Team WE! came together and did ‘the wings’ for a double celebration – a birthday and an anniversary. For starters, our youngest team member, WE! Pilot Aarohi Pandit is back in Mumbai for a few days and has just turned all of 23! The second reason to celebrate is that our little plane Mahi got her Certificate of Airworthiness for another year.
With a pilot who’s ready to take to the skies and a plane that has her nose turned forward always, things are really starting to warm up for Phase 2 of the WE! Expedition.
Here’s celebrating the little girl who grew up to become a fearless pilot.
May you always look to the horizon and fly strong!
“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
January 2019 has been packed with action – so many firsts and so many highs. We’re hoping it’s a sign of things to come during the rest of the year!
Aarohi and Mahi have been hard at work in Iceland, practicing their flying in all kinds of weather. Regardless of whether it was -15 degrees or if the sky was the colour of lead, whether it was solo or with her mentor Gummi, through rain or sun, but fly she did. Clearly, this soon to be 23 year old pilot and her trusted companion are both raring to get Phase 2 of the WE! Expedition started!
Aarohi also had the honour of meeting with Shri T Armstrong Changsan, Indian Ambassador to Iceland and Smt. Alka Sarkar, Head of Chancery, who are both extremely supportive of the WE! mission.
A chance meeting with the World’s Strongest Man aka The Mountain from Game of Thrones, meant Aarohi was feeling rather ‘dwarfed’ next to Icelandic actor, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson.
Flying over glaciers, rivers, waterfalls and lava fields, spotting an abandoned plane on a black sandy beach, and some tough but smooth landings on hard snow in Selfoss or on the soft, golden grass of Mulakot – this just about sums up WE! Pilot Aarohi Pandit’s experience in Iceland so far.
Whether it was gliding over Eyjafjallajökull, a spectacular glacier in Southern Iceland, or past the snow-glazed Akureyi mountain, Gudmundur Arnar Alfredsson, a seasoned aviator and her Icelandic mentor, kept her good company while helping her navigate the Nordic skies…and weather!
And it’s definitely not been all work and no play. A whole group of ultralight pilots and seasoned aviators from Iceland flew in to meet our young pilot over a feast of fresh mushrooms in Flúðir. Also a big thank you to Kolbrún ‘Kolla’ Rúnarsdóttir and her lovely family, who’ve pretty much adopted Aarohi as their Indian daughter and are keeping her strong and healthy on a steady diet of grilled chicken and love!
The SRK Connection
Trust a girl from Mumbai to spot the Bollywood connection in Iceland! This abandoned Douglas DC-3 C 117 Super Dakota was spotted by Aarohi during her many cross country flights across the island. The wreckage of the US Navy airplane, forced to crash land on Sólheimasandur beach in 1973, is one of Iceland’s tourist attractions and has also starred in a Shahrukh Khan blockbuster.
“Yep, doing the “wings” again…it has growing significance for me…it’s about flying, of course, a sense of elation and achievement, but also the opening of horizons and the bridging of divides. And if our hands touch we join together as friends. You will see more of it ”
A row of eight emojis – four blue hearts and four blue globes – was Mike’s last message to me. He was complimenting Vismay’s new template for the WE! Expedition’s practice period at Vestmannaeyjar called the Westman Chronicle, which featured Aarohi’s mesmeric photo of her first sighting of the island – a set of mist covered rocks emerging from a burnished gold Atlantic Ocean. As I waited eagerly for his response to the subsequent edition with a video of her landing, news came of his fatal crash. Mike sprinted heavenward before his feet could touch the ground.
How blessed are we that this magnificent man touched our lives for all of 16 days! When we met in Ahmedabad, I saw a man in a wheelchair and the personal struggle to get through each day. But Aarohi and Keithair saw only a fellow pilot living out a lifelong dream to fly around the globe. Over chai and laughter, they connected instantly through a simple desire to fly and love of the sky. I have never seen them glow so much.
On December 13, 2013, I offered a burnished gold creation of mine to the Arabian Sea with an Aramaic inscription ‘To Life’. Perhaps it floated all the way to Cape Town and Mike so that exactly five years later to the day, I would touch his shoulder and say “Hi, we are from WE!”. Then through his immense positivity, wisdom, affection and sense of wonder, he would show me that Life is not about living or breathing as individual organisms, but about connecting with each other to share a common horizon, to bridge any and all divides.
WE! have the same message as Handiflight – that every individual deserves to take wing, to experience freedom, to enjoy independence. Phase 2 of the WE! Expedition will be dedicated to Captain Michael Charles Lomberg, in our humble attempt to continue his mission.
At long last, WE! Pilot Aarohi Pandit and her trusty steed Mahi have been reunited! Aarohi is back in Iceland, undergoing some rigorous extreme weather flying practice on the picturesque volcanic island of Heimay in Vestmannaeyjar. Yes it’s going to be hard work, and yes it’s close to freezing (it rarely snows here), but with a view like that, you can’t really complain!
