After sealing the $12-billion jumbo deal to buy Anglo-Dutch steel-maker Corus, Tata group chairman Ratan Tata is set to pull off another surprise by flying a fighter jet at the Aero India Show in Bangalore from February 7-11.
The 69-year-old trained pilot will fly Lockheed Martin's F-16 multi-role combat aircraft during the show that the Bethesda, Maryland-based defence and aerospace major will feature. It proposes to sell 126 of them to the Indian Air Force.
"Lockheed Martin officials are handling this matter. The finer details of when, where and what is being finalised," a Tata official said, confirming the proposed sortie on an F-16 by the group's chairperson who enjoys flying.
"I don't get much spare time, but what little spare time I have is spent flying. I am a trained pilot for both planes and helicopters," Tata has been quoted as saying in an interview posted on the group's Web site.
But that was some six years ago when the pace of activities at Tata Sons was not in the same velocity as today and the "shy architect from Cornell", as Tata is sometimes referred to, enjoyed flying the much-slower choppers more.
"If I got a chance to fly the F-18, I'd seriously consider it," said Tata in another interview a few years later. He also had a "terrific" experience when he travelled at supersonic speeds on Dassault's Mirage jet from France to the US.
And that chance will come this week when Tata, who made his first solo flight at the age of 17, enters the cockpit of an F-16.
According to defence industry sources, Lockheed Martin has also been in talks with the Tatas and the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics to outsource components manufacture for the aircraft.
The other aircraft to be showcased by the $38-billion US company at the Aero India Show would be the C-130J Super Hercules, the P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and the MH-60R maritime-dominance helicopter.
Also featured will be the Patriot PAC-3 missile defence system, the ship-mounted Littoral Combat Solution (LCS) system, and the MK-41 vertical launching system (VLS) for firing missiles at sea, officials said.
The company's focus, however, is clearly on the F-16 as it eyes a soon-to-be-floated tender for 126 multi role combat aircraft (MRCA) to replace its ageing fleet of Russian-built MiG-21 jets.
The IAF had in 2004 sent out a Request for Information (RFI) for four jets - the F-16, the Russian MiG-29M/M2, the French Mirage 2000-5, and the Swedish JAS-39 Grippen.
In addition, manufacturers of the US F-18, the French Rafaele and the four-nation European Typhoon have also sent in their offers.