Category STORY


Indians were late entrants to the field. But we have made up for lost time, to a large extent. Of course, we are still much behind the developed nations. Finance stands in the way, not lack of spirit or enthusiasm or commitment. Yet many Indians have overcome the limitations, created avia­tion history. It is impossible to refer to all of them. However the feats of three Indians, detailed in this section, make us swell with pride.

The first Indian to dare to fly was Jahangir Rattanji Tata. He was drawn to it when he was hardly ten. He stood at the beach, on the French Coast, close to where he lived with his parents and let his eyes rivet on a small plane in flight. The drone of the aircraft became louder as it came near, started to descend and touched down on the sand. The pi­lot hopped out of the cockpit.

"Uncle", Jahangir screamed when he identified the pilot, Bleriot, a neighbour and a family friend. He was the first man to fly across the English Channel. Jahangir held him by the hand and looked at him with admiration. "How I wish I too could fly!" the boy turned hopefully to the elder.

"Meet me here tomorrow at 10. I shall take you on a joy ride", said Bleriot.

Next day the boy had his first flight. "Some day, Uncle, I shall fly my own plane", said the boy.

"Why not!" Bleirot gave the boy an encouraging nod.

"Can I fly planes?" the boy asked his parents, later in the day.

"Of course! Flying can be a hobby," his father, Ratanji Dadabhai Tata, held him in a warm hug.

In 1929, Jahangir received the pilot’s licence. In 1930, he made a bid for the Aga Khan Trophy, offered to the first Indian who flew solo from India to Britain or from Britain to India, in the shortest time. Jahangir (better known as JRD), entered the race, took off in a Puss Moth aircraft and flew West, heading for Britain. Around the same time, another young man, Aspi Engineer, set out from Britain and headed for India.

JRD ran short of fuel, while flying over Egypt, and force-landed in the desert. He trekked to an outpost at Rutbah Wells, once an important stop on the Imperial Air­ways’ route, gathered fuel and returned to resume the flight. At the next stop, on the desert route, he met Aspi Engineer. JRD greeted him warmly. Aspi grinned, but his eyes wore a beaten look.

"What is troubling you, Aspi?" JRD asked.

"I need spares, but where will I get spares in this desert? I think I have to drop out of the race", Aspi scowled.

"Cheer up, Aspi. I have some spares with me. Come, take what you want", JRD gently picked up Aspi’s hand.

Aspi jumped with joy, thanked JRD, picked the spares he needed, carried out the repairs and tested the engine. "Good luck", said JRD.

Soon both resumed their flights. JRD headed West; and Aspi flew East. Both completed the trip. But Aspi recorded better timing and won the race.

"I owe my success to JRD", he said. "But for those spares, I would never have made it".

Aspi was at the airport when JRD landed at Karachi. JRD stepped out of the cockpit and ran into the warm hug of Aspi. His eyes opened wide when Aspi asked him to
accept a guard of honour, presented by a group of boy scouts. Aspi had specially brought them to the airport to make the welcome memorable. That was perhaps the best homecom­ing that JRD ever had!

Many years later, JRD noted, "I am glad that Aspi won because it helped him into the Air Force". Aspi rose to high ranks, retired as the Chief of the Indian Air Force.

Подпись: Fig. 11.1: JRD Tata JRD joined the family’s busi­ness house (Fig. 11.1). In between, he took time to fly planes. Around that time, the Imperial Airways planned a flight between London and Calcutta via Karachi. A friend,

Neville Vintcent, a dare devil flier from Britain, saw a golden chance.

He suggested to JRD, "Why don’t you start an airline service linking Bombay with Karachi?" JRD dis­cussed it with Uncle Dorab. "No",

roared the old man. But JRD kept up pressure. Finally he received the green signal. Tata Aviation service was formed.

The service started with a solo flight by JRD on 15 Oc­tober 1932. He took off from Karachi, in a single-engine Puss Moth, flew solo, bringing mail to Bombay. It was a historic flight. The Airlines grew in strength. In 1948, it became Air India International. After nationalisation, the government appointed JRD as the Chairman.

