Photos | Sudhakar Jain
From today, thanks to Aero India, the traffic on Bangalore skies might overtake what’s often seen on the roads. Anantha Krishnan M meets HAL’s Test Pilots to get an update about the sky party. A City Express special.
The beauty of Bangalore is that every street has a plane story to share. An inspiring story, straight from the skies. In our ongoing series Plane and the People, today we present to you a bunch of boys from Bangalore, who knows nothing, but flying. They are the members of city’s elite Test Pilot’s club, dating two of the finest flying machines -- the weaponised version of Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH Mk-IV) Rudra and the yet-to-be-named Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). They always talk passionately about their flying machines. Their address: Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
Leading the pack is Wg Cdr (retd) Unni Pillai, HAL’s Chief Test Pilot. “You know, Dhruv has matured over the years as a dependable and dynamic chopper. We worked on it, fine-tuned it and improvised it and today it has proved its mettle,” Unni took-off, only to hover back to say: “In India, nobody understands the processes involved in designing and developing a new aircraft. That’s because we are so used to buying, and not making. Dhruv was not a flash in the pan activity,” says Unni.
His partner in crime Grp Capt (retd) Hari Nair feels that his team’s mission is to stay focused and take the indigenous programme forward. “The power available with Dhruv is great. The space within the cabin can be compared with the best in the business. The cabin volume and the ease of seating, especially for the civil variant, are world class. These are not our words. We are inspired by the feedbacks given by the users,” says Hari. Both Unni and Hari will be at Aero India, flying the LCH.
Entering the discussion table next was Cdr (retd) Gulati. “Buying the indigenous products has its own advantage. We can exactly work as per the changing needs of the user. This might not be the case when you buy from outside. One indigenous product can definitely inspire another and LCH is an example. Home-grown programmes can boost your confidence. It can create spin-offs,” says Gulati.
Wg Cdr (retd) S P John is of the view that Rudra lets the pilot off his worries. “The pilot can fully concentrate on weapon deliveries. The electronic warfare (EW) suits certainly helps. In the 5.5 tonne class, Rudra is a mean machine,” says John.
So how did the boys prepare for Aero India? Unni checks in again: “The preparations begin months in advance for the show. We first decide upon how many choppers will fly during the show. Then, we identify the type of chopper. The next step is allocation to static and flying displays. We also identify the equipment. This time we have two Rudras and one LCH in the static display area,” says Unni.
Hari says the aim of a Test pilot, who performs during the show, is to remain as cool as a cucumber, all the time. “Calmness is the mantra. To remain cool you need to practice adequately. It is a very-high performance job. We might be having the display only for five minutes, but the concentration levels are so intense, one would take a minimum of 30 minutes to come back to a normal stage,” says Hari.
Most Test Pilots go through a very unique mode of preparation, what they call as ‘walking the display’ ahead of the shows. “We literally walk inside a room and will go through every maneuver that’s in the script. This is a very interesting phase and we fine-tune many things during our walking the display modes,” says Unni.
Yoga, long-distance running, swimming, racing and cycling keep the fitness levels of these daredevils intact. “I will ensure that everyone goes for running. That’s a must. Every six months, we have medical tests conducted by authorized agencies,” says Unni, adding: “Good sleep is a must. Self-discipline is the key.”
As the boys hit the tarmac at HAL’s Helicopter Complex for the Final Dress Rehearsal (FDR) for Aero India-2013, City Express has the next pit-stop for the day, to meet the boss of these Bangalore boys. “These Test Pilots are our jewels. They are our brand ambassadors in many ways considering they make our planes perfect. It’s not an easy task. But I am impressed by the kind of dedication they have towards these machines. They cajole them like their own children. They talk very passionate about their choppers,” says R K Tyagi, Chairman, HAL.
When asked about the script that HAL would unfold during the show, the soft-spoken Tyagi said: “Look, these boys will fly our machines and exhibit the world its worth. We are all just the backroom boys. We facilitate everything they want so that they come home with flying colours.”
As we hit the Old Airport Road, completing the security formalities, we see a huge hoarding outside HAL’s Helicopter Division, which says – Propel Your Dreams. It’s carnival time for the planes, folks. And, you got to be there at Yelahanka, to cheer namma (our) boys.