In an unprecedented decision, the Defence Ministry has allowed a flight cadet suffering from paraplegia (paralysed waist downward because of an accident during training) to continue in the Indian Air Force as a ground duty officer.
The cadet from Manipur, RK Herojit Singh, an achiever in the National Defence Academy and in the Air Force Academy, Dundigal where he was training to fly fighter jets till August 28 last year, was found unfit to fly, even unfit for many ground duties after the accident which broke his spinal cord.
Indian Air Force sources said Defence Minister AK Antony, after consulting officials in the ministry, has acceded to a special request made by Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne to commission Flight Cadet Herojit in Ground Duties, Accounts Branch.
Herojit, currently undergoing treatment at the Military Hospital, Kirkee, near Pune, will be imparted a further training of six months at Dundigal and then commissioned in the IAF's accounts branch.
Doctors have said that Herojit is likely to be confined to a wheel chair for life, his intellectual and motor capabilities are fully intact.
The Air Force, while reviewing his case after the unfortunate accident last year found that Herojit not only had a meritorious record, with exceptional performance in all fields during service training of four years( three at NDA and one at Air force Academy), but was also adjudged 'The Most Accomplished Flight Cadet' of his course.
When the case was brought to the Air Chief's notice, he decided to walk up to the Defence minister and request him to treat Herojit as a special case. After due deliberation, the MoD has now granted the permission to grant commission to Flight Cadet Herojit Singh in Ground Duties branch.
Herojit, will now undergo a further six months of training in Accounts Branch at Air Force Academy, Dundigal, Hyderabad starting 9 Jan 2013.
Allowing him to join work from wheelchair, IAF believes Herojit is fully fit, highly motivated and competent and his present condition or his likely future condition will not impede efficient functioning as an officer in the recommended branch. Herojit's unfortunate case however also highlighted the shortcomings in the IAF's basic training facilities.
Cadets at the Air Force Academy have been training without a basic trainer after the three-decade old aircraft, HPT-32 was grounded in 2010 following a spate of accidents.
In the absence of basic trainers, cadets like Herojit had to start flying the Kiran Mark II, a jet aircraft, faster and more demanding than the basic trainers.
Herojit in fact had to eject from a Kiran when it caught fire mid-air 20 minutes after he took off last August.
The first of the Kiran aircraft, such as the one that Herojit was flying, was inducted into the air force 40 years back. For the last 15 years, the defence public sector Hindustan Aeronautics has been at work on an intermediate jet trainer (IJT) to replace the Kiran. Herojit was on stage II training, the second six-month period in which cadets selected for fighter flying should have been flying the IJT before moving on to the Advanced Jet Trainer (ACT) Hawk.
However, after the Air Force flagged the urgency of having a new basic trainer, the government has fast-tracked the purchase of 75 Swiss-made Pilatus PC-7s. The first few of these aircraft will be inducted next month.
This, the IAF is hoping, will bring its pilot training programme for rookies back on track.