Do you sit up and smile everytime you hear the Top Gun theme song? Can you feel the sun and the wind rush against your face, simulating the feeling of riding a superbike while racing a jet? Those images define how people view fighter pilots. Flyboys, as pilots of the Indian Air Force are called continue to have this aura and more. I remember watching the pilots leave for flying and they looked magnificent in their flight suites, helmets with shiny visors and tightly laced boots (which as a five-year-old, I couldn’t lift). These men were tall and fit and looked like Gods who would soar through the air in dangerous machines.
Many movies, both Bollywood and Hollywood have tried to capture the life of a pilot but nothing can truly capture the mix of adrenaline, passion, precision and guts it requires to be a fighter pilot. If ever you want to profile a fighter pilot think of a cocky one and you are 90 per cent there. The rest are just physical characteristics that disappear behind a larger than life personality. If there is an adventure that most civilians cant easily indulge in, it’s flying a fighter jet; though there are sorties for tourists in Russia, it still doesn’t allow a solo flight! You can sign up and climb the Himalayas with more ease.
Fighter pilots have the been the poster children for everything from precision watches to sports cars, sexy eyewear and a whole line of clothing especially designed for them. It doesn’t matter where they are from, any country, any language, these guys have a language all their own and most of it is attitude. One wonders what it is that makes them different from others — well it’s all in the mix — the fitness, mental acuity, response time, split second decision making and the ability to carry out dangerous maneuvers at unbelievable altitudes and speed.
What is amazing is that the image of the fighter pilot has remained unchanged over decades — from the sharp yet exceedingly suave gentlemen in Dam Busters to the rakish aviators in Top Gun, and the futuristic styling of the Star Wars pilots engaged in age old dog fights. Like the image of the army man brings with it a sense of security and patriotism; that of a fighter pilot evokes feelings of passion, aspiration and admiration.
Fighter pilots are known for going the extra mile (where no man has gone before) — they want to transcend frontiers & break barriers that most normal people wouldn’t even consider. A handful go on to the next (and currently last) bastion — that of becoming astronauts. But ask any of them and they’ll tell you, they’d give anything to be in their cockpit, flying through the grey area between the atmosphere and space. As a whole, fighter pilots still live by the old code, while embracing new technology and hardware they still like to fly by instinct. At the end of the day a fighter pilot is a finely trained operative, handling a million dollar killing machine and the last bastion of human intervention before mass destruction. Their belief — once a fighter pilot — always a fighter pilot. How do I know all this — cause my Dad was (umm is) a fighter pilot. — The author is the daughter of an Air Commodore