India's oldest flying club to resurrect

Asia's only pilot to have flown over Mt Everest to resurrect Bombay Flying Club as Chief Flight Instructor (CFI), reports Lalatendu Mishra.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2006 23:36 IST

Asia's only pilot and one of the four in the world to have flown a non-pressurised single engine aircraft over Mt Everest, Captain Abhay Kumar Singh will give a new lease of life to the Bombay Flying Club (BFC), India's oldest flying club, which had shut its pilot training course 18 months ago.

A key activity of the club, the non-availability of a Chief Flight Instructor (CFI), had put a question mark over its survival. Flying, training and Pilot Ground Training courses were suspended in May 2005 due to this and getting a CFI is not an easy task because of their few numbers. After a long search, the BFC set up in 1928 finally roped in Captain Singh as its instructor. Incidentally, he claims to be the only flying officer in India to also hold a licence for flying amphibian aircraft which can land both of ground and water.

Captain Singh arrived in Mumbai from Patna late on Thursday night. The aviator was on the job on Friday, arriving at the flying club at the Juhu Aerodrome when HT caught up with him. In an exclusive interview to HT, he said, "I will try to revive the glory of the oldest flying club of India."

It was in the first week of January 1982 that Captain Singh, then employed with the Royal Nepal Airlines, flew a nine-seater Pilatus Porter (PC-6) single engine turbo prop aircraft over Everest. On board was the world famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner and a cameraman who were taking some rare photographs of the mountain. Flying for nearly 10 minutes over World's tallest mountain peak which stands at a height at 29,035 feet, the aircraft in fact flew to a height of 30200 feet above sea level to enable the accompanying cameraman to take pictures.

With Captain Singh's joining the club on Friday, BFC's three training aircraft - a Cessna 152, a Piper PA-18 and a Cessna 172-- maintained in flying worthy condition all these months will soon start zooming into the sky to train cub pilots. Two more aircraft are likely to join the fleet soon.

"Our main problem was to get a CFI to resume pilot training. Finally, we managed to get Captain Singh who has a total flying experience of 8,500 hours including 5,000 hours of instructional experience. He will soon complete all the formalities and pilot training should resume by early December," said BFL Secretary BL Bijlani.

Captain Singh has a total experience of 37 years including nine years as mountain pilot, which requires lot of skills. Soon the BFC will enrol 30 students to impart flying training and due to the crowded sky over Juhu airport, training will be undertaken at the relatively free Aurangabad airport.

"I am very excited to join the BFC. Pilot training at BFC was unparallel and it had produced 80 per cent all pilots from India including veterans like JRD Tata, the first commercial pilot licence holder of undivided India and Wadia whose contribution to pilot training was enormous," Captain Singh said.

BFC managing committee member Captain Mihir Bhagvati said that Captain Singh has experience of 5,900 hours in flying tail dragger planes such as PA 18s, which have a small wheel under the tail wing. "We have with us a PA -18, the oldest flying aircraft in the country and this will be flown by Captain Singh and he will pass on the skills on flying such an aircraft to the next generation," captain Bhagvati said.

Though the BFC suspended its pilot training courses, it has been successfully running three courses for Aircraft Maintenance Engineers both in the streams of mechanical and avionics. As the Pilot Ground Training and flying training classes will resume soon, class rooms have been done up the over seven acre campus inside the Juhu Aerodrome which is gearing up to buzz with activities. Apart from this the club also undertakes malignance of aircraft and overhaul of engines.

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First Published: Nov 10, 2006 23:36 IST