Once A Pilot Always A Pilot
Photo: Courtesy Colonel D C Kakati
I had been airborne for over two hours in the Uttarakhand hills by then.
A pre dawn procedure of ATC and Met brief, followed by preflight medical and squadron briefing just before externals of the Cheetah takes almost over an hour.
And here we were, returning from the Kedarnath shrine and heading towards Badrinath.
After a quick refuelling at Joshmath, I was up in the chilling air.The prevailing density altitude allowed three passengers on board comfortably.
The passengers who flew with me generally felt quite relaxed seeing the message written at the back of my flying helmet which read “Relax. You are in safe hands”.
I don’t know what effect it had on others but it made me breathe easy even at high altitudes.
A quick landing at Sri Hemkund Saheb via Ghagharia.
It’s not for everyone to put the aircraft on the overly tilted helipad there.
One needs great patience and greater flying skill to sit down there without getting the chopper in severe vibrations.
The trick is to go down steadily on collective without flinching and continue to hold off the aircraft while sitting down on slope.
Besides this trick you ought to be a good and experienced Pilot.
A quick visit later, I was up in the air flying over the valley of flowers.
For those whose mountain lore starts and ends with Alpine ranges in Switzerland, need to see this heaven on earth.
Such philosophical valley of Gods.
After few minutes one was planning to make the final approach at Badrinath.
A quick calculation of power required vs power available on the computer, revealed a comfortable reserve of power.
Thanking God for small mercies, I decided put the aircraft on a long approach.
The helipad was clear and the make shift ATC by the Airforce Det covering this VIP visit gave me a rundown on weather.
Six Octas low clouds, winds 11 O’ Clock 10 to 15 knots.Temperatures were down to minus 5 degrees Celsius.
Overall a good day to fly with ample reserve of power.
The excitement in the VIP passengers seem to be building as they could see the Holy Shrine while I approached the helipad.
Helicopter One Niner Seven, the ATC voice crackled on my Socapex.
I promptly responded, calling long finals for landing.
I was asked to continue, yet not cleared to land.
As I approached, the VIP on board desired a 360 degree circle just to have a look see.
The ATC was happy to allow that as we had no reciprocal traffic that day.
I noticed the cumulus build up and knew that it wouldn’t be long before valley closes.
A tight turn to finals later, I called out short finals for Badrinath.
That’s the time I decided to lose height faster than normal, and was committed for a quick landing.
As I landed, the helipad got into a flurry of activity.
The VIP was received with stiff military protocol and was swiftly driven away in those waiting motorcade.
After getting the aircraft refuelled,
I too decided to walk around the helipad.
Its then I noticed a huge crowd intently listening to a dignified looking Baba.
With ash all over him, he sat intently speaking to the crowds in a mesmerising voice.
I noticed that he looked towards me couple of times.
The only person in blue flying overalls with flying patches all over,was difficult to miss anyway.
I listened to his interactions with the locals and finally decided that we needed to leave the valley in time.
As I turned back I heard him say in chaste English.
“Hey Captain, how was the sortie ??”
Bit surprised as he recognised my Captain’s rank and didn’t think me to be an Air Force Pilot !!
Good I said nonchalantly.
“That was quite an approach you made.
A steep one for the prevailing winds.”
It was now my turn to seem shocked..
“Never cross three to four hundred feet of rate of descent here, and next time hit transition early with a relatively flatter approach.
You’d live to be an old Pilot then.
There are no Old and Bold Pilots anyway, either Old or Bold “
I smiled as that’s the best I could do under such circumstances, waived and left.
At Bareilly airbase I recounted this story to my flight Commander, Lt Col GIS Dhodi VrC.
Col Dhodi simply smiled and said.
“The Baba you ran into today has himself commanded a helicopter unit as a decorated Wing Commander and later decided to quit the Air Force and now wanders in the Himalayas.
But seemingly even today he has not given up on his Instructor status and thus his comments on the landing technique in high altitude.
He is an ‘A Master Green ‘ Pilot, and is famous as Pilot Baba in that area “
In my next many sorties I tried to locate him but never saw Pilot Baba again.