In 1982, he celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his first flight, flying the same route in a De Havilland Leopard Moth. That was indeed a record.

Vijaypath Singhania, a 49-year-old industrialist of Kanpur, chose another track to create a record. He too loved flying, knew how aviation had grown through the years since the

flight by the Wright brothers in 1903.

One day, while going over the records in aviation, he felt depressed. ‘India does not have any aviation records’, he moaned. How he wished someone would accept the chal­lenge and create aviation history? Then it struck him. Why shouldn’t he himself accept the challenge?

Easier said than done. But Vijaypath was equal to the task. He resolved to carry out the plan. His search for possi­ble records to create or break led him to the feat of Brian Milton, a journalist. Milton had flown a microlite aircraft, solo, from Britain to India, in 34 days. Could he fly the dis­tance in lesser number of days and thus create a new record? That seemed a target he could achieve.

He looked out for a microlite aircraft that would serve him well. Finally, after going round Aircraft factories all around the globe, he chose an aircraft manufactured by a British firm. It weighed just under 150 kg (6.4 m long; wing­span 10 m and maximum sped of 60 knots). He named it L’esprit d’lndian Post.

Preparations began in right earnest. The aircraft was readied for the 9600 km flight to Delhi. The maximum dis­tance that the single engine aircraft could fly, non-stop, was 960 kmph. The route and the scheduled halts enroute were meticulously chalked out. Medical facilities were lined up at the halts to provide for emergencies. Landing permits at various proposed stops were obtained. Due note was also taken of the dangers posed by the turbulence over the Medi­terranean Sea and over the Gulf of Oman.

On 15 August 1988, Vijaypath took off from Biggin Hill, outside London. Clouds blinded him while he flew over the Alps. He had to descend below the clouds, fly rather very low, hardly 100 m, along the coast of Italy, to avoid the mist. The fuel tank cracked and gave some anxious moments. But he safely landed at the next stop and set it right. While crossing the Mediterranean, he had his life jacket on and
carried a shark repellant. "Every time I would spot a ship, I would start calculating how long it would take the vessels to reach me if I fell", he joked.

The aircraft ran into a crosswind and was tossed around, giving him many anxious moments. Overflying the Saudi desert, the plane got caught in sandstorms. It required all his skill to steer the plane through. When he landed, the wind was so strong that the aircraft came to a dead stop in just under 4 m. Occasionally technical snags delayed his plan. At one stage, he was behind the time set by Milton by about two days. But he made up for lost time, thanks to some fine weather. He landed at Ahmedabad, 21 days after taking off from London, to a rousing reception. He had beaten Milton’s record by 11 days.

The nation hailed his feat. JRD was at the tarmac of Safdarjang Airport, on 11 September, to welcome him. Milton too was present. He complimented Vijaypath on breaking his record. Vijaypath had raised India’s image.

Harji Malik was one of the first Indians to be commissioned in the Royal Air Force. After independence, the Indian Air Force came into being. It played a major role in defending the nation. The officers and men displayed exceptional gal­lantry on the battlefield. Among them the name of Flying Officer Nirmaljeet Singh Sekhon stands out (Fig. 11.2).

image42It was 14 December 1971. India was at war with Pakistan. A Gnat detachment was moved to Srinagar. A 25-year-old ace pilot, Sekhon, who had flown the Gnat on several missions, was standing at the window of the duty room at Srinagar. He drew the collar closer as the chill wind wafted in. Then he heard the deafening scream of the siren. He noticed four Fig u 2. sekhon

Pakistani Sabres zooming toward the airport. Behind these planes came two more. The enemy aircraft bombed the air­port. Four of the ten aircraft held at the airport were dam­aged.

"I will get you, for sure", Sekhon swore, while he sped to the hangar. He neared one of the gnats that had not been damaged. He found Srawan Singh, an airman, bleeding, badly hurt, yet boldly checking the aircraft, and asked him, "Is this aircraft fit to fly?" The man nodded his head.

Sekhon got into the cockpit. "Take my advice. Don’t go after them. There are six of them. You can’t hunt them down", the man warned, before collapsing.

