Marshal of Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, who led the air operations in the 1965 war with Pakistan and was the nation’s oldest serving warrior in his five star rank, died here on Saturday after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 98.

Arjan Singh, the first and the only five star rank officer with the Indian Air Force, was admitted in a critical condition on Saturday to Army Hospital (R&R) after a heart attack. The end came at 7.47 p.m.

Tributes poured in for the legendary air warrior, who was a role model and an inspiration to generations of servicemen. President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and several former servicemen were among those who recalled his long and distinguished service to the nation. 

Appointed Chief of Air Staff on August 1, 1964, Arjan Singh, then 45, led the Indian Air Force effectively in the 1965 war with Pakistan, leading the air operations that pushed back the enemy offensive. 

That was the pinnacle of the career of a pilot, who grew up in the annals of the Air Force as the first Indian chief to lead the force into a war.

He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his astute leadership of the Air Force during the war and was conferred the rank of Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002. 

In his many firsts, one was leading the fly-past of over 100 aircraft over the Red Fort on August 15, 1947 — on the morning of the day India got Independence.

Arjan Singh had flown over 60 different types of aircraft from pre-WW-II era biplanes to the more contemporary Gnats and Vampires besides transport aircraft like the Super Constellation and was the first Air Chief to keep flying even when heading the force.

After his retirement in 1969, he was appointed ambassador to Switzerland. He was Lt Governor of New Delhi from December 1989 to December 1990.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to pay homage to the war hero of India. “India mourns the unfortunate demise of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. We remember his outstanding service to the nation,” the PM wrote.

PM also heaped praises on his determination as a defence person and the strong discipline he lived by “Sometime back I met him, who despite his ill health tried to get up to salute even though I said no. Such was his soldier discipline,” tweeted PM Modi.

News of his demise came hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met him in the Army Hospital where he was admitted after suffering a heart attack.

President Ram Nath Kovind also expressed grief over the valour’s loss “Sad at demise of a great air warrior & Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. Condolences to his family & IAF community,” he wrote on Twitter.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where Arjan Singh was undergoing treatment.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi described Arjan Singh as an outstanding soldier and a diplomat who led from the front. 

“He will be particularly remembered for his successful operation tenure on the Burma Front during World War II. He was a jewel in the throne of our Armed Forces and his extraordinary contribution to as an Air warrior would always be a source of inspiration to us.” 

Defence  Minister Sitharaman said it is very rare for any country to have a warrior of this potential and his demise was “great loss for the country”. 

“He was active, was present at most public functions…He never thought he was a retired soldier. He was mentally and physically all around. Generations have seen him and that was the kind of energy that he carried with him.” 

She said he took his achievements very lightly.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee, former Defence Minister A. K. Antony, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee and several Union Mministers were among those who paid tributes to Arjan Singh.