'Don't be scared to try'

'Don't be scared to try'

All eyes turned skywards as the ‘Sarang’ team ascended the skies. The helicopter display team of the Indian Air Force, ‘Sarang’, which means peacock in Sanskrit, is one of the star attractions of Aero India and the pilots are besieged with compliments and requests for selfies from the moment they step onto the ground.

Rajitha Menon caught up with Squadron Leader Shailendra Kumar Singh in the middle of all the rush and asked him about his thrilling career.

A bit about your journey till now...
I was born and brought up in the Air Force; my father was also in this field. Although he was a technician, I used to keep seeing the pilots and always dreamt of becoming one. So after school I went to National Defence Academy and now I am here. It’s been almost 10 years since I joined the Air Force.

Tell us about the ‘Sarang’ team...
When you talk about flying, generally most of the flying is op-oriented; we keep doing some or the other task. ‘Sarang’ gives you an altogether different way of flying. You are not concentrating on any particular task; the aim here is to motivate people and showcase the skill of the Air Force. I joined the team as I wanted a break from normal routine flying and do something different.

How do you get into it?
Interested pilots have to apply for the ‘Sarang’ team and undergo the selection trials. Many pilots come and they are checked for a variety of requirements; mainly their flying skills. When you are flying a single helicopter, you are on your own but here, we are flying quite close to each other so we require a slightly higher degree of flying skills.

What were you thinking the first time you did aerobatics?
To be honest, I was scared because this is something that we are not used to. But as time passed, I kept practising and now I am comfortable with all the stunts.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced after taking up this career?
This is a very demanding profession. At no point can you relax and say ‘It’s ok. I can only do so much today.’ At each and every point of time, your performance has to be up to the mark. The most challenging part is that you have to continuously give your 100%; it actually takes a toll on us. And it is of course a dangerous job. My wife is very scared every time I fly. If I say that I am going to land at this time, she will call at that exactly that time to make sure that I have landed safely.

What is the most common question that people ask you?
Initially it used to be if I am married or not (laughs). Now that I am married, that’s answered quickly. But jokes apart, mostly people ask us how to join the Air Force because they look up to us and it is a good career; not just for the money but the pride involved.

Many Bollywood movies are made about pilots. What is the one thing that is not true?
Most of it is not true. There are a few movies with a bit of authenticity; like there is a scene in ‘Veer Zara’ where they are conducting the rescue operation, which is true. But most of these movies add a lot of masala into the stories. Our life is not as
exciting as they show on the screen.

An advice to the hopefuls?
Don’t be scared to try. Have a carefree attitude when you come here. It doesn’t matter if you get selected or not; life doesn’t end there. But if you are selected, a very good career and a great lifestyle awaits you.

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