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SOURCE: IANS

A fighter aircraft buzzed around parts of the northern suburbs of Kolkata on Monday afternoon, resulting in speculation and a bit of concern regarding the pilot’s welfare. Unlike other cities in the north or western parts of the country, Kolkata and its suburbs aren’t used to fighter aircraft flying overhead. People are accustomed to Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters though, as the Air Force Station in Barrackpore is located in the city’s northern suburbs itself.

“At around 3 p.m., I heard the noise and realised that it was a fighter aircraft flying low. By the time I got out of the house, it was gone. I just hope that everything is fine with the aircraft and the pilot. It brought back memories of my days with the IAF,” said Animesh Das, who served the IAF as an airman before retiring and setting up his own motor garage.

The nearest airbase to Kolkata is the Air Force Station in Kalaikunda (in East Midnapore district). A Joint Military Training (JMT) is now underway there between the IAF and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). While the RSAF has sent its F-16s for this exercise, the IAF is flying Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs, Jaguars, Mig-29s and LCA Tejas. AFS Kalaikunda also has two squadrons of Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers of its own.

An official at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) Airport confirmed that the aircraft was an F-16 of the RSAF that made a low flight over the suburbs before flying back to AFS Kalaikunda.

The bilateral stage of the JMT between the IAF and RSAF is now underway where both air forces are engaged in advanced air combat simulations. This is that stage when aircraft from both sides are part of a Red Team or a Blue Team. The Red Team is the attacker while the Blue Team is the defender.

Aircraft do not carry live munitions but the scoring simulated shots by pilots are recorded and replayed during the debriefing. This helps in improving skills in air-to-air combat. This is also the most gruelling stage where every pilot tries his best to outwit the adversary in a dogfight in the skies.

According to a senior IAF official, this is also the stage where pilots push their aircraft to the limit. There is every possibility of a technical glitch at this stage and a pilot may fly back to the closest airfield. The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata is the diversion airport during such exercises and a pilot in distress may have turned towards it, causing a flutter on the ground.

“A diversion airport is one that can ‘retrieve’ an aircraft during an emergency and provide all assistance during landing. During such international exercises, there has to be a diversion airfield. Sometimes, it can also be a part of the drill to locate and fly towards a diversion airport to check the skills of a pilot. It is not necessary that the pilot or his aircraft were in any danger. He may not have even landed in Kolkata. It may just have been a part of the exercise,” a senior IAF official said.