Sekhon started the engine. He got clearance to take off and was soon in flight. He went after the Sabres. He spot­ted two of them, flying low, almost scraping the tops of trees. He took them by surprise. His guns boomed before the en­emy knew what was happening. The two Sabres were hit. They spun like leaves, caught in a storm, and crashed.

Sekhon steadied the Gnat at a height of 200 m and looked out for the remaining four Sabres. He knew that he no longer enjoyed the advantage of taking them unawares. He saw in the rear mirror three Sabres coming after him. He quickly set the Gnat on a back roll. The enemy pilots didn’t anticipate that move. They banked to the right. Sekhon got just enough time to shoot one of them down. The other two regrouped and charged. This time Sekhon could not avoid a direct hit. The tail of the aircraft burst into flames. The engine went dead. The left wing caught fire and fell off. Sekhon took a deep breath as the plane started to plunge. Then his eyes lit with joy. He noticed the tracers fired by ack-ack guns on the ground, tearing the bellies of the Sa­bres. He was still savouring this sight when his plane hit the ground. Sekhon died with a smile on his lips.

The nation honoured him with the Param Vir Chakra.



Aircraft needs to pick up immense speed, on the ground, before it can get airborne. The speed at which air runs over and under the wings (Bernoulli’s principle), provides the upward thrust. Higher speeds generate more powerful thrusts and thence more lift.

Aircraft have giant wheels. The runways at modern airports are very long. The pilot starts the engine, revs it up and waits for the engine to gain enough power and thrust before he pulls the lever. The aircraft gains speed. More speed and still more speed! Then, suddenly, the nose of the aircraft tilts up. It cuts its way through space. The nose moves further up. The aircraft gets bodily lifted. The steep climb ends, once the aircraft gains the height it needs to cruise. The pilot presses a control button. The wheels retract and slip snugly into the body of the aircraft.

Runways are essential to put an aircraft in flight and permit it to land back. The aircraft is of no use where this facility does not exist. At such places, the helicopter comes into play (Fig. 12.1). The helicopter has a main rotor and a tail rotor. They are mounted on top of the frame. The main rotor provides the lift. The tail rotor checks the tendency of the helicopter to pull in a direction opposite to that set by the main rotor. The rotors rotate at very high speed, force the air to part and provide the necessary lift.

The helicopter can move in any direction or simply hover over one place by suitable adjustment of the angles

of the blades of the main rotor and the tail rotor. The adjust­ments are made with the help of pedals and levers.

Подпись: ie. 12.2: Leonardo da Vinci


The basic idea for the helicopter goes back to 12th cen­tury China. A toy-maker shaped a slim elegant shaft with holes from wood. Into the holes, he inserted and fixed small arms, shaped with care. The toy looked like a huge screw. The man added three propeller-like wings attached to one end. A firm tug at the free end of a string that wound round the central rod sent the toy into a spin. This spin produced the lift and made the toy fly.

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest artists of all times, was a genius (Fig. 12.2). His interests were varied. He loved to paint. Da Vinci spent hours, observing birds in flight. He drew pictures of birds in flight, studied the anatomy of birds to find out the secret of flight. This quest led him to the details about the old Chinese toy.

He worked on the design and
drew the blueprint for a machine that resembled a giant screw. He called it, ‘Helipteron’, by combining two Greek words, Heli (means spiral) and Pteron (wings). Da Vinci be­lieved that it could fly. But how could it draw power to stay airborne? He thought four men could work the bars, at­tached to the airscrew. He left it at that.

Centuries later, Lomonosov, a Russian scientist, put a crude form of the helipteron in flight in 1754. In 1843, Sir George Cayley spent time to fabricate a flying machine that would take off vertically.

Louis and Jaques Breguet were siblings. They flew kites, spun out boomerangs that returned to them after short flights. Then they read about the helipteron. They assem­bled crude replicas with whatever they could lay their hands on. This childhood interest led them into the field of flight, once they were on their own. Charles Richet, another young man, joined them. The three spent all their spare time on the design of the helicopter. They called it the Gyroplane. The rotors whirled very fast. In 1907, the machine rose by 0.6 m on the first attempt. On the second try, it lifted itself bodily to a height of 1.6 m.

