The Making of an Airline Captain

It is the summer of 1966 and I am in the first year of an undergraduate course in Forman Christian College, Lahore when the airline advertisement appears, “Want to be a Boeing Captain?” The airline is hiring pilot trainees and is opening a Flying Academy. I immediately apply and ask for a recommendation from my school Principal, Mr. Hugh Catchpole. He had given me a good testimonial on leaving school and since I played cricket and also managed at English Language, a subject which he taught, I passed with him. One remark from his testimonial reads,

He was also proficient at Gliding at which he won his Wings in an unusually short time.”

I was called for the intelligence tests which was followed by an interview by a visiting airline team to Lahore led by Brigadier Sadiqullah. At the time there was no civilian medical board, so the Combined Military Board (CMB) examined us. I was given a Fit, A1B rating. This was followed by a second interview, this time with Captain Shaukat Hussain Khan, Vice President Flight Operations, PIA in the Chief Pilot’s Office at Lahore Airport. Captain Shaukat was operating a scheduled flight on the occasion and the interview took place during the flight’s transit at Lahore.

We were dispatched to the Lahore Flying Club for ten hours of aptitude flying assessment and my log book indicates this started on March 18, 1967. The first flight in a Cessna 150, the air experience with Flight Lt. M.S. Khan, CFI went like this.

While waiting to line up on the runway at Walton Airport sitting in the left seat with my feet on the rudder pedals and brakes (which are the top portion of them), I couldn’t stop the trembling in my legs.  Probably, because I was holding the brakes with my toes.

Try and imagine the situation, the instructor is sitting next to me and I unable to control my legs, till he says,

“control yourself”. I slide my feet further up and the trembling stops and we taxi to the intersection for takeoff.
On returning home after a training exercise, I used to sit in a chair and with the wall in front of me on which I had drawn all the cockpit instruments, rehearse and try to improve my eye scan of the instruments while performing a maneuver. This was a very basic flight simulator made by myself.

The final assessment here was done by Wing Commander S.M. Ilyas.

There was another interview with Captain Shaukat, the Vice President Flight Operations, PIA, where he remarked,

“What has flying done to you?”

On April 30, 1967, I flew on a Trident flight, Pk 304 to Karachi to join the PIA Flying Academy. We were given board and lodging at Grand Hotel, Malir near Karachi International Airport. Everything was free, laundry included, and the airline bus used to take us every morning to the Ground Training School at the Airport.

The flying training started in Feb 1968 and was complete by May 1969. I did my first solo in a Cessna 150 on March 5, 1968 in 23.16 hours which included ten hours from aptitude testing in Lahore the previous March of 1967, and was the first in my group of twenty six trainees. My instructor prior to going solo was Group Captain M.J. Khan, but later I flew more with Captain Hyder Baluch. I acquired the Private Pilot’s Licence (#748, 03/08/1968), followed by the Commercial (#442, 17/06/1969) with Instrument Rating here. The Instrument Rating was done on a Cessna 310, a twin engine and I finished off with 226 hours total time at the Flying Academy.

Captain Hyder Baluch was a very confident instructor and though rough and sometimes brutal, he made a very confident pilot out of me especially when solo flying in the training area. On one of the first dual navigation sorties after acquiring the PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence), he taught me how to lean the fuel mixture and the art of practical navigation by using my fingers as mileage indicators, or off track indicators on the map we carried on our laps. One finger width was ten miles. The steep turns were with 60 degrees bank, whether high or low level. The low level ones at 300 feet had to be estimated without the altimeter and precautionary landings included touching down on the dirt in the training area after the inspection and dummy runs. On one practice precautionary landing in the dirt in the training area, he asked me to take off from there. We had taxied back after landing over rocks and shrubs. Ahead facing the aircraft as I lined up into the wind was a wall and some trees. This was to be a short field take off. He just sat there with folded hands in his lap as I revved up the aircraft and barely cleared the wall with stall warning beeping.

On one training flight he taught me the chandelle, a manoeuvre not part of the syllabus, but nevertheless. It was a continuous process of climbing, diving, and turning steeply, making the numeral eight figure in the sky. The pressure on the aircraft control column was immense and I feared we would break our wings in the process

I was fortunate to have him on board on a scheduled flight operated by me on the B707 from Quetta to Karachi when I was flying in command. During the stop over at Quetta prior to the flight, he had shown me the aircraft which he now flew. He was the VVIP pilot for the Governor of Baluchistan. Later Captain Hyder A. Baluch would die in an air crash of the same aircraft transporting the Martial Law Administrator, Lt. General Lodhi. They were caught up in a storm and he forced landed the aircraft, but did not survive. The VVIP survived.

My first posting as a cadet pilot was to Dacca in former East Pakistan. This was later changed to Rawalpindi, the Northern Area Base of the Airline, and I reported to the Chief Pilot Rawalpindi, Captain Mushtaq Sharif, whose advice was, “Remember Husain, no politics.”

While waiting for First Officer, Fokker F-27 training in Rawalpindi, we flew the sectors operated by this base, which were mainly to Gilgit, Skardu, Lahore and Peshawar. On 11th August 1969, Talat and I completed day training and subsequently the night portion in Karachi on 26th August with Captain Mir Rashid. First flight as a First Officer (co-pilot) followed on a non-scheduled extra section flight to Peshawar on 15th Sept 1969 with Captain Osman Khan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.