Saturday, September 19, 2015

Differently-abled gives wings to his dream, builds own aircraft

Mumbai: His obsession with helicopters began as a toddler. When helicopters came to spray pesticides in rubber estates in the neighbourhood, in Idukki district of Kerala, the three-year-old Saji Thomas ran out in excitement. His mother followed him scolding. She feared the loud whirring would turn him hearing-impaired, not realising her child could hardly hear.

But nothing could stop this hearing- and speech-impaired school dropout from giving wings to his dreams – building and flying an aircraft. At 45, Saji has already built two light-weight aircraft, first just a model and the second that can fly, and is looking to build the third one. He could be a prized possession for any of the world's leading aviation companies like Boeing or Airbus, where innovation and cost effectiveness is the mantra for manufacturing.
A potential poster boy for the Make-in-India campaign is but struggling to make his both ends meet. Ever since he built his first aircraft 11 years ago, in 2005, he is running from pillar to post, seeking a licence for his aircraft so that it can be test flown.

In 2014, Saji took his second aircraft (he calls it Saji-X-Air-S) in a truck to Manimuthar, a flying club in Tamil Nadu. He taxied it on the runway and took it off to a small height since he is not allowed fly above 20 ft. The flight took place under the guidance of a retired IAF wing commander, SKJ Nair.

"He brought his aircraft to the flying club, one evening. I have flown it to see its fitness. It is a perfect aircraft but we cannot fly it unless there is a registration. For a registration, it is mandatory that Saji needs to have the qualification and the aircraft parts have be purchased from authorised companies," says Nair.
Saji has in fact used a bike engine and other low-cost materials for first aircraft as he could not afford to buy expensive parts from authorised dealers. For the second aircraft built with a 65 HP hirth German engine, the aircraft weighs 265 kg and can fly up to a height of 10,000-13,000 feet. Industry experts said the aircraft can be used for sports aviation, recreation and training purposes. It has a speed of 140 km per hour. For an hour's flight, the plane needs 16 litres of petrol. It can fly non-stop for 2-2.5 hours.
19/09/15 Manju AB/Daily News & Analysis
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