The Indian fighter pilot who became a national hero after being shot down by the Pakistani military has once again taken to the skies – this time to lead a formation of jets taking part in India’s Air Force Day celebrations.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who is credited with shooting down a Pakistani F-16 in a dogfight in February, was front and center at the annual aerial parade held outside Delhi. Footage shows Varthaman leading a pack of MiG-21 Bison, an upgraded version of the Soviet-era fighter jet.
The air force officer was also prominently featured in a promotional video marking the occasion. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the clip on Twitter, expressing gratitude to the country’s “air warriors and their families.”
Varthaman became a national hero after he was shot down and captured by Pakistan in a brief clash between the two nuclear rivals that erupted in February. Islamabad released him several weeks later as a “gesture of peace.” His rise to Indian stardom was at least partly due to his distinctive facial hair, described as a version of the “gunslinger.” He later trimmed his moustache, causing mass upheaval on social media.
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