Afghan Homebuilder Has Big Dreams

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Could the future of Afghanistan general aviation be the crumpled remains of a homebuilt trike? The first aircraft ever built in the country made four test hops before being damaged beyond repair in a crash landing. Sabir Shah, who had never been in an airplane before, designed and built the aircraft using knowledge gleaned from the Internet and materials obtained at the local market. The result was a credible-looking weight-shift device powered by a Toyota car engine attached to a handmade fiberglass body and supported by a metal tube and fabric wing. Shah said he built the aircraft, which took three years, because it was the only way he could ever see himself being able to fly in his home country. There are no private flight schools and few private aircraft in the perennially war-torn country. "I believe that if you want something, you can get it," he told The Christian Science Monitor.

Shah, whose family couldn't afford to allow him to go to university, got donations and contributions from family and friends for the project, which ultimately cost $12,000, many times the annual average income of an Afghan. Among those throwing money into the pot was Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili, who also arranged to have a government helicopter fly Shah and his finished aircraft to a nearby Air Force base for testing. With tips from an Afghan air force pilot and flight manuals memorized from the Internet, Shah got airborne on the first try. The longest of four flights was about 300 yards before a miscue on landing ended this chapter of Shah's aviation career. He was unhurt but the trike will never fly again. Now Shah is hoping to either find someone to sponsor him for aviation training elsewhere or to invest in his next project -- an eight- to ten-seat aircraft capable of getting around Afghanistan.