Russian test pilot Viktor Pugachev

By P.T. Bopanna

Having covered several Aero India shows in Bengaluru, my fan moment came when I got the opportunity to meet the legendary Russian test pilot Viktor Pugachev (in picture) in 1998.  

He became famous after his 1989 Su-27 demonstrations at the Paris Air Show. On November 1, 1989 he landed a Su-27K on an aircraft carrier for the first time in Soviet history.

Having heard about his feats, I was keen to meet the famous test pilot during the Aero India show. After ascertaining his location at the air show venue, I walked into his chalet (a temporary air conditioned wooden house) by the side of the Russian stall. I introduced myself to the personnel. After verifying my credentials, I was ushered into Pugachev’s cabin.

Having witnessed his Cobra manoeuver the previous day, I could not believe that I was face to face with the man who performed such aerobatics in the sky which made you hold your breath.

But there was a problem. Pugachev could not speak English. In no time, a Russian girl appeared on the scene. She was one of the most beautiful girls I had seen. She was an interpreter who translated to me in English what Pugachev spoke in Russian.  But much of what the test pilot spoke was lost in translation. Nonetheless, it was a moment to cherish. I filed a report of the interview to my paper The Pioneer (New Delhi).

Pugachev attained stardom after he performed the Cobra manoeuver in which an airplane flying at a moderate speed suddenly raises the nose momentarily to the vertical position and slightly beyond, momentarily stalling the plane and making it a full-body air brake, before dropping it back to normal, during which the aircraft does not change effective altitude.

For his feats, the Soviet Union honoured him with the Gold medal of the Hero of the Soviet Union. He currently lives in Zhukovsky and works as the Chief Pilot Designer at Sukhoi Design Bureau.

Having covered the Aero India shows, I am convinced of the abilities of the pilots of the Indian Air Force. Prior to the induction of the Rafale and Sukhoi aircraft, the IAS had ageing fleet. Despite the outmoded aircraft, IAF had one of the most lethal fleets because of the large pool of fine pilots.

During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, Squadron Leader Ajjamada Bopayya Devayya, the only Indian Air Force officer to be awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), who was flying a Mystere aircraft, intercepted the superior F-104 Starfighter and struck it.

In the circumstances, it was not surprising to hear a claim made by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq in the National Assembly:  “Legs were shaking and forehead perspiring” at a meeting of Pakistan’s top leaders, including Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, wherein Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi pleaded to release Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, saying if he was not released, India would attack Pakistan.

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