In the same year, Paul Cornu came up with a more effective design. It had twin rotor blades, powered by a gaso­line engine. The helicopter lifted itself and Paul up in space. It rose to a height of 0.6 m and stayed aloft for about 20 seconds. In the next trial, the helicopter rose up, taking Paul and his brother too aloft.

These were small beginnings, faltering steps taken by the pioneers. It took three more decades before the helicop­ter truly entered the field of aviation. Heinrich Focke, a Ger­man technologist, studied the work done by the pioneers. He improved on the designs. He carried out tests with his machines. Finally he felt confident that he had a design of a helicopter that would fly as freely as an aircraft.

In 1938, Heinrich announced that he would hold a public demonstration in Berlin. Huge crowds gathered to watch the air show. The helicopter stood at the centre of a wide open ground. Hanna Reitsch, a daring young dame, was at the controls. Heinrich went round, making last minute checks. Finally, sure that everything was in perfect working order, he signalled to Hanna. She started the en­gine. The deafening sound of the rotors, whirling madly, resounded in the air. People craned their necks to get a bet­ter glimpse of the grand show. The helicopter rose in space. It was incredible. The machine kept gaining height. On and on to record a height of 2,400 m! It flew forward at 120 kmph; and backward at the speed of 32 kmph. It covered a dis­tance of about 225 km. The helicopter came of age, on that historic day.

From then on, its growth was phenomenal. It devel­oped more range and speed, and found its place in civil and military operations.

Helicopters airlift wounded soldiers from forward lines to base hospitals; fly in to drop men and material in diffi­cult terrain, that are not accessible by road; maintain the supply line to forward posts. Helicopters are found active in war zones and disaster stricken areas. They carry out survey operations and weather studies. On ceremonial occasions, like the Republic Day, they fly low along or around the venue, drop flowers that make the scene truly colourful.

Helicopters were held in readiness, on 24 July 1969, to pick up the astronauts when Apollo 11 Command Module touched down on the high seas. The helicopter hovered above the space capsule. It dropped a flotation ring to the capsule and pulled up the’ astronauts.

In India, helicopters fly supply missions to several for­ward posts in the Himalayas. These missions are danger­ous. Pilots steer the helicopters between mountain ranges. Often wild winds rock the helicopters. It demands immense courage to carry out such missions, especially when the posts lie close to the enemy lines and danger of sniper fire always exists.

Naval helicopters undertake several specialised tasks. They carry out reconnaissance flights. Anti-submarine heli­copters use sonar devices. They spot enemy submarine and drop depth charges to explode near the submarine. If the hit connects, the submarine’s hull gets cracked or it is forced to surface. These sonar devices send out wave pulses into the waters and wait for the reflected echoes. They show up as a blip on a TV screen. Experts study the image and de­cide if it is a whale or a submarine. This decides the course of action to be taken. Naval helicopters rescue fishermen who drift at sea during cyclones.

Daring are those who man the helicopters. One instance comes to mind.

It was 13 October 1992. Tourists were in high spirits when they boarded the cable car to take them to the Timber Trail resort on the hilltop, close to the Shimla-Kalka high­way. The cable car slid across, providing a grand view of the gorge, about 2,500 m below. One moment the car was gliding, smoothly. Next moment, two of the wires of the cable car snapped. The car tilted, dangerously. Those in the car clutched the bars or held on to each other, while the car swung like a leaf in a storm. Fear gripped them. Would the remaining six wires hold on? Or would they snap and dump the car, with the tourists, into the gorge?

The local police immediately sought help from the IAF and the Army. The IAF station at Sarsawa received the call about two hours after sunset. It was too late to launch res­cue operation. The trapped tourists spent the night, on board the dangerously hanging car, hoping against hope that they would survive the ordeal.

