Group Captain Varun Singh, Shaurya Chakra

No. 45 Squadron (Flying Bullets) Indian Air Force

Directing Staff (Air), Defence Services Staff College, Wellington

Fly fly, o’ fighter

You fly on eternal patrol

On the wing, the angels guide

You fly forever now

Once on a Port, you flew your bird

Soar o’er again higher

Vroom the throttle and have a go,

Fighter once, always remain

Soar my friend, you remain with us

Till the time of our being

The year 2021 has been a cruel one for more than one reason or another.

As the year draws to a close, the nation is burdened with the untimely demise of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, and twelve other personnel of the Indian Army (IA) and Indian Air Force (IAF), in an unfortunate helicopter accident in Tamil Nadu, on 08 December 2021

Along with General Rawat, his principal staff officer Brigadier Lakhbinder Singh Lidder, the Defence Assistant, Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh, his Staff Officer and five personal security officers; Lance Naik S Teja, Lance Naik Vivek, Naik Jitender, Naik Gursevak Singh from the Parachute Regiment (Special Forces) and Havildar Satpal Rai of the 11 Gorkha Rifles lost their lives in the crash.

The helicopter crew comprising the Commanding Officer of 109 Helicopter Unit (Knights), Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan, co-pilot Squadron Leader Kuldeep Singh, two crew, Junior Warrant Officers’ Pradeep and Das also perished in the crash.

The lone survivor, Group Captain Varun Singh was the accompanying Liaison Officer for the CDS during the move from Sulur to Wellington. Gen Rawat was due to speak to the student Officers at the Defence Services Staff College.

A gallant fighter till the end

By the end of the day of 8 December 2021, the Government of India had officially announced the demise of the CDS and 12 others.

Group Captain Varun Singh, suffered nearly eighty percent first degree burns yet fought on, till he succumbed to complications on 15 December 2021 at the Air Force Command Hospital, in Bengaluru. The last ray of hope had dimmed, for a fighter pilot who was born to soar and touch dizzying heights.

Group Captain Varun Singh was born 9 October (Day after Air Force Day) 1981 to a military family. His father served in the IA’s Corps of Air Defence (earlier Air Defence Artillery), and completed his schooling from the Army Public School, Chandimandir (Haryana).

He joined the National Defence Academy, passing out with the 104th Course in 2003 as a part of the India (Injun) Squadron of the 3rd Battalion. He was commissioned into the IAF, earning his Wings on 19 June 2004 as part of the 173 Course.

Varun, named after the God of the Skies and the Seas, was ‘born to fly’ in his own words. His flying career began with the IAF’s Jaguar Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft (Shamsher). He went on to qualify for the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas. graduating from the IAF’s premier establishment for Test Pilots, the Aircraft Systems and Testing Establishment (ASTE) in Bengaluru.

Moment of Glory- October 2020 and Shaurya Chakra

In October 2020, as part of the IAF’s First LCA TEJAS squadron , serving in the rank of Wing Commander, Varun Singh was part of a Tejas display team for the Air Force Day flypast scheduled at Air Force Station Hindon. Upon completion of the festivities, the aircraft were to return to their home base in Sulur.

At this point of time, he undertook a system check sortie on 12 October 2021 after an update of the Flight Control Systems and life support systems of his Tejas Mk1 aircraft. During this sortie, the pressurization of the aircraft failed when the fighter was at high altitude and Varun proceeded to descend to land immediately.

While descending the Tejas’s flight control system failed. The LCA is an inherently unstable aircraft by design (for the purposes of agility) requiring a flight control computer to keep it flying straight and level. The failure caused the fighter to pitch up and down subjecting pilot and plane to severe g-forces. Despite the extremely challenging situation Varun displayed exceptional skill and courage to bring the aircraft back under control. The flight control system failed once again soon after requiring Varun to use the same tremendous ability to regain control of the aircraft despite the severe physical stresses placed on him by the pitching aircraft.

Varun had prevented the loss of a valuable aircraft besides enabling an assessment of the cause of the flight control system failure and avoiding any possible loss of life on the ground through his decision to not eject. For his exceptional bravery, skill and presence of mind when faced with a life and death situation, Varun was conferred the Shaurya Chakra in 2021.

It would not be a stretch to say that Varun did not just save his aircraft and his own life that day but also the LCA program and progress of indigenous defence development in India from calumny and opprobrium.

Vroom Singh- the friend, confidant, warrior

Many moments shared through the travails of time- now merely memories for the future.

Varun Singh was more than just an IAF officer- in his own way he was a legend to those who knew him- a larger than life soul.

After his miraculous recovery of the Tejas Mk1 aircraft last year, he achieved an exalted status among his comrade in arms and those who knew what he achieved. But for him, it was just another day in the office. Such was Varun Singh to one and all.

The past few days since the crash of 08 December near Coonoor, and the constant vigil have been painful, with the prayers of the entire nation keeping alive the hope for his recovery.

But it was not to be- Vroom is now free of pain and the suffering he endured, the burns and the test of time.

He was a fighter through and through, and the fighter in him fought till he could, and some more.

Vroom now flies on ‘eternal patrol’, with the angels of time. For the ones left behind, we hope to carry forward his legacy, and remember to hold him close to us forever

So long Vroom, the angels fly with you in escort.

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