Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday evening flew on India's first Rafale fighter jet at the Dassault facility near France's Bordeaux, right after the jet, the first of the 36 long-awaited Rafale fighters for India, was officially handed over by France on Indian Air Force's 87th birth anniversary.
"It was a very comfortable and smooth flight. It was an unprecedented moment, I had never thought that one day I will fly at super sonic speed in an aircraft," news agency ANI quoted Mr Singh as saying after the sortie.
"This aircraft marks a massive enhancement in the Indian Air Force combat capability but that enhancement is not for attack purposes but as a deterrent for self defence. And, the credit for this milestone goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose decisiveness has made this crucial air enhancement possible today," he added.
The Defence Minister sat in the rear cockpit of the customized Rafale fighter jet with tail number RB-001 and was flown by Philippe Duchateau, head test pilot of Dassault Aviation.
The Defence Minister, wearing a fighter pilot helmet and aviator sunglasses, flashed a thumbs-up from the cockpit after the lengthy procedure of being strapped in.
Before the sortie, Mr Singh had performed a 'shastra puja' (the traditional worship of weapons during Dussehra) on the new aircraft and emblazoned it with an "Om" and spread flowers and a broke a coconut. He also placed lemons in front of the aircraft's wheels, to ward off evil.
"Our Air Force is the fourth-largest in the world and I believe that the Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft will make us even stronger and will give a boost to India's air dominance exponentially to ensure peace and security in the region," the Defence Minister said at the handing over ceremony.
"I have been told that the French word Rafale means andhi in Hindi or gust of wind. I am sure that the aircraft will live up to its name," he said.
The first Rafale for India, RB-001, was unveiled with the tricolor as its backdrop. The RB-001 in the tail number stands for newly appointed IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhaduria, in recognition of his role in striking the Rafale deal in 2016.
The first batch of four Rafale jets, part of the Rs. 59,000-crore deal made in September 2016, are expected to arrive in India in May next year. The rest of the fighters will arrive by September 2022, for which the Air Force has been making preparations, including training of pilots.
With inputs from PTI