Saji Thomas’s ultra-light aircraft Saji X-Air can be used for sports aviation, adventurous aviation and recreation flying
On May 22, Saji Thomas received a call from the Kolkata-based aircraft parts company Arrow aviation. Since he was deaf and dumb by birth, his son Joshua attended the call. The company asked whether Saji was interested in joining them.
Things moved very fast after Saji nodded in the affirmative. An interview was conducted in the company’s Delhi office with the help of an aid.
For Saji, who has built an aircraft on his own, the interview was like a time-pass. He cleared the interview and is now a technician at Arrow Aviation.
A native of Thodupuzha in Kerala (South India), Saji was attracted to aeroplanes and aviation as a child. He was initially inspired by the helicopters that came in to sprinkle pesticides in the rubber plantations in his locality.
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At the age of 14, he got a chance to get into such a helicopter. Seeing the spark in his eyes, the chief pilot let him in the cockpit and shared with him a wealth of knowledge about aircrafts and copters. The pilot also handed him over the addresses of a few aircraft manufacturing companies.
His journey towards the dream of making of an aircraft began there. He travelled to cities like Mumbai, where he visited an aircraft manufacturing company. Employees at the company handed him books about aircraft manufacturing and also helped him buy accessories and body parts.
“I worked hard as a mechanic, an electronic repairer and even as a photographer to earn money to achieve the goal of assembling a helicopter myself. I finally made the frame of a copter successfully, but the cost of engine was a huge problem. So I had to give up my big dream right there,” he narrated his story in his blog.
After a long time, he rekindled his spirit and started to make a light weight aircraft again. And in the year 2000, the first aircraft was ready.
“I got a lot of media attention and they encouraged me to go ahead with my dream project. In 2001, I got a chance to display the first model of my aircraft at a agriculture fest organised by Gandhiji Study Centre in Thodupuzha, whose chief guest was the then Indian President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. I wished to meet him, but due to security reasons my request was rejected. However, he invited me to an air show in Gujarat, where my project received the second prize,” he added.
The model, displayed at the event, was made of aluminium pipes and metal sheets and was assembled in his own house. The single-seater aircraft cost just INR 1.75 lakh (now US$2,600) then and weighed just 200 kg. It was powered by a 26.5 HP Yamaha engine and it needed 6,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) to steer clear in the air.
After years of hard work, he developed a full-fledged aircraft. Named Saji X-Air, this comes under the ultra-light aircraft category and weighs 350kg. It cost him only around INR 11 lakh (US$16,300) as opposed to US$37,000 in the commercial market.
With a 65 HP German-built petrol engine, the aircraft can fly as high as 13,000 feet and consumes 16 litres per hour. The flight can be used for sport aviation, adventurous aviation and recreation flying.
And eventually, he also achieved his long-cherished ambition of flying his own aircraft.
“In 2014, my ambition to fly my own aircraft was achieved. I flew my aircraft at a private flying yard owned by Retired Wing Commander SKJ Nair in Tamil Nadu. I am now trying to acquire a flying permission from the Directorate of General Civil Aviation in India,” he said.
The 45-year-old has also entered the Limca Book of Records for his achievement and was also covered by the Discovery Channel.
“For me, this is not just a hobby, but my profession and life,” Saji concluded.
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