New Delhi, Sep 16 (PTI) Marshal Arjan Singh, the hero of 1965 India-Pakistan war and the only Air Force officer to be promoted to five-star rank, died here today at the age of 98.

He breathed his last at the Army’s Research and Referral hospital at 7.47 pm, marking an end to a glorious era of the IAF, the defence ministry said.

An icon of India’s military history, 98-year-old Singh was admitted to the hospital this morning following a cardiac arrest, it said.

He is survived by a son and a daughter. His wife passed away in 2011.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad and Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala condoled the death of Singh.

Kovind said he had won the nation’s gratitude for his military leadership in the 1965 war.

“Sad at demise of a great air warrior and Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. Condolences to his family and IAF community,” he said.

Paying glowing tributes to Singh, Prime Minister Modi said India will never forget his excellent leadership in 1965 when the IAF saw substantial action.

In a series of tweets, Modi said the determined focus of Singh on capacity building in the IAF added great strength to India’s defence capabilities.

Leaders across the political spectrum hailed the contribution of Singh, the only officer of the IAF to be promoted to five-star rank, equivalent to a Field Marshal in the Army.

Earlier, Modi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the three Service chiefs — Gen. Bipin Rawat, Admiral Sunil Lanba and Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa — visited Singh at the hospital.

He was entrusted with the responsibility of leading the IAF when he was only 44 years old, a task he carried out with elan. He was the chief of the IAF when it found itself at the forefront of the 1965 conflict.

Singh, who had flown more than 60 different types of aircraft, had played a major role in transforming the IAF into one of the most potent air forces globally and the fourth biggest in the world.

Known as a man of few words, he was not only a fearless fighter pilot but had profound knowledge about air power which he applied in a wide spectrum of air operations. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour, in 1965.

Born on April 15, 1919 in Lyallpur in Punjab in undivided India, his father, grandfather and great grandfather had served in the cavalry.Singh was born on April 15, 1919 in Lyalpur of undivided Punjab.

He completed his education from Montgomery, British India (now in Pakistan). In 1938 when he was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, he was still in college and only 19 years old.

Promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1944, Singh also flew close support missions during the crucial Imphal campaign and later assisted the advancing of the allied forces to Yangon, formerly called Rangoon.

For his role in successfully leading the squadron during the combat, Singh received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944.

On August 15, 1947, he was given the unique honour of leading the flypast of more than a hundred IAF aircraft over the Red Fort in Delhi.

In 1949, after promotion to the rank of Air Commodore, Singh took over as the Air Officer Commanding of Operational Command, which later came to be known as the Western Air Command.

Promoted to rank of Air Vice Marshal, he was the AOC-in-C of Operational Command.

Towards the end of the 1962 Sino-India war, he was appointed as the deputy chief of air staff and became the vice chief of air staff the next year.

On August one, 1964, Singh took over as the chief of air staff (CAS) in the rank of Air Marshal. He was the first air chief who kept his flying category till his CAS rank.

Having flown over 60 different types of aircraft from pre-World War II era biplanes to the more contemporary Gnats and Vampires, he had also flown transport planes including the Super Constellation.

A testing time came in September 1965 when Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam, in which an armoured thrust targeted the vital town of Akhnur in Jammu and Kashmir, he was summoned into the defence minister’s office with a request for air support.

When asked how quickly the IAF will be ready for operations, he replied with his characteristic nonchalance, “…in an hour”. And true to his word, the Air Force struck the Pakistani offensive in an hour.

Singh was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his leadership during the 1965 war and subsequently the rank of the CAS was upgraded to that of Air Chief Marshal.

He became the first Air Chief Marshal of the Indian Air Force. He retired in July 1969 after which he accepted ambassadorship to Switzerland.

He remained a flyer till the end of his tenure in the IAF, visiting forward squadrons and units and flying with them.

In recognition of his services, the government conferred the rank of the Marshal of the Air Force to Singh on the Republic Day in 2002.

In 2016 Air Force Station, Panagarh was renamed as Air Force Station Arjan Singh.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.