What is it like to be an Indian Air Force (IAF) Fighter Pilot?

We all have a lot of admiration for Indian air force and especially for Indian air force fighter pilots. Let us see how is the life of Indian Air Force pilot is?

Daily Life:​

1. Fighter Pilot: A typical day starts from zooming to the Squadron (airbase) early morning and attending the morning briefing (mission plans). Post briefings – A fighter pilot has to prepare for the flying, wear G-Suite, Oxygen Masks etc. In hot Indian summers, these suites make life miserable.

Unlike cars, air conditioning takes time once inside the cockpit. Once airborne, pilots fly on instruments mostly. So, no window views here visibility is dependent on the aircraft role and canopy designs. The aircraft is taken through given mission objectives, most which involves routine flying in sectors.

An average fighter aircraft can fly about an hour without in flight refuelling. Flying involves Skills, Physics and Mathematics. It’s a tough office to be in.

For Transports most of it remains similar, however, there is one huge difference – the flying time which you can go beyond 10 hours of non-stop flying. Unlike commercial airlines, military aircraft have minimal luxuries. In bigger aircrafts like IL-76s there are facilities for sleeping and warming food as well.

Flying planning also differs according to mission objectives. In most case, aircrafts run on APUs for long time even before the final startup, so a lot more man hours goes in even before take off. Work space is more and so are the crew members. There are mostly 2 pilots, 1 Navigator and 1 Engineer in a flight.

2. In the second half of the day -Young Pilots return to Officer’s Mess for their lunch, before returning back to their Squadrons. Evenings generally follow up with a game of Squash followed by parties on Weekends. Yes we have lot of parties; get-to-gathers and all officers of the Squadron are expected to attend with their families.

Being a Pilot:​

3. To become a Pilot it’s tough but to remain one is tougher. A Pilot has to go every six monthly medical examination. Even an injured toenail can make you “Grounded” and hence Medical Services are part of military establishment. Unlike what’s assumed, after passing out from the Air Force Academy, only the best gets to the Mig-21s.

4. Pilots are rated categorically. The ace pilot gets “A” Master Green. A skill assessment is done annually to award the category.

5. Cockpits are cramped place to be and controls are hard to operate. Unlike a Joystick in PC the actual control stick takes sheer strength to move. Barring aircrafts like Su-30MKI, visibility is minimal due to the design of fighters. Remember military aircrafts are not meant for crew comfort and hence everything “luxury” is kept at minimal.

In one’s career a Pilot will fly many different aircrafts and undertake a variety of missions in both day and night. Eventually the career progressives, he / she will be the Flight Commander, then the Commanding Officer in any of the Squadrons of IAF.

6. In all probability, pilots and their families generally stay very close to the air base, inside a campus known as the Air Force Station.

This campus remain self sufficient, and houses living accommodation (for airmen, officers and non-combatants), Messes (for bachelor accommodation, food and official parties), Institutes (for parties :)), Medical Centres, Schools, Shopping Complexes etc. In many cases both Husband and Wife are pilots.

7. Wives of Air Force Officers forms the AFWWA – Air Force Wives Welfare Association. Wives of the officers are expected to be voluntarily member of this association whuch undertakes various welfare projects. In short its an CSR wing of the Air Force.

Pay and Perks:​

8. You get a basic salary with many allowances including Flying Pay. An average pilot starting his life in the Air Force earns more than half a lakh every month as a Fg Offr as of 2014.

9. Free Medical for Self, Family and dependents. CSD Facilities, very cheap rent for the accommodation provided. (Like 1000 Rs/month). Free ration and cheap alcohol 🙂

10. World Class facilities for sports and adventure sports (for the whole family). From Olympic class swimming pools to para gliding.

11. Post a service period of 20 years – life long pension.

12. Air Force gives you the opportunity to be yourself. You will be find yourself, DJing for the squadron parties or planning treks – your interests besides your primary duties!

The Risk Factor:​

13. Flying is inherently risky. But it’s not that Pilots keep on dying every day, as the posts below me tend to suggest. In fact life is satisfying and makes you feel accomplished.

14. Aircraft are machines and they fail. However, in peace time IAF does a lot of flying and hence few incidents / accidents are inevitable. As opposed to what people perceive, IAF has now the lowest attrition rate in years.

Our majority of fleet comprises of Soviet aircrafts, which are robust but high on maintenance. They have become old and are over-due for replacements.

15. I have also seen many fatal crashes in my life. It’s part and parcel of being in the fauj! But I would rather choose to die fighting for my country then in a road accident – which are way common.

16. My Father bailed out(manually exiting from aircraft) from a Harvard T-6 and ejected from an Hawker Hunter aircraft, without a scratch. Flew a variety of aircrafts and after an illustrious career spanning 32 years with the IAF he still flies for commercial operators. He still maintains a strict regime of his daily walks which runs into kms!

This answer is shared by Rahul Devnath on Quora.

Disclaimer: I’m sharing this information, on the basis of experience, my father had in his 32 years of illustrative career with the IAF as a pilot and friends who are military aviators today. I’m not a pilot.

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