Ushering in a new era for the Indian Air Force, six of its officers today successfully completed their fast jet flying course and graduated to fly the UK-made 'Hawk' Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft.
Prince Charles, in his capacity as Honorary Air Commodore, presented the Graduation certificates to the six officers in a special ceremony at the RAF Valley in the Wales, and hoped the Hawks would prove to be a great success to the Indian Air Force.
The flying officers who graduated are Jai Singh Brar (Gurgaon - Mirage 2000 pilot), Manoj Garg (Lucknow - Sukhoi 30 pilot), Rohit Kataria (Trichur - Sukhoi 30 pilot), Saurabh Pachauri (Patiala - Sukhoi 30 pilot), Vinod Prabhakaran (Lucknow - Sukhoi 30 pilot) and Anand Kumar Singh (Sagar (MP) - Jaguar pilot).
They were trained as part of a 790 million pounds deal India had reached in 2004 with British Aerospace Systems (BAE), makers of 'Hawk,' for purchasing 66 aircraft.
Saurabh Pachauri received two trophies, the SAP Trophy and the Cup of Honour. Rohit Kataria received the Indian Air Force prize - The Wragg Trophy for his all round excellence.
Vinod Prabhakaran received the British Aerospace all round Trophy, while Manoj Garg received the Leigh Fox Award for a student who has shown outstanding improvement.
Besides the cost of training of pilots, the Hawk deal inked last March also included cost of transfer of technology, creation of infrastructure facilities, the licence fee and the cost of production of the aircraft by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore.
Of the 66 Hawks that India has contracted for, 24 will be imported directly in the "fly away" condition. The rest will be manufactured under Licence at HAL in Bangalore under a transfer-of-technology agreement. The whole deal will be completed in six years' time.
The first batch of four Hawk AJTs is expected to arrive in India in September 2007 with tranches of four aircrafts to follow each month upto April 2008.
As part of the package, 75 IAF pilots would be trained by RAF at Valley in Wales.
Prince Charles, who congratulated the Indian pilots, also presented honours and awards to several British Air Force personnel for their long service and good conduct in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat fields.
The six Indian flying officers have been at the Valley undergoing training in the Hawk AJT during the last 11 months and had come out with flying colours winning admirations from Hawk Trainers.
The Hawk is the most successful aircraft of its type ever to be built, with India being its 19th customer. India is the third biggest purchaser of Hawks after British Royal Air Force and the Republic of South Africa. There are some 800 Hawk AJTs currently in service worldwide.
Lack of an AJT had more recently been cited as one of the major causes of rising MiG crashes in the Indian Air Force - whose fighter pilots were being trained on the MiG-21 which is considered a difficult aircraft to fly. As many as 230 MiGs have crashed since 1990.