What do Indian Air Force (IAF) daredevil pilots do when they grow old? How do they celebrate their birthdays, especially when they turn 80? Do they still have the courage, will and passion to fly when the age is on their wrong side?
Well, you might just find the right answers in this report! OneIndia was at one of the popular flying spots in Bengaluru to capture a very rare flight of a very special man.
Always found a way to fly whenever possible
Air Vice Marshal Ajit Lamba (Retd) always did something different on his birthdays. This time, on turning 80, he had his flight-plan well in advance.
You are at Jakkur airstrip, on way to the Kempegowda International Airport. It's around 8 am and was definitely one of those days you would still want to hide under a blanket.
The foggy morning skies of Bengaluru did not dent the birthday boy's spirit as he waited in hope. The scheduled take-off at 8.30 had to be deferred, but he was confident that the skies would soon be clear.
Had flown over 100 types of aircraft
"Most birthdays I have flown and my family is well aware of what I am up to. I had initial plans to fly the Hansa of National Aerospace Laboratories, but couldn't get the aircraft on time. I rang up Ashok and he said come over," says Ajit Lamba, who was the former Commandant of Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment of IAF.
And, at the stroke of 10 am, he along with his long-time friend Wg Cdr Ashok Mehta (Retd) took off on their Red Barron X-Air Microlight.
Ajit Lamba is probably among the few pilots of IAF who had flown all types of aircraft. He even owned a microlight named Pegasus, which was a birthday gift from his wife when had turned 70.
"You know I might have flown over 100 different types of aircraft of IAF. Not the latest assets that came in the last couple of years. From fighters, trainers, transport planes and helicopters...Those were great days..." he says, while attending to phone calls from his friends and relatives, who had called to wish him on his birthday.
Sold his plane for want of parking space
"I had to sell that to a friend in Coorg due to lack of parking facility in Bengaluru. So, I flew one day to Coorg and sold it to him," says the veteran pilot.
Even at 80, he keeps his flying licence updated and clears all the mandatory medical tests without fail, as per the DGCA requirements.
Ajit Lamba joined the IAF in 1953 and he was commissioned two years later. He retired in 1991 after serving for 38 years. He has logged over 7000 hours of flying while in service.
Does a touch-and-go at Jakkur
At Jakkur, Ajit Lamba flew for 15 minutes and did one touch-and-go. "On these microlite's you can't do much. It's non-aerobatic. The idea was to get airborne. And, it's very safe up there. Safer than driving," he says.
While in the IAF, he had one ejection from the Gnat and over half-a-dozen engine-off landings.
"I keep praying to God to keep me fit. Flying once in a while, a game of golf, a glass of beer, family, books and travel... What else this old man needs to do?" he laughs, as we wind up the interview session.
I often dream of flying without a plane
He has a word of praise for Tejas as well. "It is a fabulous aircraft. Just that it needs to be produced in large numbers. If I was the IAF Chief, I would have ordered 200 aircraft straightaway," he adds.
He says he has started dreaming often flying without a plane.
"Not sure what that means. But I see these dreams very often. It's a great feeling to fly like a bird. And, I want to keep flying...," says Ajit Lamba, one of the fittest and youngest pilots of Bengaluru.
(Photos: V Jayaprakash)
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. Currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow with University of Mysore, he is a Consulting Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)