This article is dedicated to the warm memory of late Captain Bobby Bikram Shah who flew a wide range of different types of aircraft in the unforgiving skies of Nepal and in the international airspace in the world. During his remarkable illustrious service with Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC) right till the time he served as the head of the National Flag Carrier- a proud corporate body that had evolved as house-hold name in the region.
But the even I wish to remember him by the most is his feast as a flyer on the night of 24 November 1978. The starry night was crisp and had a nip in the air- a prelude in the December winter months and unfortunately, long lost to the prevailing Kathmandu weather of the 2020s. The sleepy population of Kathmandu woke up to the roaring sounds of jet engine in the valley, the Boeing 727 Aircraft a bit notorious for its noise emission in its family of aircraft.
The aircraft kept on circling in the valley and in due course of time, everyone was award that something was amiss. I was informed by Tribhuwan International Airport that RNAC Boeing 727 aircraft piloted by Captain Bobby B. Shah on its flight to Hong Kong on a British Gurkha charters was having problems on extending its nose landing gear. I rushed to the airport, so did many other colleagues. After sometimes the aircraft kept on circling, word had got around that the aircraft’s nose wheel was sucking in its well, and that Captain Bobby was piloting the aircraft. Media, forces friends, relatives and onlookers all rushed to the airport in hordes- a human challenge to the airport management and security.
Then clipped in the voice of the Captain-sharp crisp, clear without betraying the seriousness of the gravity the airport was in. He said he would burn up more fuel, execute a specific maneuver and requested visual sightings of the nose-gear position, if possible. Asked if you would prefer another airport of choice-such as Calcutta in India, he come back with a curt response that his choice was TIA and considering other ancillary factors, he would prefer TIA and Kathmandu.
He executed several low flights over the runway, each time abruptly up in a steep climb, hoping to lodge the stuck nose gear in a free extension- but it apparently did not work. After this more than dramatic maneuver, a fire tender spotlight was aimed at the nose gear position, tracking the aircraft flight in its low sweep over the runway. It was a spectacle right out of a Hollywood box office, done in real terms, lives with the highest professionalism, an epitome of cooperation and technical skill. It was reported to the Captain that nothing could be sighted on the nose wheel and that it apparently was stubbornly staying in its well. .
In consideration with the aircraft, tender vehicles of the Airport Fire and Rescue Service Sprayed the center portion along the runway with foam to minimize the possibility of fire developing during the actual landing. In the meantime, all the relevant agencies and units had already been alerted. Close communication was maintained between the Aerodrome Control Tower, the fight and airport Fire and Rescue Unit.
Then came in the voice of the Captain informing the controller that he was coming in for a nose up landing - he would make usual approaches from the southern direction on runway 02. As the flight had the airport to itself and visibility was very good and the Captain made a very long and steady approaches with its landing lights visible miles out. On the ground, we all followed the path of the flight without hearts in our mouth, accompanied by mobilizing of prayers while the real-time demand was unfolding. Never for a moment, the cockpit crew betrayed the seriousness of the flight in their voice-steady, calm and decisive as ever.
The aircraft came in, slow and steady like a beautiful big bird- and just before committing to a touchdown. Captain Bobby quipped in famously- I look forwards to sharing a glass of beer with you guys after the flight is over. The Controller responded-Certainly, it was being a glass to remember.
The aircraft touched down at its usual threshold spot, rolled down the runway bleeding its speed but just enough to settle its nose gently on the runway, as all of us held our breath. The maneuver was breath taking-it was sheer poetry in motion.
The aircraft came to a gentle stop, with its nose skidding along with the runway for a short distance, incurring pencil thin marks on the under surface of its nose section. The aircraft was on the way center line a bit past mid-was, with its nose resting on the runway –giving the impression that the aircraft was bowing to pay come to Pashupati Nath and Boudha Nath stupa, both sitting in a distance north of the airport.
It was well past midnight, which we received Captain Bobby, with Captain A.J. Tamang at his side, all smiles and waving happily. Captain Bobby wrote poetry with an aircraft of that night- a culmination of experience, par excellence airmanship and goodwill.
Shah is a former regional head, ICAO Asia And Pacific Office, Former Director General of Department Of Civil Aviation, Nepal
The article is reproduced from a recently published book : A Man With A Mission, Life and Times of Captain Bobby Bikram Shah Written by Jaya Rajya Laxmi Shah and Maheswor Bhakta Shrestha