Nearly every guy on board India’s newest aircraft carrier, Vikrant, expresses the same sentiment: They are living the dream. This includes the captain, the fighter pilot, the doctor, the engineer, and even the cook.
Naval fighter pilot Lieutenant Commander Ajay Singh says the best day of his career will be when he lands and takes off from the sliver of a runway on this floating airfield. This demanding job carries high risks and is therefore assigned to only the best pilots. He has his arms outstretched towards the expansive flight deck of the largest warship ever built in India.
“There’s no margin for error when you are operating from an aircraft carrier. This is an airfield at sea, it’s moving up and down in the monstrous swells, and the pilot has to do what he has to do in a limited space. For me, that thrill is unmatched and there could have been no better time to be in the Navy,” says Singh, a MiG-29K fighter pilot.
To be sure, the Navy has put Vikrant through its paces during a variety of demanding sea trials for nearly a year in advance of its scheduled commissioning into service. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is anticipated to dedicate the first aircraft carrier made in India to the nation on September 1 at Kochi.
However, crucial flight tests must still be completed, and Commodore Vidhyadhar Harke, the warship’s first hand-picked captain, will place the utmost importance on integrating the air wing of the carrier. He is fully aware of the immense responsibility he will bear in revealing the true potential of this 45,000-ton battleship, which will serve as the admirable focal point of the Indian Navy’s homegrown sea might.
Harke describes the situation as they stare out over a single Russian-built MiG-29K that is parked on the flight deck with its wings folded in the warship’s flight control centre, surrounded by complicated machinery and displays. “My crew and I have to live up to the expectations of not just the Navy but the entire country. Also, the whole world will be watching us and how we evolve as a carrier battle group (aircraft carriers always move with escort warships). Apart from flight trials that will be quite complex, integrating Vikrant with other elements of the fleet will be equally critical,” he says.
A few decks below, where the new flooring is still covered in preparation for the commissioning ceremony and the aroma of fresh paint fills the space, Lieutenant Commander Y Harsha VR is in charge of the crucial ship control centre and overseeing sailors who are seated in front of multi-function displays and controls that will enable them to monitor vital indicators of the aircraft carrier’s health while it is at sea.