"What it takes to be a Naval Aviator?", asked a curious civvy. 'Try juggling 3 balls while skating on a treadmill', replied a Naval pilot. Flying a jet at whistle-stop speed can be venturesome but having to land the warplane on a nimble aircraft carrier is not a job for tender-hearted person and surely Commander Nishant Singh was no neophyte in the unceasing ocean. Born in a Naval family, Nishant grew up at Naval Bases across the country, Disney toys or RC cars wasn't his thing, creating airfields and playing with jets were his treasured choice. Growing up, Nishant always aspired to follow in the footsteps of his father, the academics and the austere discipline of Naval schools had already laid the foundation for his dream. It didn't take him long to realize his holy grail as he soon got commissioned into Indian Navy as an executive(General Service) Officer. Subsequently, he got selected into Naval Aviation and trained as a fighter pilot and shortly became a qualified flying instructor. Within a short span of time, Nishant had aced as an aviator having trained at Kiran, Hawk and Mig-29K aircrafts. Nishant Singh had distinction of earning the "Wings of Gold" after an advanced strike training with US Navy in the year 2011.
Commander Singh had also been a catch of social media once the cheeky and humor laden letter "PERMISSION TO BITE THE BULLET" to his CO seeking permission to get hitched went viral, that 'not so mundane' note elucidated the crazy persona of the Naval Officer. But soldiering is a risky affair, even without an escalation to a full-fledged war, the unpredictable vagaries of nature, machines and operating turfs combine to test the caliber of a warrior at every step. A month into his marriage, Commander Singh returned to his posting at INS Hansa in Goa where he was serving the 'Black Panthers' squadron flying Mig-29K from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. Being a flying instructor he often flew with the young pilots to train them for various aerial maneuvers.
On November 26, 2020 he took off in twin-seater MiG-29KUB with a young pilot from INS Vikramaditya for one such sortie, the air time was very eventful but while returning to the carrier, the aircraft developed technical snags, became uncontrollable and eventually crashed into unabated Arabian sea. Indian Navy launched a massive search operation deploying 9 warships and 14 aircrafts, the young pilot was rescued however Commander Nishant could not be saved and his body was recovered from the seabed after 11 days. A gallant Officer, a top gun, a woof lover, a caring husband and over all a maverick fell in the line of duty while serving the nation leaving behind unforgettable memories and heartwarming moments.
Born in a naval family to Veteran Navy Commander Yash Vir Singh, Nishant was alike any other Military brat who grew up at various Naval Bases across the nation and travelled from shore to coast; probably a luxury which every military brat enjoys. Growing up, he studied at Naval Children School in Goa and Vishakhapatnam and as his schoolmates recall, he was a very notorious kid who would always find one way or the other to summon trouble. Even in school days, he was very much fascinated towards ships and aircrafts and always aspired to follow in the footsteps of his father and put on the 'White Uniform' to serve the country. Probably growing up at various places, dealing with hitches combined with the academics and discipline of Naval School had helped the rebel kid come of age.
A rock-hard foundation for his Naval career was laid and Nishant didn't have to wait long as he soon got selected to train at Naval Academy, Mondovi, Goa in 2004 at an age of 18. INS Mandovi had started as a Sailor's Training Establishment in 1976 and then turned into Naval Academy in 1986, now it serves as a hub for professional training establishments after the Naval Academy shifted to Ezhimala, Kerala in May, 2009. After four years of rigorous training and numerous drills, gentleman Naval cadet Nishant Singh was commissioned into the Executive branch of Indian Navy as Sub-Lieutenant on July 1, 2008.
As an Executive (General Service) Officer, Nishant was at the helm of affairs in ships. Executive officers are leaders of men, strategists of modern warfare and ambassadors of the country when in foreign waters. Modern warships are highly evolved fighting machines needing capable, decisive leaders to operate them and witty officers like Nishant Singh are overseer of the ships at the sea. In due course, Nishant signed up for Naval Aviation and volunteered for specialization as an aviator and after being screened through a rigorous medical fitness test, he was sent for Pre-Flying Training at the School for Naval Airmen (SFNA), located in the Southern Naval Command at Kochi. Thereafter, he was sent for ab-initio flying training and subsequently appointed into the fighter squadron of the Indian Navy.
