Zero to Hero
Bloody Moth****ers! Bas**rds! Why can’t they hear me? AV’s voice came booming through the RT. All of us in the ATC Tower including me suddenly awakened to the fact that a solo student pilot was in some kind of trouble and letting his frustration out on the radio. I was the Duty QFI in the Tower that morning.
Alerted to the fact that Flight Cadet AV Singh was experiencing a PTT (Press to Transmit Button) Stuck emergency, I focused my attention to his probable flight path through the Homer bearings and his rather colourful conversation with his own self in the cockpit.
A PTT stuck implies that the aircraft continues to transmit on the chosen frequency and in fact, jams the channel, thus preventing usage of the frequency by other aircraft. Also, most of the time the pilot does not realize that his own voice on the intercom can be heard by the entire aviation world tuned on to that frequency while he himself cannot hear anyone.
AV continued to fly his aircraft fairly well as per established procedures. But of course, his flight path was laced with the choicest of expletives every 15 seconds or so. Although the incident is almost thirty years back, I clearly recall keeping a full count of his numerous swear words for a post-sortie debrief that I was very much looking forward to.
In my heart, I wanted to fix him for such an inappropriate behaviour up there. My dilemma was however that how could I punish him for anything that he was saying to himself. As the supervisor on duty, all that I should ideally be bothered about was his flight path, his R/T calls and airmanship. On these counts, he had not given me any thing significant to complain about so far.
And then he finally gave me a reason I was desperately searching. AV was so much hooked to his PTT failure that he forgot to do his ‘Vital Actions on Downwind’, a criminal act in aviation! Although frankly, not so much of a big deal in the piston engine trainer aircraft that he was flying since it had a fixed undercarriage. He continued with his circuit flying and landed safely much to everyone’s ‘amusement turned relief’ in the ATC.
While I was terribly against physical punishment, in AV’s case, I decided on an exception to make an example out of him for his act of indiscipline in the air. And so a rare ‘Commando session’ ensued on the tarmac with AV being the lead protagonist along with a few other cadets guilty of minor misdemeanours in the air. I must admit here to a never hitherto realized, sadistic streak emerging from my sub-conscious as I set upon ‘correcting’ AV.
I was however in for a surprise. I had never encountered anyone in my life who could take that amount of physical punishment with a smile. In fact, his smile quotient was almost proportional to the degree of hardship that he was made to undergo. In a way, he appeared to be mocking the ‘what he probably felt’ silly attempts towards his course correction.
When the session culminated, while his peers were almost unable to lift themselves up, AV the rock-solid bull that he was, walked off with his head held high and an irritating impish smile which always stood out because of a hint of dimples on his cheeks. Well that was AV in your face and you could do nothing about it except shake your head in disbelief.
AV managed to always keep himself in the news in the flying school without much of an effort. A few days earlier than the incident cited above, he had flown with the Flt Cdr a day before his solo check. Irritated at his habit of resetting and stabilizing the Artificial Horizon in a banked state, he had been asked to write a corrective imposition of “I will never reset my Artificial Horizon in a Turn” 10,000 times!
Now that is no mean figure I can tell you. If an A4 sheet can accommodate 20 lines, it works out to almost 500 pages. And that too a day prior to your solo check when you need to be preparing for your ‘make or break’ event of your life.
As I passed AV standing in attention outside the Flt Cdr’s office with a huge reaf of hand-written papers, I queried him about his latest transgression. On learning the reason, I jokingly asked him, “AV, are you sure you have written the imposition exactly 10,000 times?” “Sir’, an exhausted and sleepy AV replied smilingly, “To be honest with you, I could manage only about 9000 times and that too with liberal help from my course-mates. But I am sure the Flt Cdr is not going to count.”
Not long after, one day a solo aircraft was suddenly discovered to have overflown a 45 minutes sector sortie by an extra 30 minutes. Not unexpectedly, it was AV again. On being grilled on the ground, he did not make any excuse about a stuck clock or something equally lame. “Sir, very frankly, I was enjoying myself so much in the sector, being alone without my instructor to nag me that I wanted to fly as much as I could. Actually, the recall from the ATC spoilt my fun a bit”.
Well that was vintage AV who would not tell a lie even when faced with serious life-changing consequences. Now what do you do to a guy like that?
AVs list of indiscretions and offences grew unendingly in the six months that he was there with us. Normally a guy like him would have been thrown out for his streak of indiscipline much in advance, but the senior supervisors probably saw something different in him and let him pass out from the ab initio stage.
Very frankly, by the time the valedictory function came close, I had grown very fond of him despite everything that he did wrong. But the instructor in me also told me that letting him pass out was a big gamble we were taking. And so on the last day, just before his passing out, I went across and whispered in his ears, “Congrats AV! However, if you don’t change yourself, I am giving you a maximum of two years to kill yourself.” Taken aback a bit, AV looked at me in the eye once and nodded knowingly with his head looking down.
Well AV and I parted ways there. He went on to fly Mig 21s and I moved on to other pastures. I however continued to keep a discreet check on his progress out of sheer curiosity from news coming through his squadron mates and peers. AV had indeed changed for the better in the air, I learnt , although his risky and mischievous ways were a bit hard to mend.
AV had always felt suffocated in a cage of conformance. Brave and courageous as he inherently was, he always remained loyal to his friends who would always swear by his dependability. A friend of his remarked, “Sir, if I am in serious trouble and AV comes to know, I am sure he will not think twice before driving 700 km in a single night to be by my side”. True to his character, AV was surely a man who would always stand by you and you could trust him blindly when the chips were down!
Last I met AV was when I was having a drink in the Gwalior bar and surprisingly, in walked Sqn Ldr AV. A hearty hug and we were so pleased to see each other after a long hiatus of close to 10-12 years. We got talking and I learnt that AV was on the verge of completing his Fighter Combat Leader course, the ultimate ‘Top Gun’ qualification that a fighter pilot looks forward to achieving. I was really happy to see him do so well in his profession.
It was now time for him to take leave for a good night’s rest before the next day’s check sortie. As he got up, he cheekily remarked with his trademark smile, “Sir, I was actually wanting to meet you for a long time.” “Me?” I asked. “Yes Sir, just to tell you that I didn’t do too bad and of course, I did not kill myself in the two years you gave me.”
I laughed aloud and looked at him with love and admiration only an instructor can have. Not knowing why, I said, “AV, If ever there is a choice for me to select only one wing man when I am going into enemy territory , I would choose only you!”
Eyes moistened, he remarked, “Thank you Sir, my FCL course has not finished but that compliment is the greatest trophy a fighter pilot can ever earn.”
It was time for us to bid goodbye.
Always secretly wished that I could be more like AV,
Post script: Came to know that Captain AV Singh today flies for a Civil commercial airlines. Passengers sitting behind him in the passenger cabin would surely be oblivious of his younger days exploits.
First published at Seekmediation.com om 15/01/22
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