Isn't it incredible to know that a school drop-out, who can't hear or talk by birth, has built an aircraft from scratch, all by himself! Mr Saji Thomas, who braved all odds and achieved this feat, was the winner of the ‘Prodigious Engineer’ award at the inaugural edition of the K!arnival Awards at Kurukshetra'17. Hailing from Thodupuzha in Kerala, he is a legend among the physically-challenged. The Malayalam movie Vimanam, starring Prithviraj, which is under production now, is based on his life-story. Humble and down-to-earth, Mr Saji, shared his inspiring journey with The Guindy Times. Here is an excerpt from the exclusive interview:
GT: You are being honoured by one of the premier engineering colleges in the country and you have achieved this without any formal education. How does it feel to be here?
I wasn't recognised and appreciated much during childhood for my innovations. The small models of cars that I built didn't intrigue many. It's awesome to step into the limelight finally. I am extremely honoured and delighted to be here.
GT: What motivated you to build an aircraft?
As a teenager, I was fascinated by helicopters that spray insecticides on the rubber plantations back home. I used to spend hours just watching them fly. That's when I decided to build my own aircraft.
GT: Building an aircraft is a challenging task for many aeronautical engineers, how did you do it?
I used to do a lot of mechanical and electrical repair work when I was young. It taught me a lot. I knew how various machines worked. It helped me improve my practical knowledge. I also learnt English and read books on aviation by myself to extend my knowledge realms.
GT: The two-seated ultra-light X-Air aircraft that you built costs only half the market price. How was that possible?
I was able to reduce cost by using recycled parts from old cars and boats. Moreover, there were no labour charges, since it was only me who worked on it.
GT: What were the hurdles you had to overcome?
Financing the project was quite challenging. There were very few people who were willing to help. I had to travel a lot to buy parts for the aircraft. It took almost six years to finish the plane.
GT: Who were the people who morally supported you to pursue this goal?
Being deaf and mute, many thought that I was making a futile attempt. But my wife and a few relatives always stood by me. It wouldn't have been possible without their support. I would also like to extend my gratitude to S.K.J Nair, (Rtd) Wing commander of the Indian Air Force, for helping me to test-fly my aircraft.
GT: What are your future plans?
I wish to acquire a licence for flying my plane at higher altitudes. There are some restrictions owing to my physical disability. I can drive cars and bikes and hopefully, I will be licensed soon to fly planes as well.
GT: Could you share some motivational thoughts with the students?
You should follow your dreams no matter what the circumstances are. I never let my disability deter me from pursuing my goals. Don't let anything hinder you. You will definitely touch the moon one day.