Pics: Kunda Dixit
MUSEUM PIECE: Capt Bed Upreti in the fore cabin of the partially reassembled Airbus 330-300 that he is turning into an Aviation Museum in Kathmandu.
When Bed Upreti was a boy, his father used to walk him from Dadeldhura to Dhangadi and back – a journey of 10 days one way. Sometimes, the young boy got to ride a horse and earned a family reputation for adventure and risk-taking.
After his studies, Upreti joined the Army and eventually became a pilot to enjoy his passion for exploration. He flew for a private airline and was then recruited by Kingfisher in India. Today, he is an ATR 72-600 instructor pilot and simulator trainer for Lion Air in Indonesia.
“The memory of riding through the forests and mountains in far-western Nepal never left me, and I have always wanted to give back to Nepal what Nepal gave to me,” Upreti says. After publishing picture books of aerial photography, Upreti bought an abandoned Fokker 100 jet in Kathmandu, dismantled and transported it 700km to Dhangadi to set up an Aviation Museum.
Encouraged by unexpected visitor numbers and feedback, he embarked on an even more ambitious project. Every time he flew back to Kathmandu airport, he used to see a parked Airbus 330-300 that had suffered a runway excursion incident in 2015 and had been written off.
He bought the plane, and in partnership with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), is setting up an even bigger Aviation Museum in Kathmandu. Across the Ring Road in Sinamangal, the huge jet is being reassembled after being cut into ten pieces and trucked over.
“Bringing the Airbus here from 500m away was more difficult than taking the Fokker from Kathmandu to Dhangadi,” says Upreti, “this is a much bigger aircraft and the museum and the project is six times more costly.”
The Airbus 330-300 was sliced into ten pieces and is being reassembled in Sinamangal.
Once completed in September, visitors will first climb up to the aircraft through a ramp into what used to be business class, watch a slideshow about aviation and go into the cockpit to look out at Kathmandu airport and listen to air traffic control. The cabin has a section on aviation history and will have a replica of the Wright Brother’s plane which is being made by Pulchok Campus engineering students. As an avid photographer, Upreti will also have an exhibition of aerial pictures taken all over Nepal.
The Airbus galley will serve as a small kitchen for a café at the back of the plane where there is also a section on Humla. A grounded Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil will be on display in the garden, which will later have a children’s park and gift shop.
The Bed Upreti Trust funds cancer care, and has invested Rs 60 million in the project. when open it will take 500 visitors a day, entrance fees will be Rs 300 and Rs 150 for students. It is free for Grades 9-12 as a part of CAAN’s effort to motivate young Nepalis to take up careers in aviation because the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) predicts a shortage of pilots and technicians in the next decades.
One afternoon this week, Upreti was conferring with former Nepal Army engineer Raju Mahat about welding in a mock-up of the engine nacelles, installing the main landing gears, and supervising fuselage painting. Upreti comes to Nepal once a month to inspect progress, and says: “I have been to 80 countries, but Nepal is the most challenging place to fly in because of weather and terrain. It is very fulfilling to see the museum taking shape, and I hope it will inspire a new generation of Nepali pilots and engineers.”
Where old planes go to die, Dewan Rai