India Air Spectacular

I was asked many years ago if I would be willing to put on a show in Bombay – now called Mumbai – to help out the local aero modelling club. I asked a friend of mine, John Wallington, to come with me.

My contact there was Darius Engineer, who arranged for me to fly one of my models inside the ‘Gateway of India’ to promote the event. This ‘Gateway’ is a monumental arch in Mumbai located on the waterfront, which commemorated the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in December 1911. I believe I am still the only person who has been allowed to do this.

We couldn’t wait for the day of the actual show, but when it came to our surprise there was nobody there. We were told by the organisers that the crowd would start coming within the hour, and that’s what happened.

First, just a trickle of people, and then more and more, until the queue for the entrance stretched as far as the eye could see. On the field itself, wherever you looked there were people behind barriers. We were told that there was a 30km tailback of traffic on the roads waiting to get into the airfield and that they had closed the gates as they couldn’t fit anymore in. This must have been one of the largest crowds I have flown in front of.

I started off with my usual party trick – take off, go into a hover and then fly inverted 60cm above the ground. Then I’d do a couple of pirouettes and fly around. John said “The crowds quiet”. Despite the number of people there, no one was saying a word. There was I doing low inverted passes, stall turns, wingovers, rolls – and yet there was no reaction from the crowd. Then I did a loop and suddenly there was a ‘uhh’ from the crowd. So I did another one and again there was a ‘uhh’ from the crowd. So I thought ok. I asked Darius who was commentating to get the crowd to start counting the loops.

So I started off and the crowd counted in English one, two, three ... Before long the crowd were yelling out the numbers ... nineteen, twenty, twenty-one ... they were really getting into it. As a finale I came across the flight line with a low inverted pass but the crowd went quiet, it was if they were bored. So I pulled up into another loop ‘uhh’ they responded. The only time I could get them to respond was in performing loops and fast climbing pirouettes! For the rest of the day, in the sessions where John and I flew, we just kept to loops, pirouettes and not much else.

During one of these sessions John said that he had a problem - the engine on his helicopter had cut out. I told him to do an autorotation the best he could, which he did, but it landed quite a long distance away. I said to John not to fetch it and that we’d collect it at the end of our session. When the session had ended, we looked down the line for John’s helicopter but couldn’t see it. Then we noticed it being carried over the heads of the crowd – hand over hand, from one person to the next – all the way down the line. It must have gone for at least 500 metres all the way to us and there wasn’t a mark on it. Unbelievable.

During another one of the sessions where I was flying, I noticed a young Indian girl in the VIP enclosure, so I asked Darius to go and ask her if she would like to fly my helicopter. The idea was that the girl would take hold of John’s transmitter (which wasn’t flying anything) and I would be hidden among the other pilots controlling the helicopter that she would be ‘flying’.

The girl was willing to do this so John gave her his transmitter and was telling her what to do over the loudspeaker system. Meanwhile I was actually flying the model, hidden from the crowd so no one would notice. I started off with some gentle hovering and careful, slow circuits.

Then the commentator said “how about a loop and roll”. So the girl starts twiddling the sticks and off goes the helicopter into a loop and a roll. Still the crowd had no idea that it was me flying the helicopter. The crowd went wild as she ‘performed’ each manoeuvre. At the end of the flight, she got a standing ovation - the crowd never did find out.

That was fun. I still keep in contact with Darius.