Next morning, Air Force helicopters flew in. They stud­ied the terrain and the strategy for the rescue. Several attempts were made to land a commando on the cable car, break into the car and winch the trapped people. But strong winds aborted every attempt. Should they wait till next morning?

"No", said Major Ivan Casto, one of the commandos chosen to land on the car and to carry out the rescue.

"Have you any idea of the risk? The winch comes in the way", one of the team members pointed out the danger. (The winch is a roller that has steel cable wound round. Very much like the spool with the string whose free end is tied. The turn of the spool decides how much string the kite gets.)

"I know", said Major Ivan Casto.

"We will be forced to cut the winch if you or the cable that takes you down to the car touches a cable of the car. That will send you hurtling in space, crash in the valley. What hopes have you of survival if that happens?" said the pilots who would stay on the helicopter and try to keep it stable and steady.

Casto pursed his lips and said firmly, "Let us get going".

It was around 5 p. m. The helicopter took off, hovered directly over the cable car. The winch lowered Casto to the top of the cable car. He broke the glass panes of the cable car. The tourists beamed a welcome smile. His presence worked wonders. He got down to work immediately. A fa­ther and his four-year-old son, strapped on to his back, were hauled up first. Four more persons were winched to the helicopter before darkness fell.

The operation was suspended for the day. Casto spent the night in the cable car. His presence worked wonders. Those who remained in the cable car now looked relaxed. Rescue operation was resumed next morning and completed by 10.30 a. m. It marked one of the finest hours for the army commandos and the helicopter pilots.

One could recollect hundreds of such daring feats in which gallant men on board helicopters performed death – defying acts. Each of them confirms the power of courage. Truly has it been said, "Courage conquers".


Courage conquers, we said. Every pioneer displays cour­age of a high order. Each one is a dare devil. Each feat is unique. A quick survey of the history of aviation leads us to more names and events. Let us take note of some of the men and events that made aviation history.

image45The first name that comes to mind is of Sir George Cayley. He tracked down the forces that needed to be con­trolled before one could fly. These were Tift, drag, thrust and gravity’. He developed the controlling mechanisms to counter-balance these forces and thus provide balance to the flying object. He shaped the horizontal rudder (or el­evator), experimented with multiple-wing designs, thought of the propeller. For over forty years, he worked. Finally, in 1849, he decided to test fly his tri-plane glider. He strapped a 10- year-old boy on to the glider and tested it at the open grounds close to his home Brompton Hall. The glider soared in space.

Lindbergh flew across the Atlan­tic solo and created an endurance record. The round the world trip in The Voyager by Dick and Jeana set an­other endurance record. Charles Kingsford Smith tried a different type pig 13 1; Charles of endurance (Fig. 13.1). He became Kingsford Smith


Fig. 13.2: The record-breaking flight round Australia

the first man to fly across the Pacific. He set out, with three others, in May 1928, from Oakland Airfield, US, and landed at Brisbane in June (Fig. 13.2). For him it was a dream come true.

Amelia Earhart was not the first woman aeronaut. That glory belongs to Jeanne-Genevieve Garnerin who soared in space in a balloon. She also was the first parachutist. Mrs. Cromwell Dixon was amused when her 13-year-old son in­vited her to fly an ‘air bicycle’. He told her that she had only to pedal with all the power at her command and she would be taken into flight. She tried that in 1909. She ped­alled hard and the machine took to flight, carrying her along. Therese Peltier, a French sculptor, was the first woman to fly an aircraft solo. Raymonde de Laroach was the first li­censed pilot. She received the licence in 1910. Eighteen years later, Lady Mary Heath flew an aircraft from Cape Town to London. In 1932, Maruyse Bastie of France flew alone, re­mained airborne for 38 hours and created a record.

Flight opened up immense opportunities for the ad­venture seekers.

In 1911, the first major long-distance air race was or­ganised. The route was Paris-Belgium-Holland-England (over the Channel) and back to Paris. There were 43 entries; and 12 different types of aircraft. Nineteen participants com­pleted the first lap. Nine crossed the finish line. Three lost their lives and six were seriously injured. The races, held annually, drew a lot of enthusiastic participants.

