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Wrights and Wrongs of Flying

Date: 07-Feb-2018


God created earth and the animals, humans included. God also created Darwin. Darwin created evolution. Somewhere between God and Darwin, Dodos disappeared, giraffes developed long necks and monkeys became humans.

God wanted animals in water, he gave them gills and fins.  God wanted animals in the air, He gave the birds wings to fly. For animals on earth, He had full variety – legs and hands, all legs, tails, horns and what not.

By and large, all the groups maintained the sanctity of division of elements; leave aside few birds of prey who dive couple of meters underwater to catch fish and few fish who can jump few meters in air to do don’t know what.

It were the humans of land category that had the urge to transcend the boundaries. Michael Phelps decided to give fish a swim for their money. And much before that, Wright brothers had the urge to fly.

Maybe it’s a case of body and soul mismatch, kind of wrong packaging. Wright brothers had soul of a bird entrapped in a human body. With millions of souls and bodies to be matched and packed, once in a while slip up is understandable.

I encountered a Wright follower when I was still in school. A friendly neighborhood, a smart young man was a flying instructor in local flying club. One fine day, he bundled all us kids in his car and took us for a joyride in the magnificent flying machine. One of the kids had a beautiful sister, was purely coincidental. Flying machine was not exactly magnificent. It was yellow colored, two seater Pushpak. Two wheels in front, one at the back and a nose mounted propeller that had to be rotated manually to start the engine. Two smaller kids were packed in the luggage space at the back of seats and other two were seated in the co-pilot seat.  It taxied to the end of the runway, revved up, raced down and took off. O boy,what an out of the world experience. Out of the world I mean, out of the earthly world where God had deposited me without a Wright DNA. But somewhere deep in, a small mutation happened on that day.

Mutation manifested itself in the midst of MBBS. After too theoretical and bogging down first professional, second one seemed to be easy.That’s when the idea of flying popped. After many days of finding out how to go about it and many more days of mustering up the courage to ask the parents, I finally got the do-it-but-we-are-not-happy-about-it nod.

Paperwork was simple and soon I was on the rolls of the local flying club. I used to ride a scooter then and did not know how to drive a car. Pushpak fitted in very logically – from two wheeler scooter to three wheeler Pushpak and later on in life, four wheeler car.

I had fun loving flying instructors. Flying zone was divided into sectors and air traffic controller would assign us a sector for flying. Half the time was spent imparting the skills to me and the other half was spent flying low and scaring the people on ground by diving down directly towards them. More than flying, I was jealous of birds for the kind of view that they get from above. Earth is extremely beautiful when viewed from such heights.

After sector flying, there was cross country flight. It’s just named so, it was not even cross state. It was around 80 km hop to another flying club. There were no fancy GPS things, planning had to be done on a map with hand held tools and direction was dictated by the simple compass. Many checkpoints were marked on the map with approximate timings. Only indicator of wind strength and direction was the good old windsock fluttering along the runway. All the plan had to be submitted to the air force station next door for clearance. All said and done, we took off with much enthusiasm. We located the first checkpoint a couple of minutes late and slightly out of the direction that we were following. May be the wind had changed since we saw the windsock last. Time and direction were recalculated for the next checkpoint. It was even further away from our track as compared to the first one. More calculations followed. We failed to locate the third checkpoint. And the next one. We were lost. My instructor was veteran of cross country flying – lost or not. So, he brought the plane to a lower level and asked me to try to identify anything if I could. We both recognized the thing as soon as we saw it – GT Road. We were happy because our destination was adjacent to the road few kilometers beyond. So soon we were going by road, so to say, rather than the aerial route. But we did reach the intended end point of the journey. Just a few minutes off, that too with visual navigation only.

First solo is the biggest landmark in the evolution of a pilot. I believe the authorities are more concerned about the safety of their machine. So one fine day, when the instructors thought I had hands safe enough, it was decided to let me have my first solo flight. I made two sorties,circuits as we called them, with my instructor. Take off, turn left at the fixed point, again turn left at next fixed point and fly parallel to the runway in a direction opposite to the take off direction, two more left turns, align with the runway and land. Simplest of the narration. Quite technical and complicated in real. After the second sortie, my instructor stepped out of the flying machine, wished me luck and flagged me for my first solo. Even though the things were practically the same, they were quite different physiologically. Being alone in the cockpit for the first time is a great stimulus for the adrenals who might not even know what flying is. All other activities in the club stopped and I was the sole focus of everyone. I aligned for takeoff. Air traffic control guy wished me luck over radio and cleared me. I tried to focus in front instead of looking at the empty seat next to me. Vroom……and I was airborne. It was a feeling which cannot be described – as if delivered from everything worldly. After the initial tense moments, ecstasy took over. Constantly in touch with the control tower, I made a safe landing. Everyone was waiting at the end of the runway and gave me a thunderous welcome, as was the norm for every first solo. I had been the part of welcoming party many a times, but to be the recipient of the applause, I literally felt at the top of the world.  

Smooth seas don’t make expert sailors. I believe there must be an equivalent saying about the skies and the pilots. One fine day, I took along my friend Tinny to the flying club. The instructor allowed me two solo sorties as there was not enough fuel for more. First one went very fine, except for the note that I made of line of clouds in the far skies. I  remembered the wisdom pearl of chief flying instructor – if you see a line of clouds in the distance, stay grounded. But then the greed of just one more sortie overruled the wisdom of experience. I took off for the second sortie. Half way through, the line squall hit hard – strong winds blowing in a direction perpendicular to the runway. Ideal option was to keep flying till it passed, but there was not enough fuel. When I aligned with the runway for the final approach, I was pushed away by the strong winds and I found myself staring at the adjacent airforce station with plane aligned with parked helicopters. I had to change direction by 45 degrees to align back with runway and stay aligned. At the touchdown I had to realign and the strong winds tipped the plane, tip of a wing touched the ground, plane made a 180 degree rotation and came to a halt. It was only then I realized that everyone was at the end of the runway, including the firefighting vehicle. They all had realized the gravity of the situation and made all preparations for any emergency. I was helped out of the plane, escorted to the office in a jeep. It was after few minutes that the realization sank in – I had just survived a potentially fatal episode. It also took sometime for Tinny to actually understand what was unfolding in front of him. He was confused why everyone and every vehicle was rushing to the runway while I was coming in to land.

I hope and believe, many million years and few Darwins hence, all the creatures will have hands and legs, wings, lungs and gills. That will simplify the life so much. One will be able to fly to office, roads will not be congested. No more need for scuba gear, gills will make sure all can survive and stay underwater. Life without borders. So what’s wrong with flying? Even though Wrights started it, we are wrongfully infringing upon the rights of the birds – till we officially grow wings.

Dec 6, 2017.




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