Enthralled with aviation and aerospace from the young age of 15, Lt Col (Dr) Arvind Sinha pursued this dream and is today a name to reckon with in the industry, nationally and internationally.
The year was 1969. Arvind Sinha was about 15 years old when he woke up just after dawn having fallen asleep on a bench just outside Bangalore airport. It wasn’t a love for watching aeroplanes that brought him there. After having stood first in the all-India National Defence Academy (NDA) entrance exams, he had come to give a medical test to opt for the Air Force service when a minor eyesight test failure proved him ineligible. A crestfallen Sinha slept on the Bangalore airport passenger bench the whole night looking at the sky, pondering how his dreams have come crushing down. His love for aviation knew no bounds.
When Sinha woke up the next morning, a surprised sweeper doing the rounds wondered why he was there and upon learning of his heartbreak, gently told him, “The road ahead is very long, if you give up at the start, where will you land?” The words would stay with him for the rest of his life. When after four decades he landed at Bangalore airport with the Pioneering Australian Aerospace and Aviation Delegation (that he had organised), to establish Indo Australian Aerospace Programs.
That pioneering mission led to several collaborations in the aerospace sector, and Sinha was the key force or instrumental in bringing together Mahindra Aerospace and Gippsland Aeronautics.
Cut to the 1970s. Sinha went through with training as an army cadet at NDA, much against his dream to be an air force cadet. Few NDA graduates commissioned from the Indian Military Academy (IMA) are selected for the armed forces services engineering branch and he was one of the nine NDA graduates out of a total of about 300 cadets who went to the Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (EME) Corps, and thus the lucky one from 55th IMA Course.
Coming from a family of defence officers, Sinha was pleasantly surprised when he was commissioned in the same branch as his grandfather was at EME. Little surprise again when he topped the Engineering Degree Course at Military College of EME (MC-EME), winning the coveted trophy for standing first in Overall Merit. But he had a successful trajectory in education – he won scholarships right from year six till completing a PhD in aerospace engineering. One memory that stands out is of the School Principal summoning his father for Sinha’s lack of attendance in class. The principal told his father, “The problem is we can’t take action against your son because at the end he excels in every field, even though he does not attend classes, is busy playing, and comes late for classes.” Overall, he was an all-rounder excelling in both sports and academics. The scale of his talent manifested from a young age.
But the future is always more surprising than what one expects. Well into his career as an army officer, Sinha was back at the NDA with the coveted post of an instructor. “That’s the best posting that can happen as a young captain,” he reflects. It was also a time when the army, air force and navy offered the opportunity for deserving engineering officers to do a post-graduation course in one of the five prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). Sinha was hell bent on doing this super speciality course. Unfortunately again, he was not considered along with his batch mates for IIT initially. Instead he was detailed to do his post-graduation in electronics engineering from the MC-EME again.
However, subsequently the Indian Army Aviation Corps was established whereby a special vacancy in aerospace engineering came up for EME officers. For the first time army officers could apply in what was traditionally the domain of Air Force officers. “That’s how God comes in,” says Sinha, as he was amongst the first to do a Masters in Aerospace Technology from one of the five prime Indian Institutes of Technology (lIT) Madras (now Chennai). Finally, a dream he thought he had nipped at 15 years of age was realised, albeit 20 years later.
But IIT was no cake walk. “I under performed in almost every subject in first semester because I was serving in the army for 12 years, out of touch with academics and had forgotten almost everything,” he laughs. But he was quick to tackle the challenge, through hard work and, as always, by the end he had topped the examinations. “That’s the time when my world of dreams opened up in front of me. My aviation dream came true after 20 years at the age of 35.”
When India’s intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War took place with the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in the late ‘80s, the army didn’t have helicopters with weapons on-board, recalls Sinha. Thus he was roped in during his IIT Project work, for design modification of helicopters to get machine guns on board. “Not only did I do the preliminary design, but I put in place ideas of future designs philosophy because helicopters have to be multi-missioned for future land warfare support – they need to be armed, attack, etc., so I concluded the requirements of new design philosophy need be developed soon.”
