Make your place in the space

CAREER

SKY IS THE LIMIT: What can be more exciting than breaking the barriers of space, gravity, speed and traversing the vast expanse of the universe? Dh File Photo

The Wright Brothers flew a couple of minutes in the sky a century ago. Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon 40 years back and said: “One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind. A quarter century has passed since Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma went into space and told Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that from up there India looked “Saarey jahan se achha” (better than the whole world).

A few years ago, our missile man former president Abdul Kalam dreamt of India becoming the super power in 2020. And already Government of India has taken the first crucial steps towards ‘Chandrayaan’, our very own spacecraft that will reach the moon.

No wonder then that many of you may be dreaming of becoming a Rakesh Sharma or a Sunita Williams. What can be more exciting than becoming an astronaut, and breaking the barriers of space, gravity, speed and traversing the vast expanse of the universe? Is it possible? Yes. Is it easy? No.

Just like every gigantic project starts with meticulous planning years ahead, you need to plan with determination and dedication if you hope to be up there one day. Let’s start with understanding what are the different types of vocations that a person interested in aeronautics or aerospace, can take up.  You can become a civil pilot, a military pilot, an air traffic controller, an aeronautical engineer, a designer, an astronomer, or a travel & tourism professional.  And yes, eventually you can also become an astronaut!

The First Steps:
It is needless to emphasise on the fact that you have to be a good student, excelling all-round and being above your peer competition. Millions aspire to be in the skies, but only a few actually make it. Start improving your academics, concentration, attention-span, memory, analytical and mathe-logical thinking.  Ensure that you are good not only in Math and Physics, but also in Geography.

Reaching the sky is hard work. Before you rush in only for the glamour value, find out what life in the aeronautical sector entails. For example you can get very detailed information of space missions at www.history.nasa.gov and www.isro.org. When you finish schooling, you need to take up Science subjects at the +2 level. Biology is not needed, but other science subjects are essential.  If you complete your 12th with a distinction, you are on your way…

Choice of Careers

Military Pilot:
You then have the option of preparing for and attempting the NDA entrance exam held by Union Public Service Commission (see www.upsc.gov.in  and www.careerairforce.nic.in) twice a year, eligibility being a first class pass in +2 with Math and Physics.

Keep in mind that only the best of candidates selected for NDA eventually get into the Indian Air Force, and the most selected of them get to be helicopter, transport or fighter plane pilots. If selected, the government bears the expenditure of your pilot training and gives you a salary – but you are committed to serve the military.

This is perhaps the most patriotic way of aiming for the sky. Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma was one such Air Force pilot who was selected to fly in the Russian space shuttle.  After coming back he was promoted as a Wing Commander, and then left Air Force to become a test pilot with HAL.

Civil Pilot:
If you have the financial resources, you can take up pilot training after your 12th, either in India or abroad. The cost is anything upwards of Rs 20 or 25 lakh.

You go through the theory to get a Student Pilot Licence (SPL), then fly 60 hours to get a Private Pilot Licence (PPL, with which you can fly an aircraft but cannot pursue a career as a paid pilot), and then on to the CPL (Commercial Pilot Licence). This whole process will take a minimum of one year, quite possibly much longer. And this has only brought you to the base level as a flier. 

You need to upgrade yourself to multi-engine, night flying, jet aircraft flying, etc., and then you move up the ladder to become a Commander or Captain of a commercial airline.

The demand for commercial pilots wavers every few years – at times there is a shortage and tremendous demand, and at other times many pilots are unemployed.  Also, you need to keep yourself physically fit all the time, with six monthly medical tests.

Helicopter pilot:
Another avenue not very well known is that of becoming a helicopter pilot.  You may opt for the Air Force, Navy or Army (all three branches of the military have pilots, and even para-military forces like Border Security Force recruit them). Alternatively you may train yourself to get a CHPL (a helicopter is known as rotary wing aircraft, as compared to fixed-wing aeroplanes).

HAL Bangalore has a training school which is perhaps one of the most economical in India, and it is open to civilians. See their website www.hal-india.com/ helicopter/ trainingacademy.asp or call them on 080- 25221750, 25236003.

Equally important professionals in the aeronautical and aerospace sector are:
Aeronautical engineers: They are not only those who have studied aero engineering, but also electronics, instrumentation, telecommunication, computer science engineers, who design, manufacture, maintain and certify various aircraft, both military and civilian.

Aeronautical engineering at the degree level is offered by the IITs, NITs, prestigious institutions like Madras Engineering College etc., and by three colleges in Karnataka (which have begun recently).

Navigators:
The Indian Air Force recruits officers as Navigators who fly with the pilot and guide him in directions, weather conditions, enemy targets.  Modern aircraft, with increased instrumentation, do not require navigators.

Air Traffic Controllers:
Both Air Force and civilian, play an important role in managing the take-off, landing, and movement of aircraft through the highly computerized radars on the watch-towers of every airport.

Aircraft Maintenance Engineers:
Those who have done a three year AME diploma are the ones who do the day-to-day servicing, maintenance and check-ups of aircraft.

Space Research:
Organisations like Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), BEL, etc. require a plethora of engineers and designers from various branches to boost their research and development work. 

ISRO is spearheading India’s first Moon Mission, Chandrayaan-1 and is aiming to send a human into space within the next ten years.  It has centres all over the country, and recruits engineers through its own entrance exams. The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, a deemed University of Government of India, Thiruvananthapuram, offers a B.Tech. in Avionics, Aerospace Engineering and Physical Sciences (www.iist.ac.in, phone: 0471-2563463)

Corporate Aeronautical Services:
Many private companies in India and abroad are doing extensive developmental work for the aero sector.  They include Boeing, Airbus, Alpha Technologies, Infosys, Wipro, Bombardier, etc., and they recruit personnel from all fields to make the composite management teams.

Air Transport Management:
NALSAR University of Law, offers a one-year PG Diploma in Aviation Law and Air Transport Management at Bangalore, open to graduates from various fields (www.nalsar.ac.in, email: pgdalatm@gmail.com Phone: 09495991992)
As you can see, the field is wide open, challenging, and adventurous.  Every one of the above professionals contributes significantly to the flight of an aircraft or space-craft.  However, the glamour is in the ultimate job, and that is to become an astronaut.

Astronaut:
There are no career astronauts, at least at present.  Hence, saying that “I want to make a career as an astronaut” is not absolutely correct.  You can make a career as an aviator, as an Air Force officer, as an aerospace engineer, or as any other professional in the aeronautics sector.  Once you are in it, you may look for opportunities to actually fly in a spaceship.  Chadrayan-1 has begun with unmanned flights, and though there are minor glitches, is likely to eventually send astronauts in space in the years to come.  Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams have already been in space through NASA. 

The universe is expanding, and so is the aerospace industry. Contribute towards its development, and one day it will take you up in the skies... literally!

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