PATHANKOT, Sept 2 - Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the IAF pilot who became the face of a tense military confrontation between India and Pakistan in February, on Monday flew a sortie with Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa on a MiG 21 jet here. Photo-journalists and a video crew were taken inside the Pathankot air base to record the 30-minute sortie, seen as an attempt by the IAF to publicly acknowledge Varthaman�s bravery in shooting down a Pakistani F-16 jet during the February 27 aerial combat. Both Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa and Varthaman, without his signature handlebar moustache, posed for photographs.
�It was an honour for me to fly with him,� the IAF chief, who is set to retire on September 30, said after the sortie which began at around 11.30 am.
The IAF, in a tweet, said it was the last sortie flown by Air Chief in a fighter aircraft before his retirement.
Varthaman, 36, was captured by the Pakistani Army after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in the dogfight. Before his jet was hit, the IAF pilot downed an F-16 fighter of Pakistan.
A number of foreign media reports doubted the assertion about downing the F-16 jet of Pakistan Air Force. The IAF strongly rejected the reports.
Varthaman was released on the night of March 1 by Pakistan. He was taken off flying duties because of his injuries.
The IAF chief said he, too, ejected from a combat jet in 1988 and had to wait for nine months to return to the fighter cockpit.
�He (Varthaman) has got back his flying category in less than six months which is good,� said Dhanoa, adding it was his last sortie on a fighter jet before retirement.
�Both of us ejected and both of us fought the Pakistanis,� he added. � PTI