Monday, 18 February 2013

Flying over Chowpatty

In a previous post, we had written about the contribution of a Mysorean in the filed of civil aviation and his contribution to aviation history of India.
Today, this yet another post to highlight the achievement of another Indian, who unfortunately has remained unknown an unsung. Before commencing the post, let us make it clear that JRD Tata still stands tall in Indian aviation and his stature is not being questioned.
What we intend to do is bring to light the achievements of others too in the field. So here goes the post on a Maharashtrian pioneer of civil engineering.
Please read on…….
Shivakar Bapuji Talpade (1864-1916) made history in India as the person responsible for the first unmanned flight over India. The airplane was called Marut Sakha and Talpade, a Pathare prabhu of Maharashtra, flew the unmanned airplane over Chowpatty in Bombay.
More importantly, Talpade flew his airplane much before the Wright brothers. If the Wrights flew their plane in 1903, Talpade did so in 1895 itself.   
This marvelous feat was much before Wright or even Alberto Santos Dumont (1873-1832) of Brazil who is supposed to have flown in 1901. So, the nearest competitor to Talpade would be Clement Ader who did a self powered flight in 1890s.  But his plane flew just eight inches above the ground. So would you call this a flight in the sense that it means.   
Or should we credit John Stringfellow (1799 – 1883) of England with the first flight. He is known for his work on the Aerial steam carriage with William Samuel Henson. The two achieved popular attention when Stringfellow made the first powered flight, in 1848, in a disused lace factory in Chard with a ten foot (3metre), steam-driven flying machine.
Santos-Dumont designed, built, and flew the first practical dirigible-a plane with rudders and propellers and fixed wings- demonstrating to the world that routine, controlled flight was possible. This was on October 19, 1901 in France.
The difference between these pioneers and Talpade is that there are records and newspaper cuttings of their achievements while there are none for Talpade.
However, thgere are a few fragments of newspaper cuttings and reports about Talpade and his unmanned flight. Some reports say that he obtained the design of his plane from his Guru- Subbaraya Shastri – who also compiled Maharishi Bhardwaja’s Vaimanika Shastra.
The reports also say that Talpade was supported in his plane building and design experiments by his wife and that he flew only a short distance before crashing. The cause of the crash was perhaps due to the Mercury Ion engine it had. Talpade had to stop further research due to paucity of funds, English animosity and most importantly lack of sponsorship.
Another reason for Talpade’s lack of interest in continuing with his experiments could be his wife’s death which out him off the project.
Unfortunately, except articles by two newspapers-Deccan Herald and The Times of  India, nothing much of Talpade’s efforts cane b traced.  
The Times of India articles says that in 1895 an Indian pioneer flew the first Indian plane in the air.
The Deccan Herald states, “One day in June 1895 before an curious scholarly audience headed by the famous Indian judge, nationalist Mahadeva Govinda Ranade and H H Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, Talpade had the good fortune to see his unmanned aircraft named as ‘Marutsakthi’ take off, fly to a height of 1500 feet and then fall down to earth”.
Kesri, the newspaper published from Pune has an account of this flight but the date seems to be missing from the article. By the way, Bala GangadharTilak himself was the Editor of Kesri when this article came to be written,
Talpade lived in Bombay and was a scholar in Sanskrit and Vedas.
According to a study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Talpade constructed Marut sakha under the guidance of Pandit Subbaraya Shastry.
Shastry is  the author of the Vaimanika Shastra, an early 20th century Sanskrit text on aeronautics. Talpade’s plane may have been constructed based on Vimana, the mythological flying machines of the Vedic ages.
 Talpade passed away in 1916, unsung and unknown to a majority of Indians. His relatives then sold the machine -in which children of the house used to play- to Rally Brothers, a leading British exporting firm then operating from Bombay.
By the way, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has preserved some of the documents relating to Talpade’s experiment.

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