If you thought general aviation in India is pretty much dead, you’re partly right.
For the second time, the State Election Commission has employed the services of Meghalaya Paragliding Association to fly low and slow over various cities and towns, flying a banner and dropping pamphlets from the air. The banner and pamphlets carried a message: urging everyone to exercise their right to vote.
Here is a short video that shows you some of the sights and places we enjoyed during our month long campaign at Karnataka. We flew a paramotor trike manufactured by Albatross Flying Systems, Bangalore, and flown by a very skilled pilot: Nikolai Singh, from Meghalaya Paragliding Association.
We flew not just ourselves, but the Deputy Commissioners of various districts, such as Karwar, Belgaum, Koppal, Tumkur, Davangere. We also flew the SP of Police, Tumkur. All flights were with the coordination and support of the local police, government, Air Force, and Air Traffic Control.
Enjoy the 2 minute video!
*SVEEP: Systematic Voters’ Education And Electoral Participation.
This video, this single video, describes in absolute brief what we do, and what we face everyday. We hope to take-off at a designated time, but the winds do not always stand in our favour, making us not fly all our plans. When this video starts, you will see Nikolai explaining to the Deputy Commissioner, Bijapur, why the planned 7:00AM flight around Bijapur did not happen: he was very uncomfortable with the winds. The winds were anything but steady, and were pure crosswinds to the length of the field we hoped to use for takeoff. Wind speeds touched 20km/h, gusting. For the Powered Para Glider, which lacks a rigid wing and cruises at between 40-50km/h airspeed, such winds are anything but comfortable to fly with a trike, passenger, and a non-aerobatic para-gliding wing.
The video shows the windsock, and how it lacked direction, and was inconstant with winds experienced just 100 meters away. We also witnessed a dust-devil which (very hilariously, I must say), Nikolai verbally reacted to. Finally in the evening, when things appeared to be comparatively relaxed, but still turbulent, Nikolai took up in his aircraft his crew member, who had with him a bag full of pamphlets printed by the Election Commission, to drop from the air. Attached to Nikolai’s glide was a banner, with words in Kannada urging people to vote.
The takeoff was a close shave, as Nikolai struggled with the uncooperative winds, which forced him to use the width of the field as opposed to the length. Notice how close the powered para glider came to the football goal post and proximate trees, before climbing out to between 200 and 300ft AGL. Nikolai still had to struggle with gusts in flight!
The highlight of the day was the flight around the Gol-Gumbaz, which was requested by the Chief Election Officer at Bijapur. The Flying Engineer planned the flight, and the result is absolutely fantastic! We have the sky-down and the ground-up shots, and these make the whole day worth it. Absolutely worth the heat, the wait, the hours of disappointment, for an evening shot of the Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur! (The Gol Gumbaz (Persian گل گنبذ Gol Gombadh meaning “rose dome”) has the world’s second largest dome, after St. Peter’s Basilica. The Gol Gumbaz is the mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur, and was completed in the year 1656 AD.)
This kind of flying is absolutely off-beat, with a non-rigid wing, low flying, and an “open” aircraft. The flights (weather permitting), co-ordination, and conduct are absolutely satisfying at the end. What finally brings a smile to us is the crowd, that cheer and look up at the aircraft. In one shot, the whole city or town is abuzz with excitement, while we drop the pamphlets, attaining our goal of effectively reaching out to almost every eligible voter in the most unexpected of ways: from the skies above.
In India, sport flying is difficult to engage in. Security clearances, and associated permits are nothing short of a headache, and a persistent nightmare.
But the scene is entirely different when the Government wants you to fly at their “behest”. The permissions are omnipresent. Questions aren’t asked; rather, requests are entertained, and VIP security provided. The security is needed, and the flying is not only exciting, it is rare, and one of its kind in the country.
The Election Commission is finding more and more innovate ways in which it can grab the attention of those who never vote. To those who have lost faith in the system, innovative ways of wooing voters to the booth are welcome, and helps give the much needed boost to activities that are otherwise sidelined. Such as powered para gliding (PPG).
All the flights conducted by Nikolai’s Meghalaya Paragliding Association are flown with Air Defence Clearances (ADC) and FLight Information Clearances (FIC). At any point of time, the Indian Air Force is always aware of where he is flying, making all his activities more than legal. Further, he is India’s only Paraglider / paramotor pilot to be DGCA recognized.
Enjoy Few Photos of our flying at Karwar beach, and one amazing shot depicting flying over the DC’s Office.
Checking out the beach before he decides to use it for a take off!
Ah! Raw flying, and raw failures, call for raw repairs! Read how we brought a Lynx Headset to lie, overnight, in the midst of hectic flying for the Election Commission! Click HERE, or click on the image above to direct you to the “project”!
We had two: a great flier, and a great machine. I, the third, captured this amazing man and his beautiful machine in action, at Jakkur airfield.
Nikolai Singh runs the Meghalaya Paragliders Association, and he is the only paraglider pilot recognized by the Indian DGCA. He has a quality important for an aviator: He longs to leave the ground, yet knows his limits. He is constantly aware of what’s important, always keeping safety in mind. Rarely does he say, “let’s push it”, and when he says that, he more than knows what he is doing.
Nikolai has done some amazing work for brands such a Coca Cola, Vodafone (and a lot others; I will need to spend a week with him to document the “Chronicles of Nikolai”), and has had the Election Commission as a client many a time. Laser Flying, Projector Flying, Aerial Surveys, Videography: name it, and he’s done it, all with legal permits that he diligently keeps a record of!
Here are some photos (and a video at the end of this photo-entry) capturing what takes place, in brief, before a non-rigid wings takes you to the skies. Preparation is key; safety is paramount; everything else comes much later down the line. Which is why I felt absolutely comfortable and safe flying with him.
Nikolai runs his Cruiser Powered Paraglider (PPG), minus the wing, on the runway, making sure everything is right.
Once satisfied that all’s well, he positions the not-so-heavy Cruiser on the centreline. Honestly speaking, he doesn’t need a runway: he can take off from almost anywhere that satisfies his safety criteria.
His boys help him with the “de-flated” glider wing, securing the strings to the Cruiser. Nikolai checks every tie, to make sure all is in order.
Nikolai gets in, and straps himself in place. He’s checked everything, and knows he can assure his passenger’s safety.
Nik, strapped in, grabs the stings that he plays with. By deforming the wing, he achieves roll, yaw, and aerodynamic braking.
With the sun, and people he trusts behind him, he ensures the strings are free and good.
The non-rigid para-glider wing is actually more like a “biplane”. The ducts between the upper and the lower surface are responsible for the non-rigid wing to inflate and take shape, when sufficient airflow is available. By kick starting the engines, and applying take off power, the wing inflates, and rises. After that, it is sheer skill and experienced timing that ensures the wing remains up and inflated!
With sufficient airspeed and a well controlled wing, Nikolai takes us up, up and away, flying at between 40-50km/h!
Although the winds were significant, making Nikolai cut short the flight, the ride was smooth! One of the most comfortable air rides I’ve ever had, more comfortable and a lot more fun than that in a jetliner!