After 8 yrs service, flying Daks and Mi4s, about 2400 hrs as 1st pilot, around 3800 hrs on the bottom line, I was sent to FIS to turn from pupa to butterfly, to become a QFI. I went to Tambaram, thinking I was a super stud with a smoking gun. Within a week the establishment used dry ice, deep froze and turned me into a worm with no self-esteem, perhaps the first step towards beginning of any new learning process, without an attitude. I had no problems re-learning the incredible art of flying the HT-2, and was very comfortable with it unlike my counterpart fighter jocks who had palpitations while flying them. But the HJT Kiran was something new for me and required much heaving and hoving on my part, nerve wracking palpitations and deep breathing, which could be heard loud and clear on the intercom, and all the way to Air HQ even without intercom.
Each HJT those days had its own handling characterises and none behaved in the same disciplined manner. Indiscipline was rampant even amongst aircraft. I felt acutely claustrophobic in the air tight cockpit and was frightened of sitting on an ejection seat, since I was not used to such a contraption earlier. I kept thinking, what if the ejection seat fired on its own ?’ !!! Perhaps it was a common phobia with all non-fighter jocks those days. I confess that I did contemplate not taking the ruddy safety pins out, but the conscientious ground crew were very zestful and would not close the canopy till they had counted the pins in my hand and made sure that I put them in my pocket before they closed the hatch.
Because of the exceptional teaching skill of late Sengupta Sir, an A2 instructor awaiting Iraq tenure, I was cleared 1st & 2nd solo on schedule on HT2 & HJT without a glitch. Sengupta was a silent instructor, he was a man of few words and didn’t offer to teach me, ‘I will show you how’ type of pitter-patter !! He believed that given a chance I would learn on my own. I did have a major problem learning to do barrel rolls, which usually started as a wing over, turned to a loop, and ended in a spin. I learnt this manoeuvre finally from venerable Gals (Sr) Sir, who got arthritis and diver’s bends trying to show me how to barrel using his hands. We didn’t have model a/c with a danda up its chuff those days in FIS and the articulation of the elbows had a limit for teaching aerobatics like a barrel roll !!
Then disaster struck. I was programmed the next day for a solo sortie on HJT, with a 75 kg kit bag dead weight on the other seat, a 45’ sortie profile involving solo 3 turn spin & aerobatics on tow line Gudwancheri, return, do an over shoot and land back.
Our daily routine in FIS was met briefing and a 45 mts quiz test of emergencies by then Flt Cdr, venerable Chilly Rao Sir starting at 0445, mainly to emphasise that one’s silly cheap Casio digital aircrew watch, that couldn’t and wouldn’t keep time with Big Ben, was the only instrument worth monitoring in the cockpit. I think Chilly Sir had too many Bingo warning lights in his life except at the bar where he did ample mid-air refuelling !! The briefing was usually followed by flying till lunch time and classes on aeronautic subjects in the post lunch session till 1730 hrs. Some evenings, night flying too, after day flying and classes.
Most of us married types lived in a then nameless, address-less, horrible colony, two rooms with an ‘Indian Commodore’ to bomb poo in haunching posture, near what is now Chinmaya Colony, a 45 mts drive from FIS on my ‘Hamara Bajaj’. My wife had aborted take-offs three times in a married life of less than two years because of my smoking gun, bumpy roads and Hamara Bajaj. Because she was pregnant again (smoking gun) she was advised bed rest during the fourth time, when we reported to FIS. So it was my job to cook, clean, sew, knit, whatever……..while doing pitter-patter’ nonstop. My wife helped, knew it by heart while I didn’t, and would often comment, ’Ayyo, so stupid idiot, during stall you are supposed to say, feel the aircraft juddering’, while I was juddering trying to sweep swap under the bed at 0300 hrs before met briefing and ‘Kaun Banega Murga’ quiz contest by Chilly Sir with greater aplomb than Big B !!! Evenings, my incredibly hungry nephews or thirsty bachelor course mates would drop in and I had to cook Beef Biriyani and act like ‘Uncle’ the barman in Poona, pour myself as much or more than my guests.
