The story of Varthamans and their love for IAF MiG-21s

By: | Published: March 1, 2019 2:20 PM

IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's father Air Marshal (retd) Simhakutty Varthaman also flew the MiG-21s and was an IAF test pilot.

MiG 21 Abhinandan VarthamanWing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman downed a Pakistani F-16 plane before his MiG-21 Bison was hit.

For the Varthamans, flying the MiG-21 fighter aircraft is a sort of family tradition. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman downed a Pakistani F-16 plane before his MiG-21 Bison was hit during a dogfight. His father Air Marshal (retd) Simhakutty Varthaman also flew the MiG-21s and was an IAF test pilot, who retired five years ago, a family friend said here on Friday.

Abhinandan’s grandfather was also in the IAF, he said.

In an interview to PTI, Wing Commander (retd) Prakash Navale, who was a course-mate of Abhinandan’s father at the National Defence Academy (NDA) during 1969-72, said the first time he saw the young pilot, held captive by Pakistan, was when he was a three-year-old toddler.

“Myself and his father were then posted at the fighter training wing at Hakimpet, Hyderabad,” said Navale, 66, who retired from the IAF in 1994 and now lives in Navi Mumbai.

Also Read: IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s parents get standing ovation on board Chennai-Delhi flight

“Initially, I also passed out (from Air Force Academy) as a fighter pilot but later switched to helicopters. Myself and Air Marshal (retd) Varthaman were flying instructors for some time,” he said.

Like Navale, Air Marshal Varthaman is also a Sainik School alumnus. While Navale studied at Sainik School Satara,Air Mashal Varthaman is from Sainik School Amaravathinagar in Tamil Nadu.

Navale said Air Marshal Varthaman was staying atTambaram when he was doing the flying instructor’s course there. “The Varthamans are very simple people and we have enjoyed many a hearty meal at their house,” he said.

“Air Marshal Varthaman is a through gentleman. Hiswife Shobha, a doctor, is a great lady. When my wife Aruna waspregnant, she used to visit us regularly and administerinjections to her. We were blessed with our daughter Pooja due
to Shobha’s medical care,” Navale said.

Abhinandan’s sister Aditi lives in France and hasmarried a French national, he said.

In 1982, Navale, then Flight Lieutenant, was awardedthe ‘Shaurya Chakra’ for saving the life of then Odisha chief minister J B Patnaik from mob fury in Gopalpur.

The award citation read: In this action, Flight Lieutenant Prakash Navale displayed determination, courage and presence of mind. Had he not flown out the VIP at that critical time, the situation could have taken a grave turn and
could have resulted in serious consequences to the VIP and further break-down in the law and order situation.

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