He was initially not keen on occupying the pilot’s seat, but once he was persuaded to make himself comfortable, he did exactly that, in the Airbus A 320. For a change, pilot Capt. N. Sivaramakrishnan was the co-pilot and took the VIP through the pre-flight procedures that included a quick scan of a dozen gauges before it was time for take-off from the runway at Begumpet Air Force Base.
‘Parking Brakes Off’, the Captain said, guiding his guest and the massive craft started taxiing to the far end of the runway and facing the direction for take-off, the engines started screaming to send the craft speeding down the airstrip.
As the tachometer touched the 140 knots mark (nautical miles), he helped the guest pilot pull the stick back, raising the nose as the wheels left the ground in a 45 degree incline to an altitude of 30,000 feet and using the rudder pedals and bank either to the port (left) of starboard (right), before straightening off on the haul to New Delhi.
That was Union Minister for Civil Aviation, the suave Ashok Gajapathi Raju, during a visit to Air India’s Central Training Establishment, an occasion which he used to familiarise himself with the over Rs. 50-crore A 320 simulator that is used to train pilots.
The VIP spent a couple of hours at the facility, including about 50 minutes in the simulator, going on a make-believe, Hyderabad-Jaipur-New Delhi flight.
Taking off was in ideal conditions, but the landing at the national capital was fly-by-wire, in pitch dark conditions with the Instrument Landing System taking over. Capt. Sivaramakrishna, the man guiding the Minister is General Manager-Operations at Air India and In-charge of CTE.
Interestingly, he has clocked about 19,000 flying hours on the entire range of Airbus aircraft from the A 300, A 319, A 320, A 321 and even the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
For the select few allowed entry into the simulator, it was a flight they would never forget.
An officer sitting on the navigator’s seat behind the pilot quickly punched the touch screen before him, making the craft go through light to moderate and heavy turbulence, through hail and storm, especially a sandstorm. The ‘outsiders’ in the simulator were asked to hang on as it actually took them on a journey that was oh-so-real.