A frontline Mirage 2000 combat aircraft piloted by Air Marshal Anil Chopra, head of Personnel at Air HQrs and Commodore Commandant, of the oldest, most pampered, unit of IAF — No. 1 Squadron, Gwalior, went down yesterday. “Snag in the engine”was trotted out as the reason for the mishap. This is hard to believe considering the Mirage facilities — air-conditioned hangars with surroundings that many Mirage pilots boast are more antiseptic than most hospitals in India — are top-rated. What may be really to blame are two factors: (1) Air Mshl Chopra was earning his “flying bounty” — an allowance even long-in-the-tooth senior officers, who have long since specialised in flying desks, draw with all the attendant risks — meaning, you are simply no longer young with the necessary quick silver reflexes to handle a fly-by-wire fighter, and hence endanger self and co-pilot, and are in danger of totaling the plane, which last happened — a writeoff. But the lure of the bounty by logging the mandatory minimum hours in the air is too much for these gentlemen to resist. And/or (2) as Commodoe-Commandant and retiring soon, a last flight or two to re-experience the highs of combat aircraft flying.
Could the CO, No. 1 Squadron, have not permitted Air Mshl Chopra to fly. In theory, yes, but he would have been aware that, as head of Personnel, Chopra could have sidelined his career were he so inclined. In the circumstances, why risk alienating a man also CC of the Squadron? The net result is the loss of an aircraft worth over $200 million (replacement value at minimum) to the national exchecquer . Can a national fighting asset be so cavalierly treated by senior IAF officers intent on joy rides (if the bounty notion is discounted for the nonce)? Indeed, should such advanced aircraft, which can go into a maneuver with a slight twitch of the pilot’s hand, be permitted to be flown other than by the young officers in their professional flying prime? It’s time IAF strictly followed a protocol and penalized senior officers for asserting the prerogatives of seniority and violating strictures against flying, and start by making an example of Air Marshal Chopra.