(September 23, 2022) Freedom is magical, and it was in this very quest for enchantment that Essex-resident Ashok Aliseril Thamarakshan decided to build a four-seater airplane in his backyard in Billericay during the lockdown – to fly around the world at his convenience. What began with watching planes pass by in the skies above took the shape of curiosity to try his hand at the same. Years later, Ashok took his first flying lesson to the Isle of Wight in a microlight. It got him hooked, so much so that he thought of building a four-seater plane to take his family on adventures. “The sense of freedom that anytime the weather is good, we can go out anywhere without having to worry about airline tickets is exhilarating,” Ashok tells Global Indian.
Ashok and his wife Abhilasha began this labour of love together. It took them two years to come to fruition with 1600 hours of meticulous effort and £160,000. While Ashok sat through painstakingly long hours to work on his plane after wrapping up his regular shift (7 am to 3 pm) at work, Abhilasha dealt with the complicated paperwork. When asked if she was initially sold on the idea of building an airplane, the 35-year-old says, “I was fully onboard with the build as brand new 4-seater aircraft cost £1 million upwards. And we didn’t have money straightaway to buy a share in an already built airplane.”
Building a plane sounded like the perfect idea as the Aliserils were “saving a fortune” by not paying for their kids’ nursery fees and cutting down on commuting expenses. They even put their grocery expenses on credit cards to reserve as much as they could from their salaries. However, Abhilasha’s only concern was “the time it will take and whether we will be able to do it whilst working full time and having the children at home during the lockdown.” Nevertheless, the family pulled it off with minor challenges and took their first trip to the Isle of Wight which was an “emotional yet positive” experience for Aliserils, who are now the proud owners of G-DIYA, named after their youngest daughter.
For the love of planes
While growing up in Alappuzha in Kerala, Ashok loved taking things apart and later reassembling them. This passion led him to pursue mechanical engineering at Palakkad Engineering College in Kerala, which ignited in him a passion for automobile engineering which he ended up pursuing at the University of Hertfordshire, UK in 2006. Now an engineer with Ford, he met Abhilasha, a data analyst, online and the two tied the knot in 2011. Over the years, he did work on some cars in the driveways but it was the light aircraft in the sky that intrigued him. And when the couple moved to Billericay in 2013, he would often find himself immensely distracted by the planes, which always looked “liberating.” However, work and the birth of their first daughter, Tara, kept him too occupied to go forward with the plan of exploring the opportunity of learning to fly, until Abhilasha gifted him a 30-minute flying experience.
“I used to look at the skies during the weekends gazing at the aircrafts flying above. My first flight was a 30-minute trial lesson and in the second, which was along with the instructor, we took off and landed at the Isle of Wight. It was the sense of freedom that came with just being able to take off, got me hooked,” adds the 39-year-old. In no time, he applied for a standard Europe-wide pilot’s license which requires 45 hours of flying time.
The real deal
However, the anticipation of taking his wife and two daughters on adventures was nipped in the bud as Ashok could only find two-seaters, while the four-seaters available were either obsolete or very expensive. That’s when Ashok decided to build a plane, and he zeroed in on Sling TSi. “Jabiru J430, Vans RV10, and Sling TSi were the three options that could be done in the UK as a home built. Obviously, there are options that you can buy outright but they are really old aircraft and if you want to buy something new, you have to fork out quite a bit of money,” he explains.
He first saw the Sling TSi (a four-seater) listed on the Light Aircraft Association website, “but the model wasn’t available in the UK or anywhere in Europe. So, I had to go to South Africa to test fly one.” Impressed with its functioning, Ashok was moreover amazed by its making – with two fuel tanks that hold 88 liters of the petrol, the kind people put in their cars, and burns around 20 liters an hour. Ashok was sold. Fresh off the plane from Johannesburg, he ordered the plane’s £3,500 tail kit, and in between started building a hangar in his spacious backyard with the help of friends and £700.
Building with love
Around the same time, the lockdown was announced in the UK in 2020, and Aliserils were left to build the plane on their own. He was working with a seven-part kit that came with instructions for assembling on DropBox and all the while, he did as much research as he could, even referring to YouTube videos. After the tail, the wings arrived, and with the help of their six-year-old daughter, Tara, who helped with unpacking, Ashok was able to build the plane in two years. But with constant delays in the arrival of kits due to Covid, Ashok had to deal with his share of challenges.
“The biggest challenges were mostly psychological – looking at the scale of the project, you sometimes times think that it is never going to finish. But you need to make a little bit of meaningful progress each day to reach your goal,” he says, adding, “Project management is another big part of it as you get these individual kits and there will be parts that are damaged or not matching or on back order, so you start on the job but you cannot finish it until you get the next part. Logistics and project management are a big aspect of this built.”
Off to see the world
After months of working on his labour of love, Ashok started the engine of the plane for the first time in June 2021, and it was in February 2022 that G-DIYA finally made it to the skies. Calling the first trip to Isle of Wight an exhilarating experience, Abhilasha adds, “The girls were also able to see what we have achieved so, that they can get involved with aviation early on their lives. It’s something Ashok and I didn’t have when we were younger as childhood was very different back in the 80s.”
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The Aliserils have already been to Manchester, Skegness and the Isle of Wight in the UK and France, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Czech Republic in Europe on G-DIYA, are in love with the freedom. “The freedom and independence to take off wherever you want, as long as it’s well within the distance, of course, makes it all worth it,” signs off Abhilasha.
Video courtesy: SlingUK
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