In 1913, the Michelin Cup Race set down a challenge for pilots. They were required to cover specific distance and maintain an average speed of 50 kmph. At the Gordon Bennett Trophy, held in the same year, Jules Vedrines’ air­craft recorded a speed of over 160 kmph. It took another seven years to double this speed record. Flying a 300 hp engine, Sach Lecointe registered, at Etampes, speed of over 320 kmph. In 1922, Billy Mitchell broke this record and won the Pulitzer race with a speed of 350 kmph. The quest for speed finally led man to the Concorde (Fig. 13.3). In 1995, the Concorde flew round the globe, taking short halts at Touclouse in Southern France, Dubai, Bangkok, Guam, Honolulu and Acapulco in Mexico before returning to New York, in less than 33 hours.

The quest for more speed demanded improved designs. Often the newly designed aircraft crashed. Accidents took a heavy toll of men and material. But mishaps did not deter the daring. Many young men explored the limits to which the aircraft would go along with them. They performed loops and turns, dipped and rose. Large crowds gathered to watch stunt shows.

Charles Willard, a Harvard graduate, trained under the ace flier and aircraft designer, Curtiss, before he turned to stunt shows. He came to be known as the Wizard. In 1910, he commanded $1,000 per flight. Many others took to stunt shows. But most of them died in accidents. A common say-


Fig. 13.3: The Concorde

ing, in those days, read: "There are plenty of bold flyers; and plenty of old flyers, but hardly any bold old flyers".

In 1913, at a public show, Edouard Pegoud performed death-defying loops in space. The aircraft gracefully arched and turned around, yielding to the command of the pilot. The Press reported the show.

Lincoln Beachey, who revelled in performing spirals and dives with planes, read the news. He decided to try the stunts. He set before Curtiss his plan. He wanted a specially reinforced bi-plane that could stand the strain of sharp loops. The first model crashed. The second one stood the trials. It had a top speed of over 165 kmph. Lincoln Beachey scheduled his show for 14 March 1915. He took off from San Francisco, climbed over the bay toward Alcatraz, reversed course and performed a series of loops, losing height with each one. Back he climbed to 1100 m and dived straight down.

He dropped so low that people could spot his head above the wings. It looked as if he was crashing. But, at the very last moment, he pulled sharply on the stick to regain level flight. That was too much for the aircraft. The wings broke away. The aircraft crashed in the bay. The stuntman was alive, but was trapped in the wreckage. He drowned before he could be pulled out.

After the end of the Second World War, many young fighter pilots were jobless. The more daring among them found work as stunt pilots. They showed their skill at carni­vals. They walked on the wings, while the plane was in flight, or jumped from plane to plane while in flight or got on to aircraft from running cars, ambling up rope ladders suspended from jennies.

In September 1999, Jurgis Kairys, a Lithuanian pilot, displayed a rare stunt. He flew an SU-26 plane at a speed of about 300 kmph under 10 bridges spanning the Neris River at Vilnius, the capital of the Baltic State. It was a risky show. The bridges are just 6 m above the waters. That did not de­ter Jurgis. It took him just under 20 minutes to complete the show. Asked what more he had in mind, Jurgis joked, "The only thing that remains to be done is to fly under all the bridges upside down". Speaking about this show, Jean Louis Monnet, Chief Executive of the International Air Sport Fed­eration, said: "As far as I know, this was the first stunt like this in the world".

In India, the Air Force often organises special air shows. On Republic Day, the aircraft perform stunts over Raj Path. They loop around, fall freely through space, swiftly turn, regain height and vanish into the sky. The aircraft fly in formation, yet not once do they get into the flight path of each other (Fig. 13.4).

A different form of challenge came in with the arrival of ultralight crafts. In 1960, Francis Rogalli developed a light­weight plastic arrowhead shaped flexible wing. He called it


para-sail. It was meant to be a gliding type of parachute for lowering pieces of cargo from high-flying aircraft. It did not find favour with the defence agencies. Acceptance came from an unexpected quarter. Gliding experts picked it up. They rigged a sort of trapeze, spread fabric to form the wing and added a few wires to control flight by shifting weight on trapeze. Thus began the sport of hang gliding. In the mid 1970s, they added small engine and propeller to the craft.

