Since early days of my childhood, my father had profound influence in shaping my character and he taught me very early in life that the success comes before work only in the dictionary. His strong moral values and ethos had guided me to work hard and perform well in both studies as well as sports. My childhood dream of becoming a fighter pilot and serving the nation was initiated by joining the National Defence Academy in June 1999. It was the challenging and inspirational training at the National Defence Academy that kept my dream alive to guard my nation’s sky. Having graduated from NDA I joined the Air Force Academy to be trained as a pilot. After being selected for the fighter stream at the academy I did my basic fighter training on Mig 21 aircraft. Thereafter I was posted to an Air Dominance Fighter Squadron equipped with the latest generation fighter aircraft in the world, Sukhoi- 30 MKI.
Since then, every moment of my life has been rewarding, as I took on the challenge of flying these high speed jets in multiple Air Dominance and Ground Attack missions that kept my motivational level and adrenaline flow high. Every drop of patriotism is reflected while planning and executing our day to day missions. The aim of safeguarding the skies while executing these missions is so exciting that one would love to be a part of every such mission.
It was a bright and sunny morning on 8th Mar 2010 when one such mission was planned and I was No-3 in the formation. The mission was to get airborne from the parent base to strike and bomb a target in Jaisalmer sector that is approximately 1000 kms away from the launch base and return back. With anxious anticipation for the LIVE bombing I was to undertake shortly, my mind was at the trained overdrive, something which comes as second nature to a fighter pilot. While executing the mission, fifteen minutes in to the sky, something happened. Something which would leave an everlasting impact on my life!!!!!!!
This happened when I was 110 kms out of Bareilly at 25000 feet. In a split second, my environment changed from the familiar calm serenity of the cockpit to something which I had never experienced before. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. The feeling was like I was amidst a Tornado. I experienced a sudden explosion with heavy wind blast. The air started gushing in and the glass pieces hit me very hard. Sudden change in pressure caused acute pain in ear. The heavy wind blast was making my head shake and had blurred my vision. The noise level in the cockpit was extremely high. It was getting difficult to concentrate. The instantaneous feeling of being sucked out of the cockpit made me instinctively duck down inside. I remained in a crouched position and tried to look around to find that there were glass pieces all over me and spread all around the cockpit. It was hard to believe the situation in which I was and “it happened to me........”. Seeing the glass pieces all around I realised that my canopy had burst and I had to tell myself to remain calm. Instinctively, the first thought that had come to my mind was about my co-pilot and his state. I tried to raise him on the intercom but I realised that the noise created by wind blast was so high that I could not hear myself on the intercom. Immediately, I tried to raise my head and look through the rear view mirror which was still intact. But I could only see the upper portion of the co-pilot’s helmet. Once again I kept trying to raise the co-pilot on the intercom by shouting at the peak of my voice while I was flying the aircraft at the same time. Seeing the co-pilot trying to raise his head slowly, I raised my thumb trying to check on his state which was promptly responded by him. This was a sign of relief for me. The blast effect caused extensive impact on my body, causing extreme pain on my body and face. I realised that the visor in front of helmet had broken in to two pieces with the lower part still hanging by the edge. I left it as it was since it was protecting me from the wind blast. I lowered my seat height further to reduce the effect of wind blast and selected oxygen to 100%. Looking back, all this had happened in just a matter of a few seconds which made me understand the definition of time dilation.
I turned the aircraft towards Bareilly Airfield to execute a landing. The R/T reception was not available due to which I gave blind transmissions to the Formation Leader and the ground agency regarding the situation and commenced descent. Heavy blast was not allowing me to concentrate on my instruments. Therefore, I dropped the aircraft speed so as to reduce the wind blast and noise level. Though the noise level had reduced marginally but the reception of Radio Telephony and intercom was unreadable. While arresting my descent at 2.2 kms altitude, I had dropped the aircraft speed further down to 400kmph and that is when I could faintly hear the external transmissions on R/T. The Formation Leader started formatting on me for a visual assessment of the extent of damage. Next thing on my mind was to land the aircraft safely. I knew that this would require skill, patience and tremendous courage. I had the option of safely ejecting out of the aircraft, however, a combination of my training and instinct told me that I could safely recover this 400 crore machine if I held my nerve and did what I was trained to do in a situation like this.
Post the visual assessment of the extent of damage in my aircraft, I turned on to an extended approach towards the airfield. I dropped speed down to 370 kmph which is when I could hear the co-pilot on intercom. So I decided to maintain this speed thereafter. I couldn’t see the runway very clearly because of the wind blast. I had to use the instruments judiciously and carried out a head down approach till about 6-7 kms from the runway. This is where all the instrument flying procedures that were taught by my instructors and senior squadron colleagues and practised on a regular basis, helped me in executing a correct head down approach. When the aircraft was at a distance of 3kms, I raised my seat height so as to look outside. At the same time I experienced a slight buffet and the controls had become lighter. This was an indication of approaching the critical regime of flight. I immediately increased the speed of the aircraft and executed a landing on the runway. At the time of flare out, I could hear a distinct whistling noise while the aircraft was decelerating in the process of touchdown. Post touchdown I used the drag parachute and brakes for deceleration so as to stop the aircraft. As the aircraft decelerated the noise levels dropped very rapidly and I could comfortably raise my head up and look around. Thereafter I cleared off the runway and switched off the aircraft when I saw the rescue crew was ready to take us out of the aircraft. Post deplaning, we were taken away for the medical examination where injuries on shoulder and face were observed. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I had managed to land an aircraft without the canopy and done justice to the faith that all my trainers had shown in me over the years. The fact that this achievement came at the cost of severe personal discomfort was of no consequence till I reached the hospital and became aware of the extent of my facial injuries.
Today, while moving ahead in my career, fulfilling my duties and promises that I made to myself and my nation, I have learnt from every experience. ‘Problems are opportunities and insights into the unknown which need to be dealt with in an appropriate manner’ is a feeling that is a part of every Fighter pilot’s subconscious thought process and I am glad that I had an opportunity and did justice to my belief in my capabilities as a pilot. It’s not important how big or small a problem is, what matters is, how one deals with it. Turning points in one’s life are not set or predictable; it’s about how effectively one solves a problem. This incident was a turning point leaving an unforgettable mark in my life. The zeal in me to protect my nation will reside in my mind and soul forever and that is how I wish to reach the zenith of success. I consider myself distinctly lucky to be in a profession that makes me do a job that I love doing and makes me wake every morning looking forward to the job at hand. I shall ever remain grateful to my Instructors & seniors in the Airforce for imparting sound training to me and to enable me to do justice to the faith that my service and my nation has bestowed on me. I wish I could live with the thrill of lighting up that afterburner and leaving terrafirma for the freedom of operating in three dimensions all my life.
Sqn Ldr V Bhushan