter jet. These planes weigh about 7500 KG (without ammunition) and have a total takeoff weight of 17000 KG. That means, 17000 KG is the maximum mass at which a Mig 21 is allowed to take off.
Mig 21 jets can fly at twice the speed of sound and its nose being very small, not easily visible. These jets also carry deadly short-range air-to-air missile R73. Whereas F16 – most versatile aircraft today.
Per the reports emerging from defense experts, it is known that on 27th February 2019 morning when 10 Pakistani F-16 fighter jets violated Indian sky limits and entered into India in a ‘Swarm merge’ formation, India’s surface to air missiles could successfully send 9 of them back but one F16 went deep in India’s territory to target India’s military establishment. Then Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of Indian Air Force engaged the aircraft with two other Sukhoi 30 MKis in a formation called ‘Defensive Split’. Due to firing from Sukhoi the F 16 flee the scene of combat using a dog fight maneuver called ‘wingover’.
After this Abhinandan chased F 16 deep into Pakistan territory locked it in a position and released R-73 air-to-air missile. This is the time when it is reported that F 16’s beyond visual range defence system was not working. R-73 did its job and destroyed the Pakistani fighter jet. After shooting him down Abhinandan performed a highly dangerous ‘High-G-Barrel-Roll’ maneuver to come back to India. (To understand what is a ‘High-g-barrel-roll’ maneuver see this video).
This was the time when India’s braveheart Abhinandan’s jet developed a snag and he had to eject from his aircraft. To understand what happens when a pilot needs to eject see this video. It is important to understand these to understand what kind of qualities fighter pilots need.
What happens when you eject from a supersonic jet?
Now you need to understand what exactly happens when you eject from a supersonic jet. The decision to eject needs to be taken in the split of a second in these cases, as the fighter jets travel several KMs in a split of a second. So, one needs to have a very quick decision-making ability to the order of split seconds. But that’s not all.
A supersonic ejection from a fighter jet has several severe consequences to a fighter pilot, sometimes life-threatening even for these super fit personnel. Read this article and see the video there to understand the consequences of ejection from a fighter jet at supersonic speed. The US Air Force pilot who had such an ejection said, his head was swollen like a Basketball, and lips were swollen as a cucumber. His left elbow was dislocated backward and the only thing that held his body was his skin. You can hear the rest of his story in the video.
So, you can understand other than having top-rated technical and mental skills, a fighter pilot needs to be an extremely tough person physically.
One who has successfully ejected from a fighter plane is significantly bruised and battered. Very often they come with fractured bones and tattered ligament.
Abhinandan Our Hero
In case of Abhinandan you might have seen him returning from Pakistan in bold and confident steps despite undergoing all these struggles and above all that despite undergoing mental torture by the Pakistani army. Also, you need to remember the sequence of events that happened –
The Fist Fight
Abhinandan ejected from his plane and landed on the surface. He didn’t know whether it was India or Pakistan. As soon as he fell on the ground, local villagers gathered around him and he asked them if it was India or Pakistan. Someone wanted to fool him and said it was India. He shouted ‘Jai Mata Di‘. Then the villagers understood that he is an Indian and wanted to beat him up. Someone shouted, “Pakistan Zindabad“. When he realized he was fooled by the villagers, he fired two rounds from his service revolver in the air to keep the villagers at a distance and ran away.
As villagers kept chasing him down, he swallowed some part of his service book and thrown away another part in water to destroy all records. Then he continued to face the enemy on the land for some time until the Pakistani Army arrived and arrested him.
Then what happened in Pakistani Army camp is another story. He was subjected to severe mental torture. But despite all these we see him responding to Pakistani army personnel in a calm and composed manner. He was not rude and also he didn’t reveal any secret information he was not supposed to reveal.
His Pakistani Counterpart
You will understand why Abhinandan stands out when you understand the ordeal faced by the Pakistani pilot after ejecting from the fighter jet that Abhinandan took down. He landed in his country but he was unconscious. So, that means the alacrity and the deftness with which Abhinandan could eject from his plane showed much better skills than the Pakistani F-16 pilot.
The Pakistani pilot despite falling in his own territory was beaten to death by his own countrymen. This shows clearly why Pakistan is a terrorist country.
Now that you see the complete ordeal suffered by Abhinandan and the way he has handled the whole situation in an enemy country, you know why exactly he needs to be worshipped by Indians.
You will know how tough a person needs to be for being a fighter pilot like Abhinandan.
Now that you know that one risks of having fractured bones and tattered ligament apart from other physical and psychological injuries only from the ejection from a fighter jet, you know how tough it is to be like Abhinandan.
We Salute Him As He Made Us Proud!!
!! Jai Hind !!
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