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A dream come true for those who will never fly

February 2, 2008

gupta-airplane-ndtv.jpgIt can choke one up if one thinks of it. On the other hand, the idea is such a pragmatic one that one wonders why no one thought of it before. I am talking of make-believe rides in make-believe planes. No, not a toy plane prop in a park out of which kids scramble in and out. This is a simulation of the real experience, not in a 3-D movie theatre but in real life.

It’s a real plane with real boarding passes, hostesses, pilots and yeah, landing and take-off announcements and safety demonstrations complete with oxygen masks. There is even a ride on the emergency exit…it’s the real thing…except that this plane doesn’t fly! The ticket is Rs 150/- but it’s free for the poor and they get free food as well. Visitors get an education on how planes work too…here’s a peek.

gupta-airplane-5.jpg

gupta-airplane-4.jpg

This venture is the brain child of a former Indian Airlines flight engineer Bahadur Chand Gupta. He bought the 20-year-old plane five years ago after it was scrapped, transported it to Dwarka (near Delhi) and reassembled it on concrete blocks. The aircraft holds 170 people.

It took Gupta about one and a half years to put the plane together. It doesn’t have one wing and neither does it have a tail, but people flock to it. And interestingly, even up-market schools think it’s a good idea take their kids there for a picnic! Gupta, who got the idea as he himself comes from a village says:

Young people can get a chance to fly today or tomorrow but the old people could be gone without even experiencing a flight…

And all the millions in this country who can never hope to be inside of a plane now have their chance. Even though now India has many low-cost airlines, barely 1-2 percent of Indians have experienced air travel. A sobering thought.

(Acknowledgments: The idea to write about this was sent to me by Vishal.
Photographs have been linked to the originals)

20 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2008 7:52 am

    Goos post Nita and Thanks for yr acknowldgement

  2. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 2, 2008 8:32 am

    Nita,

    It’s very exciting even for those who do fly. On which “real” flight today would you be allowed into the cockpit to interact with the captain, to have a look around, sit in the co-pilot’s seat and, if possible, to tinker with the controls? Terrorism and the security environment have put paid to such pleasures. Among my great teenage memories are those of travelling in a steam locomotive on a short stretch of a train journey, and of spending in the cockpit the entire duration of a one-hour flight between the going off and coming on of the “fasten your seat belts” sign. And I had no uncle network to help these things happen. I was just an unknown but enterprising kid, travelling alone, who had the audacity to ask.

    Can you imagine what today’s kids are missing? Thanks to engineer Gupta, they can at least have an ersatz experience. It would be great if a discarded simulator of the kind used to train pilots were to be harnessed to such a purpose. It would be closer to the real thing.

  3. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 2, 2008 8:49 am

    As a postscript to the above, I have not-so-old memories of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, on more than one Mumbai-Pune and Pune-Mumbai flight, standing in the cockpit, right from take-off to landing, with his hands on the backrests of the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats, his torso bent forward to chat with them and to peer through the windscreen. He was approaching 70 at this time, and had seen quite a bit of the world. But the curious child in him was still alive and well. The Indian Airlines staff at Mumbai and Pune all knew him, and for them he was just a dear friend who also happened to be a VIP.

  4. February 2, 2008 11:26 am

    @ Nita:

    They had this story on BBC a couple of weeks ago.

    You know what was the most striking thing about this? In the UK, a recent survey showed most young teenagers and pre-teens wanted to be “famous” and “rich like Posh Spice”. At the end of _this_ story however, one of the teenagers, who lives in a kachcha house in the slums, and who was experiencing this ride was asked: What do you want to be when you grow up? His answer? “I think I want to be an engineer and a pilot.”

    Aspirations of the youth and the children will make all the difference to a nation’s destiny.

  5. Raj permalink
    February 2, 2008 12:19 pm

    This is a brilliant idea! Hats off to flight engineer B.C.Gupta! It is a model of social enterpreneurship worth emulating by other institutions that train air-hostesses and flight engineers.Thanks for this article.

  6. February 2, 2008 1:14 pm

    Vivek, Shefaly, those aspects you brought out are indeed great benefits of this operation. A great source of inspiration and knowledge for children…btw I always had this desire to slide down an emergency chute…hopefully I’ll get a chance at this makeshift plane and not in real life!
    And Shefaly, while reading about this I discovered that this story was reported widely in the international press. It wasn’t on here at all. At least not in the major newspapers.
    Raj, thanks.

