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Thursday, January 19, 2006

flying carpets to flying coffins

Flying carpets were popularized in the Arabian Nights, Ravana went around in his flying chariots and, it is said that our pilots today zoom around in their flying coffins, the obvious reference being to the MiG-21s. Even though one of our Defense Ministers flew in one of these aero planes and in spite of assurances being given by the Air Chief about the safety aspects of this flying machine, incidents continue to surface that do not appear to be convincing. The controversy over the release of a recent film (on the subject) and the reported crash of a modified MiG-21in the same week makes one wonder whether there is some truth in the allegations.

Yes, it is agreed that these aero planes are of the 60s vintage, and are the backbone of our Air Force. But, it is to be appreciated that even though they were wonder machines when first inducted in service they have been in service for far too long - the phasing out should have been done in time. Once worth their weight in gold, it is doubtful whether they have any scrap value today.

There was a wonderful movie of the 60s titled ‘those magnificent men in their flying machines’. Flying has fascinated us for ages. Ever since we saw the birds and the Greeks Icarus and Daedlous breaking their necks in trying to life off like birds by donning feathers, we longed to view our world from a different perspective. Then came the Jules Verne travelogue of ‘around the world in eighty days’ in a balloon. The flying fever gripped everyone until the Wright brothers really went airborne in that tiny place called Kitty Hawk way back in 1903. The two World Wars followed with aero planes improving their performance depending on the needs of the situation. The wood-fabric triplanes and biplanes made way for the all metal construction. Propeller driven engines were discarded for the more efficient jet engines. Newer versions of flying machines like sea planes, amphibians, helicopters, the VTOL, STOL and the hovercraft entered the market to provide a wider choice to the buyer. Regular air shows projected newer ideas to the flying community. People can today travel around the globe in a few hours. The supersonic Concorde has been withdrawn from active service - it had proved Man’s willingness to forge ahead and harness technology.

But, as in every other field, we Indians invariably wake up late. Let the learned ones finally take the unpleasant decision to ground the outdated aero planes. The sick cannot be kept on life support systems indefinitely. The proper place for coffins is in the graves not in the air.


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