It is likely the first major mid-air emergency in India’s in-service Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas squadron. The Indian government has decorated Wing Commander Varun Singh from the 45 Squadron ‘Flying Daggers’ with a Shaurya Chakra — India’s third highest peacetime gallantry award — for his handling of a grave cockpit failure at high altitude.
The citation to his award details the incident in full:
Wing Commander Varun Singh (27987) Flying (Pilot) is a pilot in a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Squadron. On 12 Oct 20, he was flying a system check sortie in LCA, away from parent base, after major rectification of Flight Control System (FCS) and pressurisation system (life support environment control system).
During the sortie, the cockpit pressurisation failed at high altitude. He correctly identified the failure and initiated a descent to lower altitude for landing. While descending, the Flight Control System failed and led to total loss of control of the aircraft. This was an unprecedented catastrophic failure that had never occurred. There was a rapid loss of altitude while in usual attitude, with the aircraft pitching up and down viciously going to the extremities of G limits. Despite being in extreme physical and mental stress in an extreme life-threatening situation, he maintained exemplary composure and regained control of the aircraft, thereby exhibiting exceptional flying skill. Soon thereafter, at about 10,000 feet, the aircraft again experienced total loss of control with vicious manoeuvring and uncontrollable pitching. Under such a scenario, the pilot was at liberty to abandon aircraft. Faced with a potential hazard to his own life, he displayed extraordinary courage and skill to safely land the fighter aircraft. The pilot went beyond the call of duty and landed the aircraft taking calculated risks. This allowed an accurate analysis of the fault on the indigenously designed fighter and further institution of preventive measures against recurrence. Due to his high order of professionalism, composure and quick decision making, even at the peril to his life, he not only averted the loss of an LCA, but also safeguarded civilian property and population on ground.
For this act of exceptional gallantry, Wg Cdr Varun Singh is conferred with the Shaurya Chakra.
Tejas fighters have been operating with their inaugural squadron in Sulur, Tamil Nadu since July 2016. Earlier this year, the Indian Air Force finally placed orders for 83 of the improved Tejas Mk.1A fighter, which you can read all about in this detailed piece.
You can read about Livefist founder Shiv Aroor’s flight in an LCA Tejas here.
More about the Tejas and India’s fighter acquisition plans in the video below.