India’s own Air Force One takes to the skies (Lead)

April 1st, 2009 - 5:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil New Delhi, April 1 (IANS) Three Business Boeing Jets (BBJ) - all modelled on the US president’s office-in-the-sky Air Force One - were Wednesday inducted into the Communication Squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF) by President Pratibha Patil.
The President also undertook the maiden flight of the BBJ christened Rajdoot. The other two jets are called Rajhans and Rajkamal.

She flew to Lilabari in Assam on way to Arunachal Pradesh in the aircraft emblazoned with the name of India, a red beacon on top and Indian flag fluttering in the front.

“It will be more business-like with the journeys cut short. I can now give more time to study,” Patil said before boarding the aircraft.

The supreme commander of the armed forces boarded the aircraft after a small prayer ritual was conducted. The president was accompanied by an entourage of 20 officials on the four-day tour of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

With the flight, Patil formally inducted the jets into the IAF’s Air Headquarters Communications Squadron that is based at the Palam Air Force station here. The squadron ferries the president, the vice president, the prime minister, the service chiefs and other dignitaries.

“We have ushered in the new era for flying our national leaders. The aircraft in its class is the finest. Its features are SPS (Special Protection Suite), more passenger comfort and lower noise level, which makes it class apart from what we have been flying,” IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major told reporters here.

The IAF has purchased the aircraft from the US at a cost of Rs.9.34 billion each and they are equipped with state-of-the-art security gadgets and the latest communication systems.

The name Rajdoot was first initially borne by a Russian TU-124 and then by the Boeing-737 the new jet is replacing. The BBJ is based on a newer generation Boeing-737.

The aircraft has entered service nine months behind schedule due to last minute integration problems of the missile defence system and sorting out of end-user verification laws with the US.

“We have sorted this out. No physical verification will be there for the equipments in the aircraft,” Major said.

The three aircraft are being extensively flown across the country and are undergoing complete system checks. One aircraft will be dedicated for the president and the prime minister, another will be used to ferry special guests and senior ministers, while one will be on standby.

The aircraft have a spacious VVIP cabin and can carry a total of 46 passengers in four different zones.

The new jets have been configured to the same security specifications as the Boeing-747 that flies the US president. They are equipped with sophisticated electronic countermeasures, a protection suite and chaff dispensers to ward off missile threats, a secure satellite and VHF communication suite and other security gadgets.

Powered by two CFM-56 engines that are jointly manufactured by the US General Electric and the French Snecma, the long-range BBJs are designed to function as command posts in the event of an emergency. The jets are quieter and more fuel-efficient. It can cruise a speed of 41,000 feet at 450 knots.

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