It was after watching Amitabh Bachchan hang-gliding in the 1981 flick Yaarana that Samson D’silva dreamt of free-flying. But due to the lack of paragliding instructors and infrastructure, and the unpopularity of the aviation sport in the country, it wasn’t until 1995 that D’silva got to follow his passion.
“That year, I took a sabbatical from my job in a publishing house and pursued paragliding in various flying clubs including Western Paragliding Association, honing my skills. Eventually, I started teaching the sport to other hobbyists and contemplated of taking up instructing professionally,” says 45-year-old D’silva, who quit his job and started his own aviation adventure sports company Space Apple in 1998 with himself as the chief instructor. Besides paragliding, Space Apple also offers related sports like paramotoring, power kiting, parasailing and aero modeling for flying enthusiasts.
D’silva routinely conducts theory lectures and workshops for student at IIT Powai besides training army and navy personnel in gliding and paramotoring. Currently, he is part of a team of aviation professionals that is helping the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) develop autonomous unmanned aircrafts “India has been importing these aircrafts from Israel. But we are looking at building them indigenously since they are crucial for surveillance purposes” says he.
Agashi, a village in Virar where D’silva owns vast ancestral property makes a perfect location for his training school, with a long coastline in the west and Sahayadri hills in the east. “Being a coastal area, the winds are predictable and hence, ideal for flying. The place has small slopes that can be used for taking off depending on wind strength and direction. In fact, Virar is the only place for paragliding in India with so many choices, all within a radius of about six – eight kms from Virar station,” he says. With acres of open land available, Space Apple also uses the winching method of paragliding, in which the takeoff is from a flat ground, instead of a hill. The clubhouse, developed in the residential premises is complete with teaching aids such as flight simulators besides housing classrooms and repair and maintenance.