  7. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 2, 2008 1:35 pm

    Nita,

    //…this story was reported widely in the international press. It wasn’t on here at all…//

    Such stories are considered important in our media only if there is a Hindi film star, a cricketer, a model with a degree of notoriety, perhaps a politician, or any kind of glamour person somewhere in the picture.

  8. February 2, 2008 4:20 pm

    i doubt if this trip would be commercially viable, but yes its a wonderful move…. really innovative

  9. February 2, 2008 6:20 pm

    Nita – the first flight I ever took was when I was 12 years old. It was frightening and amazing at the same time. It is the fact of a large conveyance being airborne and of viewing the world from a bird’s point of view that was so astounding. I have only flown in a plane a handful of times since then. It still seems an improbable thing to do, so it must have been wonderful for so many people who never have had the opprtunity to be inside a plane. The marvel of being up in the sky would be driven home if in some way views of their neighbourhood from above could have been made available as they sat in the plane’s body – a kind of “what can we see from up here?” G

  10. February 2, 2008 6:40 pm

    Ankur, I guess the way things are now (no wing or tail and home-made food) it’s not a very good bet. But if some mega corporation takes it over, buys a complete plane and even simulates the flying experience (3D) then money can be made!🙂
    Surburban, I too have not forgotton the awe and joy I felt during my first plane ride. I still feel a part of that thrill when I am flying. The poor must be feeling this far more strongly! While teaching poor children a lesson from their English book about a plane and flying I saw that same awe on their faces and the first question they asked me was Have you ever flown and what was it like? On their faces I saw not just an yearning, but also a kind of sadness….

  11. wishtobeanon permalink
    February 2, 2008 7:04 pm

    Wow, its really commendable of Mr. Gupta! He can serve as a model for entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
    The first person I thought about after reading this was my grandmother. She had always wanted to fly in a plane, but never got a chance nor will she.

  12. Rajesh permalink
    February 2, 2008 7:24 pm

    Its a lovely idea by Mr.Gupta which no one thought about it. Old people will be extremely happy to experience this. It will be good if a big company can take this idea across the country. I am surprised why Indian Media is selective in their content by not highlighting initiatives like this instead they talk a lot about SRK’s six pack abs.

    Thanks Nita ! Vishal ! for this post.

  13. February 3, 2008 9:49 am

    Interesting! And very innovative idea indeed!!

  14. February 3, 2008 11:41 am

    there is a lot of demand for cockpit experience, and a lot of companies r making huge money out of it, but i doubt whether there would be any demand for a simple simulated ride….
    after all a real flight is no longer that expensive

  15. February 3, 2008 9:40 pm

    As a kid I used to drive to the places I read about in books, on a pink blanket with 4 dinner plates as the wheels and my mother’s make-up mirror as the steer.

    Off all my travels I cherish the dinnerplate express the most.

    It’s an abolutely wonderful idea, poor or not poor – flying experience or not, to have a plane on the ground and to see everything upclose (anyone everbeen in the cockpit? not me). Aside from that it’s a bit like Living tale theater, who knows what will go on in the minds of those kids.

    Imagination can take you everywhere and beyond!

  16. February 3, 2008 10:57 pm

    @Vivek: Your idea about flight simulators got me thinking if it might have been a more viable method for Mr. Gupta. However, most flight simulators cost millions of dollars to buy, and considerable moolah to operate as well.

    http://nov.smartt.com/~simflts/pricing.html

    Obviously those rates are with a profit margin etc, but even if you assume the actual cost to be 1/10th, at around Rs. 1200, it wouldn’t be commercially viable!

    @Ankur: Expensive is relative.

  17. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 3, 2008 11:02 pm

    DD,

    I suggested a “discarded” one. And actually if it is to be only for this purpose, I suppose a much cheaper one (with just the visual effects) could be conjured up using already available video-games technology and some help from Google Maps or equivalent.

  18. February 4, 2008 9:18 am

    wishtobeanon, Rajesh, Vasuki, thanks for your appreciation.

    Purnima, you are right, it’s not an experience that only the poor will cherish…it’s something for us all.

  19. February 4, 2008 6:34 pm

    This is a lovely concept, considering that the poor or the lower-middle class gets to know how it is like being inside a plane!

  20. February 21, 2008 1:33 pm

    Hi Nita,

    This information was aired in Australian SBS channel -in a program called “DATELINE”. It was so nice to watch the kids!!

    http://video.sbs.com.au/player/news/index.php?mmid=6241&chid=13

    Hope the link works!!

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