Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday became the first Indian defence minister to fly in a Su-30MKI fighter aircraft, the mainstay of the Indian Air Force.
Nirmala took to the skies in a two-seater trainer version of the Su-30MKI aircraft that took off from Jodhpur airbase and flew over southwestern Rajasthan for 45 minutes.
Attired in a flying overall and anti-G suit, the defence minister was piloted by Group Captain Sumit Garg, commanding officer of the 31 Squadron, who did several turns and basic manoeuvres with the VIP co-passenger in the back seat.
Before the take off, Nirmala met air warriors of the Air Force Station Jodhpur. She was given a briefing on the supersonic jet before she climbed up to the cockpit.
In the 45 minutes of sortie, the pilots demonstrated some of the unique characteristics and strengths of this mighty twin engine air superiority fighter.
"I am very proud and thankful that I have gone through this experience because it actually tells me with what rigour, practice, what level of readiness and how quickly they (IAF personnel) have to respond to situations. It was eye-opening and memorable," Nirmala told the media at the Jodhpur airbase after the flight.
George Fernandes was only other defence minister to fly in an IAF aircraft.
Fernandes, however, took a spin in the MiG-21 combat jet that attracted the sobriquet of "flying coffins" because of high accident rates.
Other VIPs who flew in the Su-30 MKI are former Presidents A P J Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil, industrialist Ratan Tata, and at least four junior ministers of the UPA and NDA governments M M Pallam Raju, Rao Inderjit Singh, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Kiren Rijuju.
India purchased 272 Su-30 MKI from Russia, of which 236 jets were delivered to the IAF by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited that manufacture the aircraft under a licence from Russia.
The public sector aviation major targets to complete the entire delivery by 2019-20.
After her recent stay on board the Indian Navy's aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, the Su-30MKI sortie is part of Nirmala's efforts to experience some of the real time issues that the armed forces personnel face while doing their duties.