All this in preparation for Phase II from Greenland to India which will be flown primarily over water. Since this requires safety equipment such as a life raft and life jacket on board the tiny cockpit, it will be flown solo and Aarohi has bravely agreed to take on the challenge.
Meanwhile, Keithair Misquitta continues to be very busy with her community outreach here in Mumbai and has decided to pursue her passion for commercial aviation and flight instruction. She will be joining Aarohi during the home stretch of the expedition over land.
WE! want to thank you for being part of our journey in 2018 which has been both nail-biting and exhilarating. And we hope you’re ready for more of the same in 2019. From wet and windy Vestmannaeyjar, sunny Mumbai and nippy Bangalore, Team WE! wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Six aviators, four nationalities, three continents, two genders and two remarkable pairs of wheels, all connected by one uplifting liberating concept – flight. It was such an honour to meet Team Handiflight – Daniel Ramseier, Mike Lomberg, Guillaume Féral and Josef Rais, who are on an important mission, one that is not too different from ours. They are flying their ultralight aircraft over six continents to spread the message of inclusion and to prove that the spirit knows no limits.
Mike and Guillaume, both highly skilled paraplegic pilots, are flying solo in two CTLS airplanes while Daniel and Josef are accompanying them in a Comanche, carrying their wheelchairs, luggage and other equipment on board. Their journey will take them over 40 countries, with India being their 8th. The WE! Pilots were delighted to spend an entire afternoon with the intrepid team, drawing inspiration from what they have set out to accomplish.
A quick trip to the IIT Kanpur Flight Lab meant meeting a whole bunch of really smart people! Whether it was addressing a roomful of Aerospace Engineering students from Coimbatore, rubbing shoulders with the institute’s PhD candidates, or being introduced to some truly historical planes by Chief Engineer Vipul Mathur, it was a humbling experience for Team WE! to know that their record making little trip from India to Greenland could impress such a scholarly crowd.
It was made extra special by sorties with Capt. Ramnani, the first pilot to fly Mahi in India, who also runs the Gliding and Soaring Center at IIT-K. While we were there, we gifted the first Cockpit to Canvas WE! Expedition Print to
Dr. AK Ghosh, Head – Aerospace Engineering, IIT Kanpur. Capt. Ramnani released the WE! 2019 Calendar.
The WE! Pilots are finally out of sub-zero temperatures and back in hot and humid Mumbai. In case you missed it, click here to find out why. And what a warm reception they’ve received so far! So much so that they haven’t had a chance to slow down and catch their breaths.
The weekend began with them being felicitated by the Indian Women Pilots’ Association (IWPA) and being made honorary members. They’re in august company with the likes of Rabia Futehally, Harpreet A De Singh, Capt. Kshamta Bajpai, Capt. Sunita Narula and Capt. Sangita Bangar to name just a few.
This was followed by media interviews and a whole day spent in front of the camera for expedition sponsor Mahindra Rise. A word of thanks for Aarohi and Keithair’s fathers who were very sporting and patient throughout. They wrapped up the evening with a photo shoot for Nanhi Kali’s Proud Fathers For Daughters campaign with celebrity photographers Atul Kasbekar and Prasad Naik.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a small step, yes it does.
Every place you travel holds something special, but what really makes it memorable is the travel itself. For all the time I spent here in Canada, I have probably used all possible means of transportation. As pilots, we enjoy the view from the cockpit of the landscapes that we fly above. But this was truly a new perspective for me to explore, something from a solo traveller’s point of view.
I still reminisce about when Aarohi and I flew out of Wick together to make it across the mighty Atlantic. Though Mahi and Aarohi were headed to Iceland at a lower altitude than me, and I was flying commercial to Canada, we were still practically flying together. Their journey took four and half hours to Reykjavik, while I took six hours to make it all the way to Ottawa.
Little did I know at the time that this was just the beginning of “My Journey”.
Once in Ottawa my main modes of transport were mainly cabs or on foot. Fortunately, my hotel was located close to the downtown and market areas which were within walking distance. A short hike brought you to a spectacular panoramic view of Parliament Hill, especially from Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa river. I’m pretty sure my trainer back home in India will be proud to see how much walking I’ve done ever since I got here!
My next mode of travel was a scenic train journey to the magnificent Niagara Falls…my birthday gift from the Social Access team.
I had to change two trains and then take a bus to reach the falls. I boarded the VIA Rail Canada train 51 from Ottawa to Toronto Union Station, which was already running late by 30 mins, maybe because of the pouring rain. As we left the station, the grey skies started clearing and as we pulled into Kingston, we had a bright and shining sun in blue skies. Leaving Kingston, the train ‘chugged’ along the shore of Lake Ontario and crossed tiny little ports all along the way. With the pristine blue lake on one side and rapidly changing fields of different colours on the other, we made our way down to Union Station. It was a four and a half hour ride till my second train journey for the day which would take me to Burlington. I changed to the GoTrain service and climbed up to the second level of the train car as my destination was going to be the last stop. After a decent one hour journey skirting along the suburbs of Toronto on one side and the lake on the other side, we made it to Burlington Terminal. Two train rides down, it was now one bus ride to go, till Niagara.
