Meet Amol Yadav, who beat air sickness to become a pilot and build his own plane
You’ll likely relate to Amol Yadav’s friends from his neighbouring buildings who were rather curious about all the noise that he’d been creating on his terrace. Yadav assured them that he was merely building furniture for his flat – you know, chair, sofa, table, etc? The explanation seemed reasonable till they began seeing what seemed like the tail of an aircraft sticking out from the roof. It didn’t take them long to work out – though we imagine it must’ve been difficult to process that information – that Yadav wasn’t making furniture on the terrace, but rather, was building an aircraft! On top of the roof of his house!
To put the improbability into perspective, the building in question stands in Kandivali, a crowded suburb of Mumbai. If there’s anything you need to know about Mumbai, or indeed Kandivali, is that space is a luxury. Yadav seemed to have made the most of whatever little space he had and built a single-engine, high wing, land aircraft. The aircraft was modelled on the Cessna 172 Stationair.
It helped, of course, that Yadav’s family owns the building on top of which he decided to do the unthinkable. The five-storey building is home to 19 members of Yadav’s family. It doesn’t have a lift and the stairwell leading to the roof is as narrow as it gets. For seven years, he and his crew of welders and fabricators worked under a tarp shed that covered the 1200 sq ft roof that was his workshop.
Even as he built it, Yadav wasn’t sure of how he was going to get the plane off the roof. He figured he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
When he was 13, Amol Yadav knew he wanted to be an airline pilot. But when he started at flight school in Georgia, USA, he discovered that he may have been airsick. Minutes into his instruction flight, Yadav would begin to feel nauseous and dizzy. Occasionally, the instructor would have to turn the flight around because Yadav was unable to do anything on the aircraft. For someone who always dreamt of flying, this was a big setback. Yet, somehow, Yadav managed to focus his mind on his dream and overcame his air sickness. There wasn’t another option, he has said in interviews.
While he recovered from his airsickness, another issue cropped up. Amol Yadav’s parents had managed to spend a great deal of money to fulfil their son’s dreams but those funds had begun to dry up. They weren’t able to afford the renting of an aircraft and the instructors fees. An uncle, who retired, donated his savings to the young Yadav who had worked out that it would be far more economical to buy a second-hand aircraft and learn on it.
And so, Amol Yadav and five other students from his flight school in Georgia invested their money and bought a Cessna 172 that someone had put on sale. Not only did he learn to fly on that aircraft, Yadav also learnt how to repair and maintain it. He wasn’t just in it for the glamour; he was actually passionate about aviation.
Even so, when he returned home, the aviation sector was still quite nascent. There were just a couple of major airlines and far too many pilots. This was the ‘90s and Yadav spent some years in the wilderness, hoping that he’d land a job sooner rather than later. At the time, neither was there a hobby aviation scene in India, neither was there anyone manufacturing civilian aircraft.
So Amol Yadav decided to do the most reasonable thing you could think of – he decided to build one on his own.
The story of how he went about making his first aircraft is a story for self-help books. Now, if you look up ‘How to make an aircraft’ chances are there will be a million results for your query. But back then, long before the Internet exploded, the only way you could learn something new on your own was through, well, books. And those too were difficult to come by when the topic you were interested in was aviation. Or specifically, how to build an airplane.
So armed with some basic knowledge, Amol Yadav started building his aircraft. He started by sourcing an engine from an old Shaktiman military truck. Then with some help from a friendly mechanic and a fabricator, Yadav began his work in earnest. The fabricator hadn’t even seen or touched an airplane on the ground – that’s how outrageous Yadav’s idea was. Yet none of it was going to stop him from building a plane. Simultaneously, Yadav began scouring the city’s bookstores and street side book stalls for any reading material on aviation.
To build his first plane, Yadav used his father’s empty construction site. When it was done, Yadav towed the fuselage with his motorbike to an airfield where on December 17, 2003, the first Indian-made civilian aircraft was taxied. This was exactly one hundred years after the first flight of the Wright Brothers. Even though he was separated from them by a century, Yadav’s story of struggle was no less inspirational.
However, the aircraft hadn’t received permission to fly. DGCA, the body that controls aviation in India, refused to grant his aircraft a license to fly or even a hangar space. As a result, Amol Yadav’s first aircraft – the first civilian aircraft to have been built in India, by an Indian – lay in an abandoned shed. As is wont, people pilfered parts from the machine. The aircraft, or whatever was left of it, had to be discarded.
Meanwhile, Amol Yadav found himself a job at Jet Airways and finally began to fly. He fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot but the dream of building his own aircraft remained unfulfilled.
Cut to 2009 when Yadav decided that there was more to life than flying for a commercial airline and so, along with his old team, Yadav began building a new aircraft all over again. This time on top of his building.
He had learnt from his mistakes so instead of scavenging for parts like he had done earlier, Yadav decided to go legit. He set up a holding company in India and began to import aircraft parts from the US. The idea was to go by the book so the DGCA couldn’t refuse him permission. Six years later, Yadav and his team completed the aircraft.
They dismantled it and, with the help of a crane, brought the aircraft to the ground from where it was transported to the Make in India Fair that was being held in Mumbai. Yadav received a lot of accolades. Everyone from the Chief Minister of Maharashtra to the Prime Minister of India have acknowledged his feat. Yet, Yadav’s aircraft hasn’t received the necessary licenses to fly.
However, unlike the last time around, Yadav’s aircraft isn’t lying in some abandoned shed. The Government of Maharashtra has granted him a hangar space at Dhule Airport where he can park his aircraft and even work on other projects. For now, Yadav’s dream is to build a ranje of multi-seater aircraft that could connect even the remotest parts of our country by air.
Meanwhile, he is continuing to apply for permissions to get his aircraft air bound. Till they come through, Yadav’s dream will be at home in a hangar in Dhule.
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