Up in the Airhttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/up-in-the-air-8/

Up in the Air

A high school dropout builds and flies a helicopter.

A high school dropout builds and flies a helicopter.

Like any young boy,Pradip Shivaji Mohite dreamed of flying as a child. It was a sleepy life otherwise,in the dusty and tranquil Wangi,a village 80 kms away from Sangli. The only thing that excited him was watching politicians land in their helicopters. He would announce to his friends that he was going to build one himself one day. Unlike other children,Mohite never really forgot his dream,although he went about it in a most unusual fashion.

He lost interest in school and dropped out when he was in class IX. Instead,he followed his father,who used to repair water pumps on the local fields and found he had a natural knack for mechanics. After several years spent taking machines apart and then apprenticing at auto repair shops,the 28-year-old now runs his own tractor repair shop in Wangi. This might seem unglamorous for someone who once claimed he would fly in his own helicopter,but at the recent Aero India 2013 air show in Bangalore,Mohite was the centre of attention,surrounded by international engineers and pilots.

Mohite has been juggling his tractor repair work along with his true passion – helicopters. It took him three years and almost Rs 4 lakh,to build a helicopter from scrap material. He made a demo flight at the air show,and was recognised by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited with the Dhruv Award for Indigenous Talent. “I had almost forgotten my dream; it was at the back of my head. Then one day,I was watching 3 Idiots,and I saw the students flying their remote-controlled model helicopter and thought,‘Why can’t that be me?’,” says Mohite. His passion consumed him and he even told his fiancee that he’d marry her only when he built the helicopter.

The helicopter’s frame is built from scrap rods,while the engine comes from an old Maruti 800. Even the rest of the helicopter is built from junkyard remains — the altimeter and fuel gauge is a revamped odometer from a car,while the propeller blades were cut from scrap metal sheets. As he sits in his garage and works on the chopper,he rattles off terms like air pressure and gear shafts. “I stopped going to school because I was never interested in what they were teaching. I didn’t know that they’d be teaching about flying and machines in higher classes,” he says. But his lack of formal scientific education hasn’t held him back. “I see God in iron and steel. I have always understood these things well,even without education,” he says.

He spent hours studying pictures of helicopters and watched movies with helicopters on loop,till he could get the shape right. He asked other mechanics to explain techniques he didn’t understand. “But every bit of this helicopter has been put together by me,” he says. Mohite is proud of his effort,but knows there is still room to learn and improve. When he flew the helicopter in Bangalore,it stayed in the air for about 10 minutes,before it fell on its side. “The wind was very strong there and I had not kept the wind in my calculations. I need to change the engine so that there will be more power,and then I will change the angle of the propeller so that it is more stable,” he says.

Mohite’s helicopter is being repaired and the dent on its frame is prominently visible.

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“I knew that the helicopter would fall because of the wind,but I really wanted to fly it once,before I got married,” he says with a sheepish smile.