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The Aviator: On the wings of a dream, he inspires a community

In the courtyard of a dilapidated house, buried in the bustling bylanes of Bangalore’s largely Muslim JC Nagar, lies a crude microlight...

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore |
August 18, 2005

In the courtyard of a dilapidated house, buried in the bustling bylanes of Bangalore’s largely Muslim JC Nagar, lies a crude microlight aircraft.

On the wings of this aircraft, 24-year-old Muzakkir Mohammed weaved an unbelievable dream for his Urdu-teacher parents and five siblings.

What began as a personal passion to create an ultra-light aircraft landed Muzakkir fame, a formal engineering education and a job at public sector aircraft giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

So what if the aircraft, created from whatever material Muzakkir could afford or lay his hands on, will never fly?

It has propelled aspirations, especially of children in the area’s Muslim schools. Now, Muzakkir Mohammed is often spoken of in the same breath as a Mohammad Kaif or an Irfan Pathan.

Muzakkir’s story goes back to 2001-02, when he failed to clear his twelfth standard math exam. His parents sent him to work on a farm on the outskirts of Bangalore.

During this period, Muzakkir frequented a public library in Bangalore devouring books, including some on aviation.

That’s where he read about a 20 kg American microlight and started dreaming of building one himself—probably even lighter. The idea soon became an obsession.

He smuggled home material for the aircraft—from junkyards, workshops and other places, and began work on it on his terrace, away from the eyes of his parents.

With no one to guide or help him, Muzakkir used the knowledge he had gained from his reading to painstakingly fabricate the aircraft.

Metal pipes from a junkyard formed the chassis, tin drums were beaten into shape to create the fuselage, the wooden propeller was carved out of a Cassia tree at the farm and the engine of his father’s old scooter was salvaged to power the aircraft.

‘‘For long, my family was under the impression that I was not serious about the plane. After it started taking final shape they began worrying. I wanted to test it—but it was the period after 9/11 and my parents said I would get into trouble if the plane flew without permission,’’ says Muzakkir.

‘‘Since childhood he has shown great interest in science, often bringing home experiments taught at school and working on them by himself. We thought the aircraft was another one of his experiments,’’ says his grandfather, Mohammed Hidayathullah.

 
   

Muzakkir wrote to the Aeronautical Society of India about his creation. As news of his exploits spread, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and other agencies showed interest.

The then HAL chairman, N R Mohanty, visited Muzakkir’s house and immediately took a liking to the boy’s work. ‘‘I realised that he has a natural flair for aviation, that he has a fairly high IQ and that poverty alone prevents him from pursuing higher education,’’ says Mohanty.

Mohanty decided that education and employment were necessary to fast track Muzakkir’s talent. So HAL offered to sponsor Muzakkir for an engineering course and gave him a job at their factory.

The Al Ameen Muslim educational Trust also came forward to sponsor his education.

Finally, it was decided that Al Ameen would sponsor his education while HAL would provide him employment.

Muzakkir joined HAL on December 17, 2004 to work on the prestigious Advanced Light Helicopter programme. He also signed up for a mechanical engineering course at the HKBK college in Bangalore last year.

‘‘Muzakkir is very enthusiastic and keen to learn. However his educational foundation is not strong. If he goes through the engineering course it will give him the technical knowledge needed to be a good engineer. He has big dreams but his fundamentals must also be good,’’ says a senior HAL official under whose supervision Muzakkir now works.

With HAL providing him flexible working hours, Muzakkir now spends half his day at work and the other half in college.

‘‘I feel I don’t deserve all I have got. I have to live up to expectations. I want to inspire people to study science,’’ says Muzakkir.

For his family, life has changed. ‘‘Everywhere we go today, we are today known first as Muzakkir’s parents,’’ says his proud father, Mohammed Samiullah.

‘‘In our Urdu schools, teachers now give the examples of cricketers Mohammed Kaif, Irfan Pathan and then Muzakkir to encourage the children to do well,’’ says Sajjida Bhanu, Muzakkir’s aunt and the headmistress of a government Urdu school.

The crude aircraft Muzakkir created still lies in the courtyard of his house. Muzakkir now knows it is unlikely to fly. He also knows that with a proper education behind him he might one day be able to create a microlight that actually flies.

‘‘When I was working on this aircraft I had never heard of composite materials that have made aircraft very light. Now I know how crude my methods were,’’ he says.

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