‘First Rafale Man of India’: ‘Hilal Was the Brightest Among 5 Siblings’

Airman Hilal Rather posing in front of Mirage-2000

Son of a soldier who fought Chinese during the 1962 Sino-India war, Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather from Anantnag has become pivotal in the arrival of the first Rafale jets to India. Back home in Kashmir, his family is describing him a disciplinarian who gave wings to his dreams.

WHEN Shahida Parveen woke up to the news that her “brightest” brother will be the first Indian pilot to fly Rafale, she texted him the Poet of East’s celebrated couplet: “Nahin Tera Nasheman Qasr-e-Sultani Ke Gunbad Par / Tu Shaheen Hai, Basera Kar Paharon Ki Chatanon Mein (Thy abode is not on the dome of a royal palace / You are an eagle and should live on the rocks of mountains).

The couplet, the proud sibling said, complimented the ‘flying’ character of her brother.

On Tuesday, Shahida’s sibling, Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather was seen alongside the Indian Ambassador to France, and overseeing the flight of the First Rafale jets from France to India.

The Kashmiri airman’s name made rounds four years after an agreement between India and France cleared the decks for India’s 36 Rafale fighter aircraft.

The much-talked about flying machines took off from France’s Metignac airbase on July 27, and will land in India on July 29 after a stopover in an airbase in UAE.

These jets will significantly boost the combat capabilities of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

As India’s Air attache to France, Hilal reportedly played a significant role in ensuring the timely delivery of the jets to India.

Once done with the deal, the IAF officer was seen with Jawed Ashraf, India’s ambassador to France. The captured moment of the two Indian officers became momentous for India’s Rafale deal.

Hilal with India’s Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf seen in the cockpit of Rafale before it left for India.

Hailing from Bakshiabad area of Anantnag district, Hilal was born to Mohammad Abdullah Rather, a JAKLI officer who fought the Chinese in the 1962 war. Later he would be bestowed with “Sena Medal” for his bravery.

But before being awarded, Hilal’s father was reported missing in the Sino-India war of Sixties.

“We received his uniform and were told that he died but then miracle happened,” Shahida told Kashmir Observer. “He came back after three months but not before hoisting India’s flag in the hills of East Ladakh sector.”

Hilal’s father later joined the J&K Police and eventually retired as a deputy superintendent of police, before breathing his last in 2013.

“It was the dream of our father to see Hilal touching the skies,” Shahida said. “Not only he touched skies, but also made all of us so proud through his achievements.”

Among the five siblings, Shahida said, Hilal was the brightest student.

“Our elder sister was lecturer; I, as a second sibling, retired as a law officer; the third one is also lecturer; another brother is a Chemistry lecturer and our youngest and brightest sibling Hilal, is a pilot.”

Hilal has two children — one has completed Bachelors in Economics and Psychology, other one is doing Bachelors in Business studies in Europe. His wife, Samina has done Masters in Science.

WIth his wife Samina

Hilal did his early schooling in Anantnag and joined the Sainik School in Jammu’s Nagrota town for further studies, where he became the School Captain. Later he joined the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA).

“He then chose Air Force and passed out as the best all round pilot from the Air force Academy with the Presidents Plaque and Sword of Honour,” Shahida continued. “He went to Bangladesh in 2003 for a flight safety course and then in 2011 to US for the prestigious Air War College Course where he attained academic distinction. From US, he returned to India in 2013 and served in the HQ of Western Air Command.”

Hilal was commissioned in IAF as a fighter pilot on December 17, 1988. From a pilot officer he subsequently rose to become flight lieutenant in 1993, Squadron Leader in 1996, Wing commander in 2004, group captain in 2010 and Air Commodore in 2016.

According to reports, the IAF officer received Vayu Sena Medal, given for devotion to duty, when he was a Wing Commander in 2010 and Vishisht Seva Medal when he was a Group Captain in 2016.

Hilal has completed more than 3,000 hours of accident-free flying on MiG 21s, Mirage-2000, and Kiran aircraft. The IAF officer is a fighter combat leader and a qualified flying instructor.

“He continues to work as a passionate fighter pilot and has a keen sense for detail,” Shahida said. “His meticulousness and dedication must have made a definite difference to realise the Rafale project for his Air Force. Today it feels Hilal has indeed lived up to his passion, and made his family proud.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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