The glider has no wheels, no landing gear. The man riding the glider runs into the wind and takes off. Often the lover of gliding takes the glider to the top of a slope and runs down picking up speed till the glider gets airborne.

Himachal Pradesh holds annual hang gliding competitions before winter really sets in. Hang gliding has become very popular world over.

Is there any room for heady excitement, while we stay on the ground? Radio controlled sailplanes provide this fa­cility. These parasails are very light. Hardly 2 kg, including the radio, placed in a little black box in the nose of the plane! The person on the ground operates the control and defines the flight path.

People who fly the machines, be it an aircraft or heli­copter or glider or parasail, constantly improve designs to break established speed or endurance records. They believe that when it comes to development, even the sky doesn’t set limits.


Innovators know that the future is not theirs to see. The future needs expansion of the vistas of knowledge. That is what they do, continuously. They explore virgin territory that lies currently outside the bounds of knowledge. They dare the untried. Thus they become pioneers.

What further developments await aviation?

Aircraft will become sleeker and lighter thanks to spe­cial adhesives. They make it possible to bond material— aluminium, plastic foam, carved and evened out and cov­ered with fibre glass—better. These materials make the air­craft stronger and lighter. Moreover, they give scope for new shapes to aircraft, shapes that reduce resistance of air by directing the airflow round the plane and not into it. That leads to better speed, lesser fuel consumption. Work is on to harness new material to make the engine lighter and more fuel-efficient. New energy sources—liquid hydrogen, elec­tric power, solar energy and even atomic power—are being tried out.

How will these changes benefit us?

Does it not cheer us to note that some day, in the future, we may be flying our own aircraft! That is no tall story. Look at cars on Indian roads? Did anybody imagine, twenty years back, that the common Indian could own a car? Yet, now, the car is within the reach of the middle class. In the devel­oped nations, smaller planes are owned and used extensively, by citizens. Today is their day. Tomorrow will be ours.

All those who drive through the congested roads of major cities share one dream. If only cars could take to flight, whenever there is a terrific traffic jam! Boeing is working on just this dream vehicle called the electric flivver. It is an airplane-cum-car that takes off easily when it finds itself stuck in’the traffic. Once it gets beyond the stretch of the road that is jammed, it returns to the roads and runs like any normal car. Its gets lift with the help of rotors, fixed on top (very much like the helicopter).

This idea is being extended to develop aircraft that can fly faster than sound and can take off from anywhere. Named, The Transonic Business Jet, this plane will have vari­able sweep wings. These wings, as their name indicates, will sweep forward and backward. They will adjust to the cen­tre of the lift of the aircraft when it flies faster than the speed of sound. While cruising, the wings will be reset at right angles to the fuselage. The plane will be fuelled by liquid hydrogen. Its maximum speed will be about 2,600 kmph.

Ever seen a flying saucer? We are not talking of the saucer that flies in space after we aim it at someone who annoys us. Flying saucers are what aliens, out there in space, use to visit our earth. Or so say those who believe there are intelli­gent life forms out there, in distant galaxies. It is this shape that Boeing finds ideal to serve city commuters. Powered by heavy flywheels that spin in opposite direction, it can take off and land vertically, operate from parking lots in major cities.

Boeing is also working on an amphibious plane. One that can operate from land and water!

These reports cheer us. Then comes another question. Will air travel become faster? Faster than the Concorde that covers the London-New York route in about three hours? The answer is YES! Research is on to fly aircraft at speeds ranging from 4,800 to 12,800 kmph. These aircraft shall fly at altitudes 30,000 m to 39,000 m, where the earth’s gravity is only five-sixth of that on the ground. The aircraft will use jet fuel at speeds up to 5,760 kmph. Then, the turbo engines will shut down, and jet engines, using liquid petroleum, will take over.

