Indian Air Force

The pilot who helped Tejas breast the FOC tape

As Muthu taxied back to the dispersal after the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) sortie of the LCA Mk1 SP-17, now with a tail number of LA-2017, on March 17, 2019, he was clearly surprised by the reception he got. The spontaneous celebration that involved some water-dousing and hoisting him on their shoulders by his Light Combat Aircraft team and the large group of HAL employees was heart-warming to say the least.

Air Commodore Kalianda Appaya Muthana has been probably among the few outstanding fighter pilots and professionals of my generation who did not rise to the very upper echelons of the IAF leadership. Reticent and soft-spoken, but with just a hint of swagger, he was a natural flier from the word go, and though I never served alongside him in any squadron, he was a highly rated fighter jock wherever he went.

No one knows this better than Air Chief Marshal (retd) BS Dhanoa, the IAF’s previous chief and Muthana’s squadron-mate on MiG-21s in 29 Squadron (Scorpios). Dhanoa reminisces, “We were together for the first time in the early 1980s on the MiG-21 Type 96 in Sirsa, and then again as senior squadron leaders on the same type in Jamnagar, where I was the flight commander.

The squadron was assessed very highly by the IAF’s inspection team and after I left, Muthu took over as flight commander – the good run continued, with the Scorpios winning the IAF’s marksmanship trophy called Ekalavya. He was free, frank, fair and fearless.”

After tick-marking all the boxes in his career, Muthu followed the traditional path of the creamy layer of fighter pilots as he transitioned from being a flying instructor to joining the elite band of test pilots, commanding a squadron and a fighter base.

Chosen to lead the SU-30 upgrade project in Russia, he returned two years later to take charge as the Chief Operations Officer of Air Force Station Pune, home to the first SU-30 MKI squadron (20 Squadron).

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