Thanks to the Indian Air Force’s Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition stopping by at Bagdogra on its way to creating a world record, Bappaditya Paul gets the chance to make like a bird.
RIVERS appeared like thin silver linings, huge trees like shrubs, habitats seemed like tiny playthings of a growing child and roads took on the appearance of capricious drawings! Hovering way up in the sky, at times soaring parallel to mountain peaks, brushing past milky-white clouds and listening to the songs of the wind… The sheer joy was enough to convince that I could have been a bird!
The wings bestowed upon me in the form of an Indian Air Force glider on 15 November 2006 left me with such a mesmerising experience that I was instantly inflicted by a must-share obsession. Especially when the IAF apparently had only one such glider, all thanks to Bagdogra station commander Group Captain Chandramouli, who offered me to take that privileged ride.
Those like me, who often board a commercial flight and are charmed by the clouds outside the window, can little realise the breathtaking experience until presented with the opportunity of sailing into the wild blue yonder in a wonderful little flying machine.
Given the location of the Air Force station Bagdogra, as the two-seater glider took off on its voyage that morning, the mighty Himalayas loomed in the backdrop while a huge lush-green valley lay like a still-life watercolour below!
The sky was slightly overcast — it was as though dusk was approaching — and we were “sailing” at an altitude of roughly 12,00 feet. The glider was doing 70 kmph and I was fascinated by the scenery surrounding us.
“Weather like this is not ideal for gliding. Moreover, as the day grow longer, gliding becomes troublesome, with frequent jerks. Reason: intensified upward air pressure,” Squadron Leader Ramakant, leader of the two-member IAF Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition team, was to tell me later.
Although his deputy, Sergeant SK Yadav, who took me riding pillion, proved an efficient “pilot” and made the voyage as smooth as he could, he couldn’t resist adding to the excitement by resorting to a few twists and turns.
The Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition was initiated by the two IAF officers of Hindane Air Base in Gaziabad (UP) to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee year of the Indian Air Force. The expedition began on 24 October 2006 and concluded at the Air Force station in Dibrugarh, Assam, on 20 November.
As part of their 3,800-km air journey, the expedition team stopped by 23 air bases in all — from the far north to the far east. When the team halted at Bagdogra, the voyage was roughly 800 km away from the finishing point.
“Once we land at Dibrugarh — the end point of the voyage — we will be setting a new national record of covering the longest distance by glider,” an enthusiastic Squadron Leader Ramakant had told. The previous record of mapping 3,000 km also lies with the Indian Air Force.
Mind you, the IAF has got just this one glider – which I flew on. The body of the glider is made in Italy, while the 52-hp engine that powers it is manufactured in Austria. Measuring 30 feet in width, the two-winged glider weighs around 400 kg.
Interestingly, normal petrol happens to be the fuel source. The tank placed below the seat allows maximum storage of 55 litres of the fluid.
This marvelous machine cost the Indian Air Force Rs 11 lakh and it is used primarily for adventure purpose, though, as per conventional usage, it is also used to do reconnaissance of air-routes before a fighter aircraft takes off.
“At 90 kmph (maximum speed limit), the glider can cover a distance of 350 km in a single go and the highest altitude ride fixed by its manufacturer is 10,000 feet,” said Squadron Leader Ramakant. But with pride, he added: “En route Jammu to Udhampur earlier this month, we had risen to 12,000 feet without any oxygen support. It’s a record in India.”
To him, the Trans-India Power Hang Glider Expedition team and the Indian Air Force, all I could say is “Bravo!”
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. The article originally appeared in The Statesman on 26 November 2006).