(Self-written account by Wg Cdr KT Sudhir (Retd.), the first ever formally trained FTE in India)
After completing my flying training in June 1970, I was posted to Jamnagar. I had gone home on annual leave and got back to the base in mid-June 1971 with my wife and 2-month old daughter. The first thing I was told at the railway station was that I was attached to Air Headquarters for 3 months with immediate effect. I wanted to get it canceled but I was told there was something else behind it. So I drove to Delhi with my wife and daughter. Flt. Lt Bhatia of my unit and his family were also with us in the car. A tough drive in the summer.
French Language Classes. When I reported to Air HQ, I was detailed to attend French language classes along with 3 others in preparation for the course at EPNER, France. I came to know about the course only then. Sqn Ldr Mascaranas was our instructor. He was good at it. By the end of 3 months we could read French well and could also write, though not very fast. We didn’t get much chance to speak. The course was over by mid-September. The case-file for EPNER course was still with MoD. So we were told to go back to the unit and wait for further orders.
All the way to EPNER. The course at EPNER was to start on Monday 11th Oct 1971. On 8th October, Friday, at about 8 pm, I got a message that I was to report to AirHQ on 9th morning for briefing and other paper-work. An aircraft flying from Bangalore to Palam was being diverted via Jamnagar to pick me up. So I hurriedly made arrangements for my wife and daughter to fly to Cochin and packed my bags and got ready by 9 am. However, the aircraft did not turn up till late in the evening and so I got a chance to see off my wife and daughter. I finally reached Palam by 10 pm and went to sleep. In the meantime, Rajkumar (who retired as Air Marshal, who spent most of his service after the course in jobs connected with development and testing of aircraft and systems) who was based at Ambala had reached Air HQ in time and did all the necessary paper-work for me also and I caught the flight on Sunday (10th) night along with Raj Kumar without showing my face at the Air HQ. We reached Paris on 11th October and reported to the Embassy. After collecting the necessary papers we got a night train to Istre and reported to EPNER on 12th morning a day late and so missed all the activities of the 1st day of the course.
Recollection of The Flight Test Course. I did the course nearly 50 years back and find it difficult to remember much about the course. An effort made by going through my notes also failed because I have almost forgotten all my French.We were given accommodation in the Officers’ Mess within walking distance from the school. The stay was comfortable. We used to have breakfast and lunch in the school canteen and dinner in the Officers’ Mess,often sitting in the bar and ordering snacks. We used to go out on most Sundays and have our lunch outside. Both of us underwent the medical test and were found fit for flying. The classes started in earnest from the day we joined. Initially I had problems listening to the lecture and taking notes. So I had to sit late with the textbook and the dictionary to understand what was taught in the class. In about 3 months, I could follow what was being taught, but note-taking was still difficult. So I had to continue with the textbook and dictionary almost to the end of the course. Saturdays were free and we could catch upon any backlog, write letters and go for walks and once in a while for a movie. We were 11 teams (total 27 people). We had trainees from England (1), Germany (1), South Africa (1) and Italy (3). Since all of them knew English, communication was not a problem. The Instrument Technician of our team (Mark Guyard) was from CEV only. He was a great help in dealing with the staff and clearing doubts. My project work was on the Ground Effect on Aircraft Landing. The aircraft used was Mirage IIIB. Rajkumar made several roller landings and take-offs. The whole landing run was caught on film by automatic cameras located all along the side of the runway. The speed, angle of attack, control surface position, etc. were recorded, analysed, tabulated and given to me for further study. The Thesis was presented before the trainees and some of the staff members in French. I have no clear memories of the course done nearly 50 years back. But two sorties we flew remain in my memory. One was a flight in a BeachCraft, in which we entered clouds 100AGL and did not see anything outside the cockpit till we reached 100 AGL on our final approach. The other was the awe I felt when just 2 of us walked into the huge C260 aircraft which Rajkumar was flying for the first time and assessing without anybody from the school accompanying us to the aircraft.
Tenure as FTE. We came back to India on 10th July 1972 and after debriefing at AirHQ reported to A&ATU located at Kanpur. The unit was commanded by Gp Cpt Bhargava. My first job was to conduct some classes for 2 batche sof AE(M) officers and assess them for the suitability for EPNER course, one batch in July 72 and one in August 72. Out of these Sqn Ldr Badrinarayanan attended the 1973-74 course and Flt Lt Sridhar attended the 1974-75 course. My first job as a Flight Test Engineer was where MIG 21M was being assessed for climb performance and ceiling. Sqn Ldr Krishnaswami (who retired as CAS) and Sqn Ldr Philip Rajkumar were doing the flying. I used to sit in the ATC in contact with the pilot and keep monitoring the fuel contents of the aircraft at regular intervals and tell the pilot who was trying to assess the ceiling when to start the descent so as to make a safe landing and switch off the aircraft on the tarmac with minimum fuel left (usually with less than 100 kg) in the tank. During this period Wg Cdr Ashok from HAL came to Kanpur and wanted to participate in the testing. I offered to sit in the ATC and give him necessary information by RT but he said he was not used to that system. When he got back he found that he could climb up only upto a ceiling 3000 feet below the level achieved by the other two. After discussions, he asked me to stay in the ATC and help him. When he got back from the sortie he was happy with the result and agreed that the French system of teamwork was superior. At that time hydraulic system trials on the Ajeet aircraft was going on at HAL. I used to take part in the discussions of the flight test results during my visit to HAL. My 4 year’s experience in Gnats came very useful. In addition to my duties as OI/C TSS, I used to take classes for the ETPS students on Aerodynamics, Engines and aircraft structure. When I was about to start teaching ‘Longitudinal Stability’ one pilot put both his hands on his forehead and and said “Oh,Mathematics”. So I did not start the subject that day. I told them I will teach them without Mathematics. My knowledge of aerodynamics as a pilot and test engineer helped me keep my promise. At the end of the next class, when they had understood the subject and were happy I asked them to spare me 10 minutes. After writing down the formula on the board, I explained each term and they could follow. I took more than 3 hours to explain the concept without mathematics and only 10 minutes with the help of the equation. Next day when I started the ‘Lateral Stability’, the same student got up and said, “Let us try the equation first.”The Packet aircraft were flying with jet pack fitted on the top of the fuselage using AFT. It was decided to try JP4 fuel for the jet packs. The trials were being carried out at Agra. Sqn Ldr K. K. Nair (retired as Air Marshal) was the captain of the aircraft for all sorties and I was the test engineer. We started the flying trials with an empty aircraft, climbed upto20,000 feet AGL and cut one of the two propeller engines. Then we studied the behaviour of the aircraft. The trials were repeated at various levels getting down to 3000 feet AGL. The sortie was repeated with increasing loads in stages. On the 7th sortie the aircraft was loaded with a loaded jeep which was to be dropped at a far location. On the way, the trials were carried out, the load dropped and we got back to base. During all the sorties, trials were conducted at various heights and various load conditions and the aircraft flew without any problem. The rate of descent at full load, even at 20,000 feet, with one engine off was found to be within limits. The trials were a success. In 1974, Sqn Ldr Badrinarayanan completed his training in EPNER and was posted to ASTE. To make vacancy available for him, I was posted to AFTC. That was the end of my career as a test engineer.
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