IAF doctors may get back in cockpit to prescribe new flightpath

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa
The IAF Chief said pilots were spending more time on social media, which was eating into the sleeping time: Photo | MOD

Bengaluru: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is getting doctors back in the cockpit. But, that doesn’t mean the next prescription for air warriors will be para-dropped!

Discontinued in 1971, the ‘flying doctor’ concept might be a reality soon if the IAF proposal for a relook at the Pilot-Physician Programme (PPP) gets the nod from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa said he was hopeful that the proposal will go through enabling doctors to prescribe a new flightpath to their career.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said the idea was mooted by Director General of Medical Services of the Indian Army so that the physicians could understand the aviators need in a better fashion.

“The resurrection of doctor-pilot will help the cause of IAF in these modern times,” he said.

The IAF Chief was in Bengaluru for the 57th Annual Conference of Indian Society of Aerospace Medicine (ISAM) at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM).

Adding a bit of wit to the idea of flying doctors, he said it will be unfair to expect pilots to do a course in medicine and felt the need to train doctors to fly, instead.

Speaking to Onmanorama, an official said that the IAF was mulling over the idea of getting the doctors back in cockpit for a while now.

“We felt the need due to the increasing challenges pilots have to undergo now. Technology has helped us, but there are some areas we need specialists. Doctors getting back to flying will help our cause,” says the official.

The insights into PPP came from veteran Air Marshal N B Amaresh (Retd), who wanted the minimum solo time for physicians relaxed and hopes a NCC air wing came up at Armed Forces Medical College.

“The revival of flying doctors is a good idea. But it needs more awareness,” he said.

IAM Commandant Air Commodore Anupam Agarwal pointed to the Doklam stand-off and how the ‘Squadron Doctor’ became the most trusted soul for the entire crew.

World aviation history shows the close bonding between pilot-physicians and flying machines. John Jeffries, an American physician, is said to have had his first voyage in a hot-air balloon along with his balloonist friend in November 1784.

In 1911, Lt Luigi Falchi, an Italian medical officer, was the first known military pilot-physician to have flown the heavier-than-air aircraft. His aeromedical descriptions are still very popular among pilot-physicians, especially, fainting in the air, the G-induced Loss of Consciousness or GLOC.

The IAF Chief said sleep-deprived pilots are causing huge concern and wanted IAM to find a solution.

He said Friday the air crew seems to be spending more time on social media, which is eating into the sleeping time. He also sighted an incident of 2013 that sniffed out the life of a pilot, owing to lack of sleep.

On Gaganyaan mission

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said IAF will begin the process of selecting pilots for Gaganyaan mission once the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) projects the requirements.

“ISRO will have to give the requirements for us to start the process,” he said.

IAF officials said the pilot selection process will be over a year before they are cleared for the mission. They said India will be the first country to send humans on the maiden mission, while other countries sent animals first.

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