Fighter squadrons of the Indian Navy include two MiG 29K (INAS 300 and 303) and one Hawk (INAS 551) unit that are based in Goa and Visakhapatnam respectively. The MiG 29K squadron is an embarked squadron that operates both from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and shore bases while the Hawk squadron is a pure shore-based squadron. All fighter pilots first join INAS 551 to undergo Naval Orientation Flying before being selected for conversion on to MiGs in INAS 300 (White Tigers) and finally get appointed to the MiG operational squadron INAS 303 (Black Panthers).
Nishant was one of the elite aviators to have flown the MiG-29K (Korabelniy–"ship based") and the twin seater MiG-29KUB. He had clocked 1100 hrs of flying on Kiran and Hawk aircrafts and 400 hrs on the Russian Migs alone, apart from being an aced pilot, Nishant was a qualified mountaineer, skilled yachtsman and a prolific diver. Moreover in a double quick time, Nishant graduated from the Flying Instructors School, Chennai adept to train the young pilots of the Indian Naval Air Squadrons.
In April 2011, Indian Navy and US Navy participated into mock battle exercise popularly known as 'Malabar Exercise' held at Okinawa coast, Japan. The Malabar exercise had started in 1992 between Indian and US navy and soon expanded to a combat training between five nations; India-US-Japan-Australia-Singapore. In 2011, India, US and Japan participated in the 9 day Naval exercise that included US Navy's Carrier strike Group 7, destroyers and Indian Navy's carrier Vikramaditya, destroyers INS Ranvijay and Ranvir along with corvette ships and replenishment tanker. In the advanced strike and combat maneuvers training with US Navy, Nishant Singh earned the prestigious "Wings of Gold", this honor in itself speaks highly about the accomplished Naval Aviator.
Apart from being a pre-eminent Naval Officer and nonpareil pilot, the persona of Commander Singh was indeed of a very caring and warm-hearted being. He was a fun loving soul who radiated positivity all over, he loved dogs, the pictures in itself exhibit his fondness towards four-legged angels. Nishant was a hodophile, he loved travelling places, in fact he visited new country every year with his wanderlust friend Nayaab, these recitals are all very heart-warming but even exciting is the story-how he met his wife-to-be Nayaab Randhawa.
"We first met at school. He a 12th-grade bully and me an 8th-grade rebel. Without even talking to each other we knew we didn't see eye to eye on many things. Cut to 13 years later, He a Naval Fighter Pilot and me a Bollywood Celebrity Stylist. We randomly bumped into each other at a common friend's house. A few drinks down, the awkward memories we had of each other from school had been washed away and we felt now, that maybe we could kinda get along. He had to leave for Goa the next morning but by the end of that night, he knew that something had changed in him forever and that he was intrigued beyond restraint. From that day on he named me “Trouble”. He knew I was in trouble, and after meeting me, he was in deeper trouble. He got my number somehow and we began a saga of sleepless nights of pursuing me through msgs and calls," said Nayaab Randhawa.
The special 'Skydive' Proposal
Two and a half years went past like the clappers, two backpackers travelling, exploring and wandering in new countries each year shaping new and fonder memories but the big surprise for Nayaab was yet to come that she had no idea about, "He learned that I had a fear of heights, so on one such trip in the Philippines and without me having the faintest clue of what we were up for that day... He made me do a skydive. I had no clue, I was told 5 minutes before that I was jumping 10,000 ft from a plane. When I finally touched my feet to the ground, I saw him standing there on the runway with a portable speaker on his side playing our favorite song. I always knew any big events in our life would have something to do with a plane. Less did I know he would throw me off one. If you ask him, he would say 'he tried to get rid of me by throwing me off a plane and he was disappointed that the parachute worked and I survived. Hence, he had no option but to bend the knee and present me with a shiny rock and beg for my forgiveness and settle for a lifetime of slavery'. Post the proposal, I happily took up the offer and moved to Goa to live with me."
