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PRAKRITI PATHAK in POKHARA


POKHARA CITY.COM
"This must be how the Wright brothers felt when their plane first flew," Bikash Parajuli remembers thinking when the ultra-light he helped build took off for the first time from Pokhara airport on 6 December.

For Parajuli, the first flight marked the culmination of years of planning, overcoming technical and bureaucratic hurdles to make Nepal's first airworthy aircraft. Called 'Danfe', the 400kg ultra-light was piloted by Alexander Maximov of Avia Club and made six take offs and landings at Pokhara airport amidst cheers from hundreds of onlookers. Parajuli, 27, had been fascinated by the idea of flight from an early age ever since he watched Twin Otters at Pokhara airport as a student at the Pratibha Higher Secondary School. When he was in Grade 10, he built a small model plane at the a Kaski district science exhibition but the model failed to take off.

"From that point I was determined to make a plane that would fly," says Parajuli, who enrolled at Pulchok Engineering Campus where he was a member of the Robotics Club. Along with fellow students, Parajuli spent three years designing and fabricating the Danfe. With support from Natasha Shrestha of Avia Club in Pokhara and guidance from their professor, Bhakta Bahadur Ale and another faculty, the plane was finally ready. The Danfe was ready to fly but Nepal's civil aviation bureaucracy wasn't.

The government didn't give Parajuli the permit to make a test flight, even though Capt Maximov, who used to fly MiGs in Russia was ready to take it up. But the persistence of the Danfe team paid off and the permission for a test flight finally came. The Rs 2 million Danfe has tandem seating for two, has a ceiling of 6,000 ft and has a maximum speed of 200 km/h. But last week, the ministry gave permission for the plane to do circuits and landings at Pokhara airport not flying more than 25ft above the ground.

Parajuli believes that his prototype can be mass produced and boost Nepal's tourism industry, and can also be used for rescue and patrolling. Enthused by the successful test flight the Pulchok Campus has decided to offer an aerospace elective in its engineering course. Given the right opportunity, Parajuli says Nepali students can compete with the best in the world because they have to overcome not just technological challenges, but also lack of resources and bureaucratic hurdles. He feels lucky to be one of those rare individuals who gets to fly a plane that he himself built.

Parajuli wants to go abroad to finish his masters in aeronautical engineering and return to Nepal. He says: "It is better to be lion in your own country than a monkey in a foreign land."



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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