I just didn’t have time to learn ‘pitter or patter’, or learn any lesson from the most interesting and enjoyable lectures of Wg Cdr Rao Sir, the Nav instructor who had mischievous intensions to make us QNIs and not QFIs. CO FIS Ubgade Sir, unsuccessfully tried to teach us precession of gyroscopes, holding a pointer above his head and rotating his hips like Hellen doing ‘Mera Nam Chi Chinn Chu’. But our gyros were rigid and refused to precess or process Kutta’s theorem and Magnus effect from Naval Aviator’s ‘Ki Pen Di Who’, the Bible fished out and smuggled from test pilot’s school in Patuxent River. We generally slept in class because afternoons were siesta time in RIAF. The strategic location to sleep in class, learnt in NDA, was the front row; right under the instructor’s nose. The only persons who didn’t sleep in class was my cm NV Tyagi, and the youngest in the batch, Raha. Both used precession and rigidity to navigate and climb to flight levels DCAS/CAS; rest of us either killed ourselves or retired due to lack of any knowledge, to learn or to teach.
Just joking !!!
It was a rainy day when I was programmed for 3rd solo and took a while for the weather to clear.
So I signed the F-700, walked to the HJT emulating a fighter pilot’s zestful gait during a scramble, kicked the tyres, peeped into the poo hole jet pipe, noted the number of asymmetric saw tooth vortex generators on and under the wing (very sharp to touch or fondle), jumped into the cockpit, buckled up, hesitantly took out the pins to show off to the ground crew that I had courage to sit on the hot seat. They closed the hatch and incarcerated me in the HJT, no escape. So I pressed the tit, released brakes, fondled the ‘Dooshang’, and was ready to go, looking for tryst with my destiny.
I lined up on the dumbbell, arrow straight, held the Kiran on brakes, opened full throttle. I checked my watch to see if it was still working, just as Chilly Sir had told me to, and let go the brakes. The HJT rolled down the centre line without my intervention. I only looked at my watch and not the ASI, as Chilly Sir had advised during ‘Kaun Banega Murga’ quiz contest, without ‘phone a friend’ option.
I was just getting ready to pull back and unstick when I got ‘Hicum Fookum’, sudden vertical rush of poo, from butt to brain . The A/C was on fire. Smoke was billowing out of the air conditioning ducts below the instrument panel. I was just about to pull the ejection handle when I remembered that HJT didn’t have ground level ejection. So I unstuck and climbed like a bat out of hell. In my panic, I also forgot to give a mayday call, but did remember to raise the undercarriage.
I hauled on the straps, looked at my watch, straightened my spine, sat erect, reached for the ejection handle between my legs and pulled. Sadly it was not the ejection handle that I was holding and violently pulled, but my precious gonads. I screamed. The trachea and eustachian tube choked the juggler and the upward flow of poo, hicum fookum stopped. The HJT kept climbing without any intervention from me.
When hicum fookum stopped, my wits returned, I began to look around and not get overwhelmed by the cheap Casio digital air crew watch. All cockpit instruments appeared normal and there were no warning lights blinking at me. Strangely the smoke coming out of the air conditioning duct had no smoky smell. When I crossed 5 or 6 thousand feet, smoke stopped coming out from the ducts. The smoke was just condensation, I remembered that it was a wet, rainy and humid day.
I then went and did whatever I was to do over Goodwancheri and landed back without any fuss. Became a QFI without much ado.
On a recent Indigo flight from Hyd to Mumbai, after take-off, the passenger sitting next to me, started shouting ‘fire, fire, fire’. Smoke was seen coming out of the air conditioning duct behind the overhead baggage compartments. He had hicum fookum. So I told him to eject, by grabbing and tugging his gonads. His trachea and eustachian tube choked the juggler and the upward flow of poo, hicum fookum stopped. But it gave him erectile dysfunction like me. No more smoking guns.
Be careful, look what you are holding, before you pull the ejection handle between the legs !!!