Announcing it to the whole world Nayaab Randhawa wrote on her Instagram handle (@nayaabrandhawa), "Early this year I was thrown off a plane without a fair warning. Last week I get a message saying 'Let's get married tomorrow'. I think this time around I was glad to be given at least a few hours heads up. Whoever knows the two of us can vouch that we only bring out the crazy side of each other. And just like that, we took the plunge."
One fine morning, Nishant messages Nayaab and asks her, "Do you wanna get married tomorrow?" For a little confused and momentarily surprised Nayaab, this message came like a bolt from the blue, she didn't know what to say except for just a question, "Does it involve me jumping out of a plane again?" Nishant gets out of bed and quickly starts making all the arrangements, and he even took some time in the busy day to write a invitation-cum-permission letter to his CO. Little did he know that the humor laden and cheeky letter "PERMISSION TO BITE THE BULLET" would be the catch hold of social media.
Even the Commanding officer played along and replied with a heartwarming letter granting permission and welcoming him officially to "Hell". Amid the CoVID pandemic, the wedding ceremony was quite hushed and the guests including their parents in the US and CO, INS Hansa along with his wife attended the wedding over a zoom call. "For an event that was initially a small private affair, it landed up being celebrated with the world. I’m glad we were able to bring some cheeky little joy during these dull times", said Nayaab.
Soon after the wedding, Lt Cdr Nishant Singh returned to resume his duty at INS Hansa, he was riding his luck and at that moment it felt as if the whole universe conspired for his success, Lt Cdr Nishant soon got promoted to the rank of Commander. Nishant was meant for greater things, he had a promising life ahead of him but things really went awry very quickly.
The Missing Man
In November 2020, Commander Nishant Singh was posted at Naval Air Station INS Hansa, Goa from where he was serving the Indian Naval Air Squadron(INAS) 303 and flying Russian made MiG-29K aircrafts from aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. Being an adept flying instructor, he would often take to air to train the newly appointed aviators about various maneuvers and combat roles. On the fine day of November 26, Commander Nishant Singh along with a young pilot took off from the carrier in the twin seater trainer aircraft MiG-29KUB.
Soon after the take off from the "mother", the aircraft probably developed catastrophic technical snags and went violently berserk. The unceasing ocean is very unforgiving, Naval aviators use specialized gears and they undergo through periodic "water landing", "water egress" and "water survival training", but there still remains some "Black Swan" event that no man or machine can be prepared for. In that MiG sortie, Commander Nishant Singh was flying from the front and the young pilot was seated at the rear, it is assumed that the aircraft was flying low so when the MiG uncontrollably crashed into the Arabian sea, the pilots got a few fraction of second to pull the ejection trigger.
The ejection process of a supersonic fighter jet in itself is an art that follows a pre-coded and complex algorithm, an automated series of events called ‘ejection sequence’ kicks in after a pilot pulls the ejection handle. In a twin-seat trainer such as the MiG29KUB, the escape system is designed for “command ejection”. Either pilot can initiate ejection but the system will follow a predetermined ejection sequence. The ejection over sea becomes even more vicious as the parachute may envelope the pilot and entangle the survivor in the wires thus drowning the ejectee. Since the young pilot was rear seated, he arguably ejected first and hence Commander Nishant Singh got a blink of an eye to eject safely, the Mig-29KUB aircraft had crashed into the Arabian sea at 1630 hrs some 40 miles off Goa coast.
Indian Navy launched a massive search and rescue operation involving 9 Warships and 14 Aircrafts to find the drowned crew. Soon the young pilot was rescued but Commander Nishant Singh still had no trace. In addition, Indian Navy deployed fast interceptor Craft to search the water abutting the coast and Marine Police along with fishing villages were sensitized about the missing man. Choppers from INS Vikramaditya, P-8I surveillance aircraft , Dornier along with IAF's C-130J Super Hercules were not easing till the Naval Officer was found.
“It becomes very taxing for the family for they live in perennial hope of assuming the person to be alive unless the body is recovered and the last rites are performed. The squadron stands with the family and the family of the officer will be looked after.”- Serving officer INAS 303