“There’s a famous joke that goes around among helicopter pilots all over the world – which says — When you fly helicopters, one thing is sure to go missing. Either the helicopter, the clouds or the mountains! Flying choppers is an extremely challenging task if the weather is against you. I salute all the pilots who are on various life-saving missions in Uttarakhand and other regions hit by floods,” Air Chief Marshal (retd) F H Major, took off in his inimitable style, while speaking to City Express, on Wednesday.
He was responding to queries from CE on the challenges being faced by pilots while undertaking rescue missions under extreme conditions. “I know the area very well and I have flown there extensively. One moment the sky appears and next moment it is gone. All-weather helicopters are fine for flying in the plains, but it is a different story when it comes to terrains that are very hostile during unpredictable weather,” Major, who was the first helicopter pilot to become the IAF boss, said. He was all praise for the pilots who were determined to save the lives of people, stuck at Char Dham. “I have flown in these terrains on Mi-8s, Mi-17s, Cheetahs and the like. You need to be extremely careful about the weather. When you are doing rescue operations, your job becomes more difficult. As a pilot you will have to take some calculated risks. You can't really predict what will be going through the minds of a pilot. This is undoubtedly the largest rescue operation undertaken by the Indian Air Force (IAF)," Major said.
Echoing his sentiments was Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Ajit Lamba, Bangalore's most popular Test pilot. "These are war-like conditions and the pilots from the IAF and the Army are doing an outstanding job. The weather is so bad and every time you will have to launch calculated missions. We have never seen rescue missions of this scale in the recent past and the pilots are the heroes, considering the risk they undertake," Lamba said.
The national media has also hailed the role played by Bangalore-bred Dhruv copters, which finally has got its due recognition. “It's heartwarming to see that the Dhruvs are on life-saving missions in large numbers. I am delighted that the capabilities of Dhruv under extreme unfriendly conditions have proven yet again. This is great news for all those who believed in the capabilities of Dhruv,” says Wg Cdr (retd) C D Upadhyay, another chopper pilot from city and former Chief Test Pilot (CTP) of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
Group Capt (retd) Baljit Singh Chhokar, who was the CTP of HAL for 20 years (1982-2002), told CE that with marginal weather, the pilots have to take split-second decisions. “I have undertaken similar missions. Under hostile conditions, the copter will be at its limits of performance. It's unfortunate that a we had a fatal accident (Mi-17 V5 crash). I am proud of all the pilots," said Chokkar.