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Inspiring Indians

They called him an idiot; but he gave wings to dreams by designing & building an ultra-light aircraft

From The Times of India | NOV 2015

The neighbourhood kids in Saji Thomas's remote village Idukki (in Kerala) used to call him 'potten' (idiot), but this wasn’t the usual mockery done by kids towards a deaf and mute boy. This teasing was a dab at how he was constantly trying to piece together junk into something new, something useful.

The 45 year old 'potten' has come a long way. Thomas, recently, designed and built a twin-seater ultra-light aircraft on his own from used parts and recycled material, which got him into some noted record books.

He is also going to be featured on Discovery Channel in a programme called HRX Superheroes, which showcases nine people who overcame physical disability to achieve their dreams.

His ultra-light aircraft, called Saji X Air-S, has already done several successful flights at a private flight training academy owned by a Thiruvananthapuram based retired Wing Commander, S K J Nair.

Thomas's passion for planes was kindled when, as a 15 year old, he saw a small aircraft spraying pesticides on nearby rubber plantations. He mustered enough courage to go and 'talk' to the pilots, one of whom gave the mute kid their Mumbai address.

A few months later, Thomas left for Mumbai. Impressed by his enthusiasm, the pilots gave him some aviation manuals to read up and put him on odd jobs. Over the years, Thomas has had to undergo severe hardships to build the aircraft, which included selling the only five cents of land he owned.

"He could only construct the frame of an aircraft in his first attempt. The second time, the aircraft could not fly as a motor bike engine was used in it," said Mariya, his wife.

After selling the second aircraft's model to an engineering college, Thomas bought an aircraft engine with the money and completed the work on Saji X Air-S last year.

Thomas, whose name is mentioned in India Book of Records as the first differently-abled person to build an aircraft, has often worked as a rubber tapper, an electrician and band photographer to earn a living.

"It was when we lost all hope that support came from Nair who made arrangements for Thomas to test his aircraft and also helped him to fly it at Manimuthar in Tamil Nadu," Mariya said.

Thomas is now seeking a license from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and plans to build a twin-engine aircraft. He is also seeking a job as an aeronautics mechanic and hopes that one of the reputed aeronautical companies recruits him.

(Reproduced with the permission of TOI Editor, Kerala)

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