In July 2002, Boeing designed a super-efficient aircraft that looks like a giant bat. It has no fuselage or tail, just a huge wing, with a belly that has space to accommodate 480 passengers. The aircraft is so designed that its structure pro­vides the lift. So it will take 32% less fuel and bring the cost of air transport down.

Lockheed has plans to produce a cargo aircraft. It will carry 1,80,000 kg of cargo non-stop to any place on the earth, flying at a speed of 800 kmph. It can fly for weeks, as it will be powered by nuclear energy.

For transport of cargo, another unusual idea is being explored. It is an aircraft with thick wings that shall hold the cargo. The flat bottom of the wing will stay a few feet above water. The craft will fly low, carrying 1,98,000 kg of freight, at a speed of about 480 kmph.

On 30 July 2002, Australian scientists launched a hy­personic ‘scramjet’. It has a revolutionary new engine. The oxygen in the air enters the engine and ignites hydrogen fuel. The aircraft, it is claimed, can fly at speeds of over Mach 8.

These changes will certainly improve civilian transport. They will be suitably adjusted to serve military purposes too.

At the same time, aircraft specially designed for de­fence purposes are in the pipeline. Fighters will carry pow­erful bombs and guided missiles more easily. Rockwell In­ternational launched a bomber, controlled by the pilot on the ground. The idea is catching on. An army general noted, "In the 21st century, we will definitely rely more on pilotless

aircraft to place people out of harm’s way".

Can laser beams propel an aircraft? Scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology experimented with laser-pow­ered paper airplane. They are now getting ready to fly tiny pilotless planes. Ultimately they plan to propel planes at several times the speed of sound at high altitudes, where the air is too thin for jet engines to operate. Laser beams from satellites or high-altitude balloons will propel the air­craft.

Laser produces high intensity coherent light waves. Waves remind us of radars that detect aircraft in flight. Can an aircraft evade detection by radar? It can, once we know how the radar works. Radar sends out radio pulses into the flying object. The waves are reflected back to the radar sta­tion. The blip on the screen helps identify the aircraft.

Scientists took note of this fact. Could they distort the reflected radio pulses and thus make it hard for radars to detect the flying object? Then came an idea. An object that has only curves, no flat surface, scatters the waves and dis­perses them in all directions. The scientists exploited this scientific principle. However, this idea gave very limited success. Then came the idea to make all the surfaces of an aircraft as plane as possible, with no surface at an angle that would reflect the waves back to radar. They also developed special paints for the aircraft. These paints absorb some of the radar waves. The end product is the Stealth aircraft.

High altitude surveillance is vital for national defence and for earth study. Lockheeds plans a High Altitude Pow­ered Platform. It will carry cameras and instruments to watch troop movements or identify military installations or esti­mate crop growth or warn about locusts or shifting weather patterns. It will be powered by solar energy.

In July 2001, Helios, a solar powered plane that shall fly for months on end, maintaining a height of 30,000 m, was tested at Hawai (Fig. 14.1). "It is powered by its
shadow", John Hicks, the programme’s manager, joked. Made of carbon fibre, it weighs about 800 kg. It undertakes unmanned flights. It is controlled from the ground. It flies at a very high altitude, far above the clouds. So all day long, it gets sunlight that powers its flight.

Подпись: Fig. 14.1: The Helios Remember Burt Rutan who designed the Voyager? In December 1986, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeagar flew the air­craft, round the globe, non-stop and created history. Now (in January 2005), Steve Fossett—the first person to circum­navigate the globe solo in a balloon—is all set to perform a similar feat. He will be flying the aircraft GlobeFlyer—solo— designed by Burt. The flight is expected to be completed in 70 hours.

These are developments that we know of. But quietly, silently, secretly (driven by commercial or defence interest), many more advanced designs are taking shape.

What does aviation hold for man, in the days to come? The future is not ours to see. But we have a hunch. One based on reason and logic. Aircraft manufacturers are tak­ing advantage of latest technologies. This is a continuous process. So we can confidently predict the future, say that the aircraft of tomorrow will be faster, more comfortable and sleeker than the ones around now.

On that hopeful note, we end the Great Aviation Story.