Dhananjay Gokhale | Project Management Mentor
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Balutedar 05 - x-Fighter & x-Commercial Pilot : Sharad Sharma

An amateur's guide to how to fly an aeroplane! By Abhijeet Pendharkar | Based on interview with Captain Sharad Sharma by Dhananjay Gokhale
For DVDs write to gita@dgonline.in

This is a very primitive guide to how to fly an aeroplane. It isn't about flying. For an insight into flying, life & all that, you should read 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' by Richard Bach.

What is an aeroplane?

In its simplest form, an aeroplane is a car fitted with wings. [At least that's what Wright Brothers thought!] It functions as a car when on ground [using thrust of engine exhaust]. And it functions as a flying machine when in air. In air, it has few advantages over a car. You can push it to maximum speed. [There are no traffic police in the air!] You no longer have to worry about road quality. However, you should not ask – how much it gives (mileage).

How do I fly an aeroplane?

To fly an aeroplane, you got to have an aeroplane. Unfortunately, unlike a car, you don't get to buy an aeroplane in your local market. So it's best you use someone else's aeroplane which is either your government or private airline companies. But why would they allow you to fly their aeroplanes? They would only if you are a pilot.

How do I become a pilot?

Becoming a pilot is not that difficult. Deciding to become one is the hardest part. You need to have the craze (passion) developed since child hood. For that you needed to have seen or heard or read about inspiring events such as launch of the first Russian Satellite Sputnik [like Captain Sharma did]. You got to have it in you!

What exactly do I need to have in me?

You mean competencies, ...right? Have you ever travelled in an aeroplane? Do you remember the hollow feeling in your stomach when the aeroplane lifts during takeoff? [It's exactly how one feels when one loses one's ground!] For a passenger, it's purely physiological. But, if you happen to be the pilot, psychology gets to work [...I am on my own from now on... I won't be getting a second chance, if something goes wrong... I have so many people on board...] Do you know what it takes to live in constant danger & be responsible for other people's lives at the same time? Timeless qualities - bravado, discipline, dedication, keenness, precision, determination, never-let-go attitude, and ability to think & decide within flash of a moment. It's no wonder many aeroplane pilots (& ship captains) exhibit mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder about being neat, tidy & perfect in whatever they do.

What type of pilot can I become?

How does flying an aeroplane compare with a project?

Airline companies run operations. However, every scheduled flight of theirs can be treated as a project. It's unique [You can't be on two aeroplanes at the same time!]. It's temporary [You wouldn't want to be hanging around in air permanently!]. It has a definite start & definite end [Whatever goes up, has to come down!].

How do I go about initiating a flight?

Have you heard about the term 'chartered flight'? It's Airline Industry's way of chartering a project. Having a charter means having objectives! For example, if you want to fly a military air craft, your objective could be photo recon. [Photo recon is an innovative way of using 'Observations/Job Shadowing' technique to 'Collect Requirements'. All you got to do is to record what enemy is doing in their business environment & feed it to your strike team. Only difficulty is you are collecting requirements from some extremely resistant stakeholders (enemy)!]. On the other hand, if you are flying a commercial plane, your objective could be to carry cargo/people. Aeroplane flying is too expensive to do without a purpose (unless of course you are stinking rich!).

How do I go about planning a flight?

You can't (& should never) do it on your own! You have to work closely with Flight Dispatchers (project planners). Together you have to work out a plan for all Enterprise Environmental Factors (weather, routes, backup routes, runway logistics, fuel saving strategies etc). Please remember! You have to get all your concerns sorted out before you take-off. It may be too late to raise a change request once you are in air.

How do I go about execution (actual flying)?

You start with a kick off meeting with Flight Dispatchers. [It's called kick off meeting because you get kicked off if you have consumed alcohol!]. Then you proceed to your aeroplane via security check (same as passengers). You get 15 minutes before push back (time when you contact Air Traffic Control for clearance) to get into execution mind set. You have to brief co-pilot & cabin crew. [Airline Industry respects hierarchy. Then you have to setup on board computer & run through an exhaustive checklist [It's a process of identifying risks using Checklist Analysis!]. Then you wait for ATC clearance & passengers, luggage loading. After ATC clearance, the final go / no-go decision rests with you (as pilot) [and you get only 2 seconds to decide!].

How do I go about Monitoring & Control?

This is where Auto Pilot helps. You setup your on-board-computer such that it gets your aeroplane ready to operate in the performing stage (like team development). Then you delegate responsibility to the Auto Pilot. Now-a-days, Auto Pilots are so capable that they can handle take-off, cruising in air as well as landing. [Wish PMBOK6 includes Auto Pilot as a tool in 4.3 Direct & Manage Execution!] This means more free time for you! [You are not supposed to spend this free time engaging in behaviour that can be construed as unethical!] You are expected to utilize this free time for monitoring & control in coordination with Flight Dispatch & ATC.

What is the difference between flying a fighter plane, a commercial plane & an air-show plane?

According to our SME (Captain Sharma), there is no difference as far as take-off & landing are concerned. The difference is in what you do in between. [The difference is also in what could happen to you & your aircraft in between!]. Air show planes as well as fighter planes always fly in well rehearsed, precise formations. In air show formation, every team member blindly follows the leader. If leader goes down, whole team goes down. In fighter planes formation, team members have to watch each other's back. Air show planes are slow because their audience must be able to see what they are doing. Fighter planes are supersonic because their audience (enemy) must not be able to see what they are doing. Air show formation is expected to be a fun for audience. Fighter planes formation is expected to be a nightmare for audience (enemy). In contrast, a commercial flight is solo & their passengers usually don't like being part of acrobatic manoeuvres.

How do I go about closing (landing)?

The closure could be either by extinction (if you land safely) or by (dis) integration (if you crash) or by starvation (if you run out of fuel in mid air)!

Can you share Mr & Mrs Sharma's war experiences?

If these words - "Tactical formation", "Operational significance", "Lethal range of strategic missiles", "Electronic warfare" & "Well defended targets" – excite you and if you want to experience whatever you have seen only in movies coming alive, then you got to hear (& see) it from the horse's mouth. You must watch Balutedar DVD.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) by audience?

Q. What is your take on recent incident with Malaysian Aeroplane?
A. It's really puzzling. These days, commercial aeroplanes are fitted with state of the art on board communication systems. There is the radio. There is secondary radar called transponder which constantly transmits current position of aircraft. And there is ACars – a data link that continuously transmits Work Performance Data via satellite channels. [This mishap is a real life example of lack of communication leading to project failure. It has left large number of stakeholders disappointed & dissatisfied, (some of them disappeared).]
Q. Can we expect unmanned aircrafts in future?
A. (With technology advent), World is definitely moving towards unmanned aircrafts. As of now, its use is limited to military applications such as UAVs, cruise missiles. In civil aviation, can passengers be willing to sit in an aeroplane with no pilot?
Q. Do aircrafts from different manufacturers differ?
A. A lot. For example, in British Hunter fighters (European), all switches are up where as in MIG fighters (Russian), all switches are down. Same is the case with commercial aircrafts (Boeing, Airbus etc). It takes quite a bit of effort (re-training, un-learning) to switch.
Q. (To Mrs Sharma) Do you get free tickets when you travel?
A. Yes, either free tickets or concessions! But there is always a risk of being offloaded (if seats are not available). But getting to travel in the cockpit with Captain Sharma was the most exciting experience.