Clearly, this was a milestone in his aviation career. It just took off from there. He also became one of the first engineering officers to be posted at the Siachen Glacier and the first one to command the first engineering unit there, serving the longest tenure of two years. This is one of the highest battlefields in the world, maintained only by helicopters. “At about 11,000 ft. at the mouth of the Glacier, the road ends leaving helicopters as the only means of transport – from air drop of supplies to evacuation of casualties,” says Sinha, adding, “I stayed there and did a lot of work on the Bofors Guns (not my field of expertise) which came with a lot of technical problems during induction.”
From there, Sinha moved to another domain – electronic warfare – based on his post graduate studies in electronics engineering. He was deputed overseas for a six-month specialised training in Europe. On completion, he raised an electronic warfare engineering support unit in Delhi.
Given his experience and background, Sinha held a greater sway for more challenges. In 1993, Sinha was selected for a doctoral project-based research under an Australian government sponsorship at RMIT. As an active duty officer, a special approval granted him the opportunity to come to Melbourne and take up the project to redesign army helicopters to enhance their capability. He went back to India after three years with a doctorate in Helicopter Design with a Systems Engineering Approach.
But as luck would have it, his work caught the attention of Australia’s Science and Defence Technology Group (formerly DSTO) who contacted RMIT to ask him to continue his work. Everyone including his immediate army boss in India believed this was an opportunity to further pursue engineering design. Within 48 hours of his pre-mature retirement, Sinha flew out of India to become a part of the research centre at RMIT.
Within a year, he became the Manager of the Aerospace Design and Commercial Office. After another year he was offered the position of Director. “At the same time, the Australian army looked at my experience and transferred me as a colonel in the army here. So right now I am also a colonel in the Australian army,” says Sinha.
In addition to these, a new position was created for Sinha as head of engineering department for all helicopters of the army, navy and tactical unmanned aircrafts. Currently he is also President of the American Helicopter Society (AHS), Australian Chapter, and also on the AHS Board of Directors as Director of the Asia-Australia Region.
Within aviation, Sinha’s range of profiles has made him a known figure. As Chairman of Australian International Aerospace Congress during the Australian International Airshow, Sinha notes he feels he is now recognised nationally and internationally as an aerospace expert. Last June AHS also bestowed him with the title of ‘Honorary Fellow’ for his Outstanding contribution to Vertical Flight Technologies So far he has been credited with several Awards including AHS Technical Fellow
“Working with Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group, Dr Sinha has been instrumental in driving Strategic Research Programs with platform-wide application. Key areas are in composite airframe durability and degradation, on-board systems obsolescence and capability upgrades, and unmanned and manned aircraft systems integration,” notes Vertiflite magazine, the official publication of AHS International.
Born in 1954, Sinha has virtually scaled every success as a soldier engineer. Born in a Kshatriya Rajput (warrior class) family, he proudly wears his identity on his sleeve. “My grandfather also served World War II, all my uncles were in the army too, and now my daughter and son-in-law are in the Australian Defence,” he smiles.
One of his memorable moments of life was becoming a Combatant Paratrooper, the most elite formation of the Indian army. After undergoing rigorous training under extreme circumstances, donning the maroon cap was another dream coming true. “Only the cream of soldiers are fortunate to be selected and the maroon cap is the sign of the best soldiering in the world,” he proudly states, adding “World War II’s remarkable end came because of paratroopers, we consider ourselves as the ultimate weapon.”
On a different page and a lighter note, he says the other memorable moment was getting married. If the army was his calling, it was also an opportunity for finding a life partner. Midway through his career in India, his boss a Colonel summoned him home one evening and asked him if he would marry another Colonel’s daughter to which a flabbergasted Sinha replied, “Yes sir, No sir… but I have no money.” Before he realised, the army band came in and the officers’ mess became the venue for the start of the wedding proceedings.
Retirement is an interesting question, says Sinha who still remains an active skydiver and combatant paratrooper. He runs around 5 to 10 km every day and believes being physically and mentally active is key to healthy and happy life. “You can contribute to society as long as the mind is working normally and you are physically fit,” he summarises.
Sinha would prefer a life away from the limelight despite his immense contribution to Australian and international aerospace industry and his illustrious career as an Indian soldier engineer. He recalls his father’s words: “Panchi kitana bhi Udan bhare, aant mein usse dharti par aana padta hai pani ke liye” (my son, you have huge potentials, but keep your feet on ground – let success not get in your head and handle success gracefully).” It is a philosophy he abides by, choosing to remain grounded and humble despite the accolades and name he has made for himself.
By Indira Laisram