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Ratan Tata takes to the skies

Anand Sankar

It is a great feeling, he says after his flight at Aero India show in Bangalore


  • Tata took time to adjust to controls, says pilot
  • To fly in F/A-18 Super Hornet on Friday

    — Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar

    SOARING AT 69: Chairman of the Tata Group Ratan Tata (right) boarding an F-16 fighter aircraft at the Aero India show in Bangalore on Thursday. The 69-year-old industrialist flew the fighter during most of the sortie, broke the sound barrier and had a taste of low level flying. Back on the ground, he termed the experience "exhilarating."

    Bangalore: "Great feeling," was all that the taciturn Ratan Tata said after his supersonic flight in the American F-16 Fighting Falcon before a media scrum overpowered him. The biggest media event of Aero India 2007 ended in an anti-climax as Mr. Tata was quickly whisked away by his guards.

    Through the day, the whereabouts of Mr. Tata were a mystery until he was spotted on the way to get ready for the flight. As the media underwent an interminable wait under the mid-day sun, he finally arrived to board the twin-seat F-16 piloted by Lockheed Martin pilot Paul Hattendorf.

    Kitted out in a special gravity suit that prevents the wearer from blacking out during hard manoeuvres, Mr. Tata waved to the crowd before being helped into the aircraft and strapped in. He had already undergone a thorough medical screening and a session to explain egress from the aircraft in case of an emergency. But it was the pilot Hattendorf who was in command of the ejection seat, if anything went seriously wrong.

    The aircraft taxied out, with Mr. Tata again waving and was soon in the air. He was vectored to fly at 18,000 feet over the southern part of Bangalore city and if any in that part of town heard a sonic boom, it was Mr. Tata at Mach 1.3. Mr. Hattendorf said Mr. Tata requested that the sound barrier be broken, as he had never experienced it before. Also he was given a taste of low-level flying that the F-16 is famous for when he streaked 500 feet above the ground.

    The flight lasted approximately 40 minutes and Mr. Tata was flown for about 60 nautical miles. He did take control of the aircraft from the rear seat and flew for about 10 minutes. He is said to have played with the throttle and controls. According to the pilot, he took time to adjust to the controls as they are fly-by-wire.

    "Little apprehensive"

    At the beginning of the flight Mr. Tata, it seems, was a little "apprehensive" but soon Mr. Hattendorf was putting him through a series of hard rolls and aileron rolls to put him at ease. The number of gees that Mr. Tata, 69, experienced was not revealed except that it was "many" and he handled it pretty strongly.

    Nobody got a chance to speak to Mr. Tata, his experience was only revealed in a minimalist statement released by his media advisers: "It was exciting... an exhilarating experience. I flew at heights suited for supersonic speed and came down to as low as 500 feet above ground level. Given a chance I would love to fly again."

    Mr. Tata is set for another flight, this time in Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet on Friday morning. The F/A-18 is a competitor to Lockheed Martin's F-16.

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