A life less ordinary

A life less ordinary

Ashit Mehta's life is the stuff legends are made of. The decorated war hero has had an adventurous life in the course of a long and glorious career with the Air Force - he has flown nearly 25 types of aeroplanes and has an impressive 4000 hours in the cockpit. His unit had done nearly 30% of the missions in the Kargil war and got nearly 6 gallantry awards.

The veteran spoke to Rajitha Menon about his life in the forces and what a career in the defence service entails.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I finished my graduation and got a Masters degree from King’s College in London in defence studies. Then I  joined the Air Force way back in the 1980s. I flew for the Air Force for about 32 years and then quit prematurely in 2012 on my own wish as an air commodore. It's been an exciting journey. I have lived in 29 houses over a period of 32 years so you can imagine the rest...

Could you elaborate on  your role here...?
Now I work for BAE Systems. The role that I play here is to identify the needs of the Air Force from my past experience and what would be their future needs. Aviation is a field where things can’t be done overnight; the gestation period is very long. So we have to anticipate almost 10 years into the future.

What are you working on right now?
The advanced Hawk, which is a derived version of the Hawk 132 that the Air Force has. The number of planes we have right now is not sufficient and the Air Force is forever struggling to fill the gap. One of the problems is that technology in aviation changes every few years and we can’t keep pace with all that. This aeroplane that we have developed can be utilised to mirror the cockpit of the newer models so that the pilots get the experience to fly those. It's a reconfigurable cockpit and will reduce expenses and time taken to achieve operational status for fighter pilots and will also provide a safer environment.

Which part of the country do you hail from?
Mumbai by birth but now I am a  typical Indian. I have been all over the country and we are taught to see the entire country as our hometown. Our religion is the military. We belong to nowhere and to everywhere.

The requisites for a fighter pilot?
You need an attitude to be able to take life as it comes, to be able to face everything with a positive outlook. Quick decision making and a certain amount of fitness is required because it is a physically demanding job; sometimes we fly up to six sorties a day.  It’s amazingly stressed job when you are in the cockpit but every night you will sleep peacefully- very tired yet happy.

Most memorable moment?
Two of them. When we succeeded in the Kargill war and my unit did very well. For a fighter pilot to be able to fight a war and make a difference  to the nation is a trophy for a lifetime. Secondly, I was the team leader for a Mig-27 upgrade, another indigenous development programme of DRDO. That aircraft has been doing exceptionally well.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in this job?
I haven't really faced any challenges . The Air Force is a fantastic environment, you feel at home anywhere you go. I know how to live in a tent in the course of the job which has also made me live in five star accommodations around the world.
In fact, what we see in the Air Force today is much better than in the 80s and the 90s; the pay is better, the work is better, even the life is better.

What do you feel about the popularity of the defence  services as an occupation among the youngsters?
It’s a little bit contradictory- the people who should be actually interested in defence services are not. The aircraftcost Rs 500-600 crore a piece; you need to make sure that the guy sitting in the cockpit is absolutely fit to be there.

Unfortunately, the boys in the cities are not really interested in this job. The ones from the tier two and three cities are more up for the job. I am not against that, everyone is equally deserving. Just that their outlook is limited, they are not exposed to the world. So when the need arises, he may not be able to think like a person with better communication and adaptability skills.

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