As the whole of India is reveling in the glory of the arrival of five multi-role Rafale fighter jets at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Ambala, air commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather is making headlines for his invaluable contribution in the delivery of the France-manufactured jets.
However, several media reports have claimed that Hilal, who is presently India's Air Attache in France, is the first Indian pilot to fly a Rafale. Subsequently, hundreds of social media users believed the reports and further circulated the information on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
"Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather is the first Indian Air Force officer to fly Rafale. Currently serving as an Air Attaché to France, Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather is a decorated officer of the Indian Air Force from Kashmir. He was commissioned in IAF as a Fighter Pilot," read one of many posts on Twitter.
Fact-Checking the claim
While Hilal has certainly played a crucial role in the smooth delivery of India-specific Rafale jets, International Business Times, India, has learned from credible sources that he did not fly the fighter aircraft to Ambala.
As an Air Attache, Hilal handled protocol-related issues, administered the vital paperwork and other formalities of the procurement. A resident of Bakhshiabad in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir, Hilal saw off the first batch of Rafale jets which took off from France and was also instrumental in weaponizing the aircraft as per Indian conditions.
Nonetheless, Hilal's services and accomplishments must be celebrated as the victory of India's equality, pluralism and progress. He was commissioned in the IAF as a fighter pilot in the Flying Branch on December 17, 1988. He was promoted as Flight Lieutenant in 1993, Wing Commander in 2004, Group Captain in 2010 and Air Commodore in 2016.
An officer with extraordinary accomplishments, Hilal also won the National Defense Academy's (NDA) Sword of Honour. The award is given to the officer who achieves the overall best performance during his or her entire training period at the academy.
The first five of a batch of French Rafale fighter aircraft arrived in India for rapid deployment amid China's aggression along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.