What do they do?
During the Indo-Pak war in 1971, fighter pilot Karamveer Vashishth (now retired Indian Air Force Wing Commander) did not have much time to think of anything but manoeuvring his France-built Mystere MK IV A aircraft over one of the most vulnerable cross-national borders in the world — at times a mere 50 feet over terra firma. Daredevilry and laser focus saw him through.
“There has to be an extremely accurate co-ordination of eyes, ears, mind and hand,” says Vashishth, describing what it takes to be a fighter pilot. “You have to have an incisive gaze and be able to gauge danger from a long distance. There is no room for error. If that happens, you won’t be given a second chance.”
Life for men who fly in a war is fraught with excitement and thrills — the adrenaline rush cannot be written or talked about, just felt.
“Even if you fly a single-seater aircraft, you must co-ordinate with your colleagues with cutting-edge perfection,” says Air Marshal (retd) ML Sethi, who joined the IAF in 1950 to “serve the country and learn to be a good team member in the forces”.
This career is all about constant learning. A pilot needs in-depth knowledge of all types of aircraft he flies and deals with subjects like aerodynamics, principles of flight, avionics, airframe, aero-engine and combat tactics.
You will definitely live an interesting life — one that is comfortable, too, especially when you are not flying. You get a posting at one base for around two years, and at each place, you are given a semi-furnished house (very senior ranking officers get fully-furnished houses). After an ‘air-borne’ day, one unwinds in the pool or plays squash, cricket or tennis at an Air Force club.
“Life is full of fun,” says Air Commodore (retd) Mohit Nayyar, who now works for a commercial airline. “You get ample time to socialise with the Air Force family. It’s far better than the civilian life I am leading now.”
Academically, too, you can gain. Joining the forces as a graduate or undergraduate, you can continue studying. Up to two years’ study leave is allowed. Besides university education, you should study defence and international journals and books.
The knowledge amassed while in service is handy for a second career — most officers retire at 54 unless they reach the top rungs. One of the best and paying options is to become a commercial airline pilot, or, like Air Marshal (retd) SR Deshpande, become a writer in a specialised field. “Thanks to their management abilities and disciplined approach, defence officers stand a good chance of being absorbed in the private sector,” says Deshpande. “Retired officers can now join as middle- and top-level managers in corporate firms. They can also teach or become consultants.”
Source: HT Horizons
Skills and Education needed
- Technical acumen as engineering aspects must be learnt before flying an aircraft
- Ability to handle challenges and make split-second decisions under pressure
- Leadership qualities, as an officer handles a team that needs to remain motivated at all times
How do I get there?
There are four entry points to become an IAF pilot — three in permanent commission and one in temporary commission. These are:
NDA (National Defence Academy): Meant for 10+2 candidates who have studied physics and maths at 10+2 level
CDSE (Combined Defence Services Exam): For graduates who studied physics and maths at 10+2 level
NCC entry: Open only to first-class graduates who studied physics and maths at 10+2 level and who possess senior division air wing NCC ‘C’ certificate
Short-service commission entry: Open to first-class graduates who studied physics and maths at 10+2 level
Note: Women can join the IAF through short-service commission only. The maximum age for applying is 23 in all the above categories, except NDA, where the maximum age is 19