"When you wake up in the morning, you know you're going to have an exciting day," says Sqn Ldr (Retd) Baldev Singh. "In this profession you discover something new every day." The Patriarch of the Fixed Wing Family looks like someone out of the pages of the Old Testament. "If I let down my beard, I might really look like that," he says, revealing a flash of humour.
Peers address him as 'Baldy'. He sums up things pretty succinctly: "The Test pilot is the interface between the designer and the user, the normal pilot being the end user.Test-flying is the visible or front end of an aircraft programme. For every hour of flight testing there are thousands of hours of sweat and toil put in by dedicated designers, production personnel and the hundreds of support staff. Successful flight testing is always a team effort. Our area is risk management. We approach it in measured, calculated steps.
"The test pilot is in the picture right from the drawing up of the specifications."There is a wish-list from the user. We sit with the designers and refine it." There are no ideal solutions in aircraft programmes — only pragmatic ones, he concedes: "Just as there is no ideal marriage. No ideal husband. No ideal wife." His eyes twinkle.The test pilot is always in the exploratory phase. There are always unknowns which at times take you by surprise, he tells you. Has he had scares in the air? "Ah, each pilot has his fair share of scares. They come in three sizes you know: small, medium and large." That twinkle again.
"I have had my fair share of engines quitting, flying control restrictions, system failures, etc... But when things go wrong at times, your flying skills and knowledge save the day. Also, having God as your co-pilot always helps." Sqn Ldr Baldev Singh has over 5800 flying hours. He has flown over 50 different types of aircraft. But he has nofavourites. "There are no favourite children," he says. Those five words define his relationship with those magnificent flying machines.
(Baldy was ED, CTP (FW) when this piece appeared in HAL's then popular newspaper Minsk Square Matters (MSM) -- dated February 11, 2009.)