Again the bus was a double-decker and I promptly bolted towards the seats in the front to have the best views of the road ahead. The bus jostled down Queen Elizabeth Way making its way across Burlington Canal and down to Niagara while Lake Ontario continued on our left. On my right, the suburban landscape transformed into lush green vineyards.
Something quite unique that caught my eye was a vineyard named Organized Crime Winery. Maybe some day I’ll come back to visit!
After an hour long drive, the bus pulled into the Niagara Bus terminal. I took a cab down to my hotel, dumped my luggage in my room, and set off to see the Niagara Falls right away.
The first time you see the falls gushing down is something you will never forget. I walked around the area, listened to a lovely little orchestra which was playing there and just soaked in the sights and sounds around me till it got too dark. I came back the following morning for the ‘Voyage to the Falls’ boat tour.
Now I am a girl who belongs in the skies, and even though I can swim, getting on a boat scares me.
The fact that I would be able to get as close as possible to the magical Niagara Falls, drove me to get on it. So here I was, on a boat, something I was never keen on, on my way to the falls. The experience was incredible. At the closest point to the falls that we could get to, the feel of the force of the falls is hard to describe! The water thumps down with such power, making your heart thump along with it. The trip lasted for 20 mins and for me, it was definitely one of the best experiences of the expedition so far.
And once again, it was time for me to get on to more ‘steady’ transport – a cab to the bus terminal, a bus from the terminal to Burlington, a train from Burlington to Union Station and then again a train to Ottawa. A couple of more days exploring Ottawa by bus or on foot and the team told me I had to head to Goose Bay. There was no direct flight from Ottawa to Goose Bay and so it was a ten-hour journey with two halts, one at Halifax and the second at Deer Lake, which finally brought me to Happy Valley – Goose Bay, a quaint little town in Newfoundland and Labrador.
All along this journey I have met a lot of new people, some friendly and some not, visited many different places and saw miles of road, tracks or water go by. Seeing the world from a solo traveller’s point of view can make you see how incredible it is. It also teaches you, that if you get stuck at some point, there is always a way out. If you can’t walk out of it maybe you can take a flight out of it! 😛
Take flights, trains, buses and boat
A little bit of walking and something to explore
New places, new faces, new cultures you’ll know
I urge you to travel just a bit more.
The day after my unique flight from Reykjavik I woke up to a 4°C morning with a heavy head and my nose completely blocked. Colds are bad for flying as there is a danger of ear injury in climbs and descents. So I explained the situation to the team back home and requested a day off to recoup. After resting the whole morning, I decided to visit the doctor downtown.
My friend Jakob, who works at the hotel, graciously offered to drive me to the nearby village to look for a doctor. But when we got there I found out that there is just one nursing centre here with a single nurse working from 8 am to 2 pm. Thankfully we were on time and she asked me to try several home remedies – lots of gargling and steaming and told me to rest for the day.
On our way back to the hotel, Jakob took me for a short drive around the village and showed me the local school, cemetery and post office. It was a charming little village with gorgeous people and extremely cute kids.
Back at the hotel, I opted for hot chicken soup and fries for lunch. Chicken soup is good for colds and also for the soul!
Having rested for the entire afternoon I was completely bored, so I went to the reception and spoke to Keithair who was on her way back from her birthday trip to the Niagara Falls. I also attended to a few guests at the hotel reception as Jakob was busy dropping his other guests to the airport and picking up some groceries.
Keithair jokingly congratulated me on my new job and said that she will come and join me in Greenland if I promise to hire her as a housekeeping trainee at the hotel.
Laughter is good for the soul too. 🙂
After I finished my dinner, I went back to my room and started preparing for my flight the next day. I looked up the weather and studied the airport I was going to land at. Around 8 pm I heard Jakob screaming my name from the reception. I ran outside and he told me that the Northern Lights were going to appear tonight. I covered myself up as best as I could, because it was a really cold night, wearing extra socks, two jackets, mittens and a muffler and quickly rushed outside the hotel to wait for the lights.
What a breathtaking sight. I managed to capture some pictures on my iPhone but mostly I just stood there gaping at the fluorescent spectacle in the sky. I spent 30 minutes like that, watching those beautiful green lights, shivering outside as the temperature was almost 3° now.
What a magical place Greenland is. But it was time to go to bed. I fell asleep with a smile on my face. I had witnessed something spectacular and now it was time to move on. It was going to be a long flight tomorrow.