Visibility wasn't good during the Republic Day flypast and the clouds hung low.'We had 30 seconds to fame in 46 years and we made good use of it,' says Commander Mrinmoy Ghosh who flew the Indian Navy's IL-38 SD aircraft during Thursday's flypast.
"It is always a soldier's dream to be part of the Republic Day parade," says Commander Mrinmoy Ghosh, Commanding Officer of the IL-38 Squadron of the Indian Navy.
This Republic Day, Commander Ghosh's dream was fulfilled when he flew the Ilyushin 38 Sea Dragon aircraft over Kartavyapath during the flypast.
"When we flew over Kartavyapth, we were paying tribute to all the 'Winged Stallions' -- serving, retired and martyred. We did it for them -- in valiant recognition of their selfless service to the nation," says Commander Ghosh, captain of the aircraft in the flypast. He was accompanied by pilot-in-command Commander C M Fulshe and co-pilot Commander Abhay Amle.
A 7-member crew flies the IL-38 SD.
The crew of the fleet of the Russian-made aircraft are also known as the 'Winged Stallions'. Commander Ghosh has flown the IL-38 SD for nearly 12 years.
The IL-38 SD is a long range anti-submarine warfare and surveillance aircraft. Commissioned in 1977, it is the longest serving maritime reconnaissance aircraft in the Indian Navy.
The aircraft will retire from service towards the end of 2023.
"Since it is a vintage aircraft, it is more challenging compared to modern aircraft, but it is exciting to fly for long durations over the sea hunting for submarines. It is also a test of our skill, training and perseverance in the Indian Navy," says Commander Ghosh who is also a Qualified Navigational Instructor.
Since 1977, the IL-38 SD has participated in all the major exercises and missions of the Indian Navy. It was also pressed into service during the pandemic to transport medicines and equipment across the country.
The aircraft can fly for 8 hours at a stretch. "It is very challenging flying over the vast expanse of the open sea. This aircraft never fails you. It has always completed the mission entrusted to it," says Commander Ghosh in a conversation over the phone after the completion of the flypast on January 26.
This was the IL-38 SD's first outing in a Republic Day parade. The crew were elated when they were told in December that the aircraft would fly for the first and only time during the Republic Day flypast this year.
It was a befitting final salute for the IL-38's service in front of the entire nation.
The crew had put in days of intense practice for the flypast. The weather had been better in the run-up to the parade, but visibility wasn't good during the flypast and the clouds hung low. The aircraft took off two hours prior and blazed through Kartavyapth in 30 seconds.
"We had 30 seconds to fame in 46 years and we made good use of it," says Commander Ghosh who has served the Indian Navy for nearly 20 years.
"We are all overwhelmed because we did not expect to see our own aircraft in the Republic Day parade."
The IL-38 SD will be given an honorable farewell at a decommissioning ceremony in Goa where former and serving pilots, technical officers and crew will be present to bid adieu.
An aircraft is phased out when it has lived its operational life and is difficult to service and maintain further.
After it is phased out, it will be displayed to inspire the youth either at the National Maritime Heritage Centre in Lothal, Gujarat or in Goa.
Watch: The Indian Navy's IL-38 SD during the Republic Day flypast.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com