Shaurya Chakra and Commanding Officer of Rafale’s elite 17 Squadron – Who is Group Captain Harkirat Singh?

It took the then Wing Commander Harkirat Singh barely eight years after being commissioned into the Indian Air Force in 2001 to make India stand up and take note of the steel he was made of.

Now, 19 years after donning the blue uniform of the Indian armed forces, Group Captain Harkirat Singh is set to script history as the first Commanding Officer of the 17 Squadron of the Rafale fighter jet when the first batch of the French machine lands in Ambala on Wednesday.

It is not only a matter of pride for India, but also a sense of achievement that the IAF officer is leading the group of fighter pilots to India with the mean machines after over a decade-long wait.

The others in the the 17 Golden Arrows accompanying Singh are Wing Commanders MK Singh, R Kataria, Sidhu and Arun. Group Captain Singh is also supposedly the first pilot who will touch down at the Ambala airbase when the jets land at 2 pm.

Coming from a family of servicemen, Group Captain Singh was back in 2009 honoured with the Shaurya Chakra, the third-most peacetime gallantry award after Ashok Chakra and Kirti Chakra. Shaurya Chakra is awarded for gallantry otherwise than in the face of the enemy.

In the citation that was presented to Singh on 15 August 2009, it was written, “Squadron Leader Harkirat Singh displayed exceptional courage in successfully handling the emergency and saved a valuable asset.”

On 23 September 2008, Squadron Leader Harkirat Singh was authorised to fly a two aircraft Practice Interception sortie on the MiG-21 Bison aircraft by Dark Night. However, during the interception phase at an altitude of four kilometres when he engaged reheat to accelerate to the briefed speeds, Singh noticed a bright flash in the peripheral vision and heard three loud banging noises from the engine.

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