The man who builds aircrafts: Saji Thomas – The man who builds aircrafts, but struggles to make ends meet

Drones are child’s play for Saji Thomas, a seventh-standard dropout, who has already built two aircrafts, mostly using recycled materials and rough wood in his backyard. But the 46-year-old innovator from Thodupuzha in Idukki district of Kerala has been left in the lurch, with both government and private agencies failing to give him an adequate platform or a job to use his skill productively.

For three years, car mechanic Paen Long stayed up long after his wife went to bed each night, spending countless hours watching videos on YouTube.
But these weren’t the viral clips or pop music videos that most people while away hours on. Mr Long, who lives on the side of a highway in Cambodia’s rural south-east, had a singular obsession: aeroplanes “In the beginning, I typed in the word ‘jet’,” he says. From there, he was led to videos that showed planes taking off and landing, flight simulations, and virtual tours of factories that produce aircraft. One of six children of rice farmers, Mr Long grew up in the years when Cambodia was struggling to recover from the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge and had never been in an aircraft of any kind. After seeing a helicopter when he was about six years old, he says, the urge to fly preoccupied his mind – for decades. “I always dreamt about aircraft every night. I always wanted to have my own plane,” he says. At first, it remained nothing more than a dream. Mr Long dropped out of school early and trained as a mechanic, one of the few non-farming professions available to young men without a high school education in his home province of Svay Rieng. By last year his fascination with flight had taken over and Mr Long, now aged 30 and running his own garage in neighbouring Prey Veng province, decided he had saved enough money to realise his childhood fantasy. “I started building a plane, making it in secret,” he says. “I was afraid that people would make fun of me, so sometimes I worked at night.”
Believing that a helicopter would be more complex to re-create than a plane, Mr Long based his design on a Japanese plane used in WWII. The one-seater aircraft, which has a wing span of 5.5m, took Mr Long almost a year to produce entirely from scratch out of mostly recycled materials.
The pilot’s seat is a plastic chair with chopped-off legs, the control panel a car dashboard, and the body made from an old gas container.

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The man who builds aircrafts

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For three years, car mechanic Paen Long stayed up long after his wife went to bed each night, spending countless hours watching videos on YouTube.
But these weren’t the viral clips or pop music videos that most people while away hours on. Mr Long, who lives on the side of a highway in Cambodia’s rural south-east, had a singular obsession: aeroplanes “In the beginning, I typed in the word ‘jet’,” he says. From there, he was led to videos that showed planes taking off and landing, flight simulations, and virtual tours of factories that produce aircraft. One of six children of rice farmers, Mr Long grew up in the years when Cambodia was struggling to recover from the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge and had never been in an aircraft of any kind. After seeing a helicopter when he was about six years old, he says, the urge to fly preoccupied his mind – for decades.
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The man who builds aircrafts

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The man who builds aircrafts