By Nadeem Badshah
KATHAN Dudhela is reaching for the stars since becoming the UK’s youngest flight instructor.
The 19-year-old has sky-high ambitions and is revising to pass 20 exams to qualify as a commercial pilot. He also wants to represent India in the Red Bull Air Race.
Kathan, who first flew a plane in the air cadets aged 16, is an instructor for UK Flight Training in Hertfordshire.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, he said because of his age some of his lessons were not smooth sailing leading to funny moments. “Two weeks after I qualified as an instructor, I turned up to work. I greeted the customers and them and gave them the briefing. One said, ‘are you flying us?’
“They didn’t want to fly (with me); they were like ‘take my money, but I’m not going’. There were three of them, all prodding each other, saying, ‘you go with him, no you go with him’. Finally, one of them agreed to come with me and then signed up for his licence.”
Kathan now wears pilot shoulder stripes when teaching.
(Photo: MARK M)
He was 10 years old when his family came to live in London from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. His dad Chirag is a Bollywood singer; Kathan also spins the decks as a DJ at his gigs.
The youngster said: “When customers see me, they don’t believe I am a pilot. One asked me ‘is this you or is your dad coming to fly?’ I said ‘wait till you get up in the air’.
“I have one student who is 62.”
The flying prodigy said he fell in love with aircraft as a child. “I got the buzz when I was really small. I used to accompany my dad when he went to the airport to drop off visiting family members. I used to sit on the fence and watch the planes take off.
“I thought ‘how are they going in the air, what’s causing the magic?”
Kathan learnt the ropes by downloading a flight simulator app. He passed a one-month course in April that included 125 hours of theoretical training and 35 hours in the air.
The youngster, who has more than 300 flying hours under his belt, said one of the challenges he regularly faces is helping customers conquer their fear of flying.
He said: “We land on airfields and come back. So we had two customers; I could see one of them was really nervous, and I tried to calm him down. I said ‘it’s no different than driving a car’. Thus I calmed him down, and we landed on an airfield, but he didn’t want to come back; he was too scared.”
He added: “I said ‘I am not allowed to leave you here, we have to go back’. We had to calm him down, saying ‘your wife is waiting for you and is wondering where you are’.
“Finally, somehow, we managed to get him on the plane. The flight lasted three and a half hours instead of one hour.”
(Photo: MARK M)
Kathan also has ambitions of doing the loops, flips and barrel rolls in the aerobatic Red Bull Air Race and be the first to fly the flag for India. The series of air races sees competitors navigating an obstacle course against the clock.
He added: “India is quite big, but they don’t have a single pilot qualified to fly the plane in the race. If I can do the training and start racing, I cannot just fly but compare my skills with other pilots. “Also practise the G Force, there is a lot in aerobatics. “It is miliseconds time wise, quite tense, every second counts.”
But in the near future, the pilot is focused on hitting the skies for his lessons and hitting the books for the 14 written tests.
“Winter is some of the best days to fly because the engine doesn’t like the warm weather. But you don’t get those days often.
“Flying time does reduce by quite a lot in winter. When I am not flying, I can revise for my exams.”