Human mind is driven by a free sprit. Even under very adverse circumstances, the inner self yearns for some happiness. Perhaps this is what our seers of ancient times called Ananda, the part of the mind that seeks joy. Along with the two other strands of the mind, Sat that seeks the truth and Chit that seeks logical closure to all conflicting inputs from the environment, human mind is thus truly equivalent to sat-chit-ananda, the Parama-Easwara, the supreme guide; the truth-seeking logical happy inner spirit.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to successfully adopt aviation as our chosen profession soon find that aviation also has become our passion. It is a strange phenomenon. I have spent a long time in this wonderful world of aviation and I am yet to find a successful pilot who does not love flying. The main reason for this phenomenon is however easy to find: flying brings joy. I fear that this statement of mine might sound inane to those who have not had the privilege of flying by themselves. Trust me, flying on your own and Ananda of the purest form are really inseparable.
Human beings are also greedy by nature. Once a man tastes the joy of flying he is hooked for life. The desire for leaping into the air torments him at every opportunity. This yearning gets accentuated when one is within a flying environment, and is unable to fly. That is what was happening to me in the initial stages of my posting at 12(Bengal) Air Squadron NCC in the early days of 1960. Out of my cadets of the senior batch who had reached their flying stage, about seven or eight had reached their solo flying stage. They were flying mostly by them selves. My duties were limited to briefing them for circuits and landings, for general flying in the local flying area and for short cross country navigation exercises. Very little instructional flying was called for. I came to the airfield, briefed my cadets, watched their take offs and landings, de-briefed them on what I saw, and that’s it.
I longed to fly more. It was possible for me to go down to 11 Squadron operating from the other side of the runway and scrounge the odd sortie on their Dakotas as a co-pilot, but that kind of flying was not what I was looking for. It was also possible for me to go down to the Auxiliary Air Force Squadron and fly their Harvard or Prentice aircraft. Ranjit Dhawan was the flight commander there and he was open to sharing his flying with his friends. I did fly with the aux squadron, but tell me, when is enough good enough?
As a part of our contract with the flying club, as an NCC instructor I could fly the club aircraft at a concessional rate of Rs 25 per hour; a fair bargain. However, our flying was subject to availability of aircraft and there lay the rub. The club had a couple of Tigermoth aircraft that were fully busy flying our own cadets. The club also had a serviceable L-5 that was used by other regular members of the club. It had certain other aircraft in the hanger that were perpetually unserviceable. I found it very difficult to hire an aircraft when I wanted one. Then one morning I found a brand new yellow painted single engine high wing aircraft on the club ground being cleaned up and then being given a ground run of the engine. The aircraft looked very much like an Aeronca Super Chief. I had not seen one in real life; I had only seen pictures of it. On inquiry I was told that it was actually a Pushpak built by HAL.
Any new aircraft within striking distance exerts a pull on any pilot. I strolled down to the club ground and gave the new aircraft an once-over. It was a small cabin monoplane with room for two pilots and a little space for luggage. The high wings were supported by two struts on either side. Two doors opened on either side for the two pilots to get in to the aircraft. The cabin was pretty small. It had two sets of control wheels and rudder pedals. The control wheels were fitted into the front panel. They had to be rotated for aileron control and had to be pushed in or pulled out for controlling the elevators. This was an arrangement very different from any other aircraft that I had flown till that time.
The instrument panel in front of the pilots held a simplistic single set of instruments. A turn and slip indicator, an altimeter and an airspeed indicator were provided for flying. By all rights there should have been a vertical speed indicator too, but today after more than fifty years when I try to recollect that cocpit, I cant remember if one was fitted and if so where. For engine control, one dial for the revolutions per minute and one indicator for the oil pressure was all that was provided. A fuel contents gauge completed the set of instruments provided. The only engine control I found was a cute push/pull rod with a small knob stuck between the two control wheels. Once again this was quite different from any throttle I had ever seen or used.
I was tempted to get inside and have a better look. The mechanics cleaning the aircraft seemed to have no objection. I got in and sat on the left seat. The seats were simple with very little scope for adjustments. The seat seemed comfortable enough and I had no difficulty in moving the controls to their full extent with the restraining strap fully tightened.
On the left side panel I found a small instruction panel. All essential speeds for the aircraft such as the stalling speed, climbing speed, speed for the approach for landing and speed for flying for range were written there. On the right hand side wall a similar panel recorded the essential engine settings. A sensible thing to do, I thought. Now, even without any dual instruction I would be able to fly the aircraft! Any way, after a while I had to get out of the aircraft and the technicians pushed it back to the hanger.
From then on, whenever I visited the flying club, I found the Pushpak being pushed out of the hanger, being prepared for flying, being started and then being switched off. By the end of the day the aircraft was once again pushed back into the hanger. No one flew it. I found it very strange. The club was short of aircraft and there were members who were being refused a chance to fly because of this shortage. Yet, at the same time, there was this brand new aircraft, apparently fully airworthy, being wasted on the ground. It did not make any sense.
I seldom met with the Chief Instructor of the club. Some how, the timings for his visits and mine never seemed to match. So, after a few days I caught hold of Mr Roy, the Chief Engineer of the club. Mr Roy was an amiable man and was fond of friendly chats. He did not have to be prompted to pour out all the reasons for this silly situation. There was no one around near Kolkata to endorse the instructor’s licence on the type; the CI could not therefore clear any one to fly this aircraft. It was a silly administrative problem, but the club was losing valuable revenue unnecessarily. Ah! I thought; ideal time to cash in by some smart talk. ‘Mr Roy’, I said, ‘I have a solution to your problems’. Mr Roy was all ears. ‘See Mr Roy’, I said, ‘I am an air force pilot. I hold no civil licence. Yet, I am authorised to fly your aircraft and even impart flying training to others on your aircraft’. Mr Roy nodded in assent. ‘The Pushpak is a light trainer. Its gross weight is only 1350 pounds. I hold an instructors category A2. I have no difficulty in flying the Pushpak. Why don’t you utilize the availability of this aircraft and let me fly it? Of course I will not be authorised to carry out instructional flying for civilian members. But for my own cadets and for my own practice there should be no problem?’. My long advocacy left Mr Roy fully convinced. However he was only the senior engineer for the club. He could not take any decision about flying.
