A transport pilot is a flying officer in the Indian Air force (IAF) who carries cargo, arms, food supplies and people from one Air Force station to another. These pilots play a very crucial role in peace as well as war. They are the lifeline of air force logistics.
What do they do?
It’s hard to be civilian again, believes RK Sharma, who retired as group captain from the Indian Air force’s (IAF’s) transport wing last year. Having changed 14 stations in the 30 years of his service, he says he was always at home in the forces. It’s being a civilian now, living in his apartment in Dwarka, Delhi, that makes him feel “totally out of place.”
“Wherever I was posted, our new neighbours used to ask us for tea and sometimes meals for at least a week. But it doesn’t happen in civilian life,” says Sharma.
Now, he can’t turn the clock back, but tries to relive those good old days by waxing eloquent on flying over the picturesque valleys of Kashmir and the wilderness of Leh. “A transport pilot plays a very important role by delivering supplies and equipment to various IAF stations. We have delivered food items to our bases in mountainous terrains where it takes days to reach by road,” he adds.
Yes, it’s exciting. “One doesn’t keep doing the same thing. When I was commissioned as a young officer at the age of 21, I used to carry supplies over Assam and its neighbouring areas. Later, I underwent six months’ training before wearing an instructor’s hat and trained several batches of transport pilots. This assignment was followed by a new role of an examiner who oversees the annual flying tests which every officer must pass. After that, when I was a senior ranking officer, I was given the entire transport squadron to command,” he says.
Transport pilots also double up as administrators for the forces. Apart from their flying duties, they have to manage units such as ‘messes, etc.
If you compare a transport pilot with his counterparts in other wings, then the fighter pilot gets the best deal. “They get preference at the time of promotions to the senior positions when pilots from all the wings vie to reach the top slots. As a matter of fact, fighter pilots stand better chances to get promoted,” says group captain (retired) PS Arora.
But that’s because of the higher risks the fighter guys face and everyone accepts that. For Sharma, the service offered him multiple opportunities to showcase his skills. “Even if I didn’t fly fighter aircraft, I did my share of daredevilry when I flew a Dornier 228 plane at a height of more than 25,000 feet while it doesn’t go above 15,000 feet in normal circumstances,” he says.
Unlike in the commercial aviation industry, there are no simulators in the IAF, and the entire flying takes place in real time. But when it comes to preparing for wars, the IAF switches to mock situations. Every year, it puts transport pilots in war-like situations and the best performing team is felicitated by the chief of air staff with the title ‘Best Transport Squadron’, which is an honour one cherishes.
As a transport pilot, one must make provisions for one’s second career because the retirement age is determined on the basis of rank. You retire at 54 if you are a group captain and it increases by two subsequent years with each level you ascend. Re-starting a career at 54 is fraught with risks which is why many officers quit at the age of 50 or before and join a private carrier where they can be paid four times more. However, “irrespective of the money, a private job can never give the same quantum of pleasure which a defence job gives. It’s an incredible experience to fly for the defence of the nation,” says Sharma.
. Profound passion to fly
. Tech savvy
. Daredevilry is imperative and one must always be ready to take up new challenges
. Leadership qualities are important. These come in handy when one rises up to command a squadron.
. Besides the right aptitude, you have to meet the physical criteria.
For details, visit http://careerairforce.nic.in/career_opp/caropp_officer_phystd.html
How do I get there?
There are overall four entry points to become a pilot in the IAF: three in permanent commission and one in temporary commission. They are as follows:
National Defence Academy (NDA): It is meant for 10+2-pass candidates who have studied physics and maths in Class 12.
Combined Defence Services Exam (CDSE): It is meant for graduates who studied physics and maths at the 10+2 level.
NCC entry: It is open only for first-class graduates who studied physics and maths at the 10+2 level and who possess senior division air wing NCC ‘C’ certificates.
Short service commission entry: It is open for first-class graduates who studied physics and maths at 10+2 level.
Note: Women can enter through the short service commission only. The maximum age to apply is 23 in all the above categories, except in the NDA where the upper limit is 19 years.