Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa commended Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman for qualifying for a swift comeback to flying duties after he ejected from his MiG-21 Bison in February.
The Air Force chief flew his last sortie before his retirement in a two-seater MiG-21 trainer with Wing Commander Varthaman on Monday.
"It was a pleasure for me to fly with Abhinandan because he has got his flying category back. That is what all pilots look forward to. I also ejected in 1988; it took me nine months to get my category back. He has been back in less than six months," Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa told reporters soon after landing from a 30-minute flight above the skies of Pathankot air base in Punjab.
Wing Commander Varthaman shot down an American-made F-16 of the Pakistani Air Force in a dogfight a day after Indian jets bombed a camp of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot, across the Line of Control. He was also downed by enemy fire, captured and released days later.
After healing from injuries, the Wing Commander returned to the cockpit in less than six months. The Air Force's Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Bengaluru gave the go-ahead to him to fly again after a thorough medical evaluation.
The Air Chief Marshal, who served in a MiG-21 squadron with Wing Commander Varthaman's father, took the front seat of the MiG-21 on Monday's sortie while the younger pilot sat on the rear seat of the trainer jet.
"This is my last sortie on a fighter jet. Both of us have two things in common - first, both of us ejected and second, both of us have fought Pakistanis. I fought in Kargil, he fought after Balakot. And third, I've flown with his father. It's an honour for me to do my last sortie in the IAF, in a fighter aircraft, with his son," the Air Chief Marshal said after landing.
Indian Mirage 2000 jets bombed the Jaish-e-Mohammed's camp in Balakot in retaliation against a suicide attack that killed 40 soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama in February.
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