And now India to have its Air Force One!

March 8th, 2009 - 2:50 pm ICT by IANS  

By Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, March 8 (IANS) The Indian prime minister’s brand new office in the air - akin to the US president’s Air Force One - is all set to be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) later this month, an official said.

Three Boeing Business Jets, fitted with the state-of-the-art security gadgets and latest communication systems, will be part of the Communications Squadron of the IAF. President Pratibha Patil, the supreme commander of the armed forces, is likely to formally induct the jets at a ceremony.

The Boeing 737s will be christened Rajdoot after one of the three Russian TU 124s that were part of the VVIP squadron in the 1970s.

“The Communications Squadrons, which ferry the president, the prime minister and top cabinet ministers, will be taking in the new jets,” a senior IAF official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, told IANS.

The aircraft will enter 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.

“The three aircraft are being extensively flown across the country and are undergoing complete system checks. One of the aircraft will be dedicated to the president and prime minister and another used to ferry special guests or senior ministers, while one will be on stand-by,” the official added.

The aircraft’s interiors are being fitted to carry a total of 48 people, including the president or prime minister in a special cabin.

The three new aircraft are the latest Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) versions. They will replace the three existing Boeing 737s acquired more than 20 years ago.

The new BBJs have been configured to the same security specifications for the Indian prime minister as the Boeing 747s being used for the US president.

The aircraft are being fitted 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.

The long range Boeing 737s, fitted with new CFM 56 engines made jointly by the US GE and French Snecma, are designed to function as command posts, in the event of an emergency. The jets are quieter, more fuel-efficient and have a long range of up to 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km).

The pilots and crew are being trained to fly the special craft. “The training of the pilots and the maintenance crew is on. The only hassle is that the pilots have not got the Master Green certificate (the highest professional grading) necessary for the pilot before flying VIPs,” the official added.

For every aircraft a nine-member team, including a pilot, navigator and a flight engineer, is currently being trained. For the BBJ to be flown, at least one team needs to have the Master Green certificate, the official added.

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