March 5, 2011

INDIA: Aeromodeller Ashok Bhole's flight of imagination

PUNE, Maharashtra / Harmony Magazine - Celebrate Age / March Edition / March 5, 2011

Flight of imagination

Aeromodeller Ashok Bhole takes you on a miniature flight

By Nina Dinshaw

“If I don’t see my models, I can’t eat,” says Ashok Bhole, a self-confessed “madcap” when it comes to his hobby of aeromodelling. Though these may appear words uttered in jest, you just need to visit the 63 year-old’s three-bedroom flat in Pune to see what he means. There is one room entirely devoted to the hundreds of aircraft models Bhole has built over the years.

“He cannot be disturbed when he is in that room,” says his wife Minal with a serene smile.

Till he retired five years ago, Bhole was an aeromodelling instructor in the National Cadet Corps' Air Wing, Maharashtra, where he taught cadets the basic principles and mechanics of flight, including how to make, balance, trim and fly small aeroplanes. Retirement, though, did not spell the end of his love affair with aero models; it fuelled it further. Today, Bhole spends long hours every day slaving over sleek, remote-controlled aircraft.

Bhole has been fascinated with flying as long as he can remember. In his youth, he was keen to join the Air Force but was not successful. Not one to be discouraged, he enrolled at Hadapsar Gliding Centre in Pune to learn hang gliding and parasailing. Later, he learnt aeromodelling from the NCC Air Wing in Pune and the Society of Model Aeronautical Engineers in Kolkata, and then joined as an instructor at the NCC Air Wing.

Bhole has hundreds of model aircraft in his collection, including distinguished ones like the R/C airplanes and helicopters, Ornithopter and Black Horse varieties. He can fashion a basic model in a few hours; the more advanced ones like free flight gliders take up to a couple of months. Though it may sound like a rare hobby, surprisingly, Bhole sources his materials from regular hobby shops; everything from batteries and chargers, engines, radios, propellers, gas engines, gear boxes and tools.

Bhole’s hobby is no longer a fanciful indulgence. Recently, he was approached by the Indian Army to help resolve the Naxal problem through aircraft surveillance. He now teaches officers to operate unnamed air vehicles (UAVs) and remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) through enemy territories. UAVs and RPVs are advanced aircraft steered by remote control and equipped with high-end circuitry. Unlike aeromodelling where you can see the planes, here operators cannot see the aircraft as they fly away to a distance of 100 km.

The eccentric genius cannot fathom why more people are not fascinated by aeronautics.

“In our syllabus, there’s not even a passing mention on building and flying airplanes,” rues Bhole.

“I find that strange, considering each one of us, whether young or old, cannot resist looking up to the sky the moment we hear an airplane.

"This proves all of us are curious about planes.

"That’s why I want to propagate awareness about aeromodelling.”

Source: Harmony The Magazine, March 2011