A couple of days later when I visited the club next, I spotted Mr Roy at the hanger door from afar. We waved to each other and Mr. Roy disappeared inside the hanger. A little later, the Pushpak was pushed out and parked in the flight line. Mr Roy came out of the hanger carrying a set of authorisation sheets and approached me. ‘I have spoken about your flying the Pushpak with the Chief Instructor. He has approved your flying it whenever you want. Just put your name down here and go’. I was very pleased.
I changed into my flying togs and went and sat in the cockpit. Since I had no one to familiarize me with the aircraft I had to do it myself. I allotted three quarters of an hour to soak myself in the cockpit so that I become completely familiar with the layout. I asked myself whether I knew the function of any lever knob or switch that I could see touch or operate. If the answer was no then I would have to investigate and acquire that knowledge before I fly the aircraft. Fortunately for me, the aircraft was brand new and every thing was labelled nicely. As I have mentioned earlier, even the essential portions of the pilots’ notes were pasted on the cabin walls. At the end of my self-imposed soak time I felt quite comfortable and signalled the ground crew for the start-up drill.
The drill was completed. Chocks were in position in front of the main wheels; one person was ahead ensuring that the propeller was clear of obstructions, a man with a fire extinguisher stood near the wingtip. I was just about to press the starter button when some one came running and knocked on my door. I opened the door a little to find Monida ( Squadron Leader Ashateeta Charavarti aka Chipmunk Chaks) standing there panting away. With his bulk, (he was really a Mr five by five) it must have been tiring for him to come running to the aircraft and knock on my door.
Now my Monida was a lovable character. He was then commanding the ‘other’ NCC Air Squadron, the one attached to Calcutta University, while mine was at Jadavpore. ‘What the hell are you up to?’ he wanted to know. I smiled. It was always nice to tease him a bit. ‘I am just taking this up for a sortie’. He looked at me hard and then asked ‘How? Who would let you?’. My smile broadened. ‘It is all taken care of’ I said, and pointed to the authorisation sheets now being clutched by the senior technician at my wingtip.
Monida’s eyes widened, as if in surprise. He thought for a moment and then said ‘hold on, I am coming with you’. His voice had that subtle imploring and pleading tone that I could not say no to. He came around the tail of the aircraft, opened the right hand door and got in. ‘Aren’t you going to change your clothes?’ I asked. It was Monida’s turn to smile. ‘No, I don’t need to. This is a civil registered aircraft!’. He strapped up and hit my right knee with his podgy left hand. ‘Lets Go!’ I signalled the senior technician at the wingtip to come close to me and amended the authorisation sheet including Monida’s name as a passenger.
The engine was well primed. The engine fired on the first touch of the button. Though the instructions in the cockpit did not include the post start up procedures, the thousands of hours I had spent in the cockpits of HT2, Harvard and Tigermoth came crowding into my memory. I nursed the engine and warmed it up. The oil pressure shot up on the gauge. I waited till it showed a small drop and then I waved the chocks away.
There was no radio fitted in the aircraft. I had informed the ATC about my sortie before I had gone to the aircraft; I now got a green aldis lamp signal from the ATC clearing me to enter the runway and take off. I found the aircraft to be quite docile. It took off without any nakhra. I found no tendency to swing on take off. The climb away was gentle. Reserve of power on take off seemed adequate. Rate of climb after take off was somewhat lesser that the HT2 and certainly lower that the Harvard, but then this was a very small aircraft with only a 90HP engine. The other aircraft certainly had more power.
We left the circuit and climbed to 5000 feet in the local flying area. A few turns on either side, some slow speed handling leading up to practicing stall and recovery for a couple of times, and we were ready to return to the home airfield. The only thing I really disliked about the aircraft was the location of the elevator trim control. It was a stiff handle located on top of the pilots head on the cabin ceiling. It was inconvenient and very unimaginative in my opinion.
Circuit and approach was straight forward. I attempted a powered wheeler landings for the first two times following up with roller take offs without stopping. On the third attempt I tried a power off glide approach and a three point landing. I pulled it off passably but could give myself only about 85 – 90 percent marks for the effort. I then handed the controls to Monida and he did three landings. We came back to the dispersal pretty happy with ourselves.
The exercise suited every one. Monida and I decided to repeat a sortie next day. On this flight we exchanged seats. Monida sat on the left and I occupied the right seat. We spent the entire sortie practicing instructional patter on all segments of flying like take off, climb, turns, level flight, stall and recovery, descent, joining circuit, circuit flying approach and landing. At the end of the day, we were both satisfied with our status as qualified instructors on Pushpaks! You may call it over confidence or impertinence, but we were quite satisfied.
There was only a small fly in this ointment. I felt shy to ask Monida to share the cost of flying. Fifty rupees was enough of self indulgence for a month. After all, fifty out of seven hundred worked out to be a fair percentage and seven hundred was all that I could carry home at the end of the month! For the next month or so the bright Yellow Pushpak received only our loving glances sitting on the ground.
I flew that Pushpak again later, but that is another story.