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Afghan Scratchbuilt Design Makes Short Flight

Sabir Shah

January 5, 2012 - A 25-year-old Afghan aviation enthusiast successfully flew his scratchbuilt aircraft recently from a remote runway in northern Afghanistan. Sabir Shah is the latest self-taught homebuilder to improvise an aircraft from available parts in a challenging part of the world. Shah’s design is based on one he saw on the Internet and appears to best resemble a trike. The body is fiberglass, which he fabricated from plaster molds, but other parts are scrounged from a rickshaw, a Toyota Yaris, and two second-hand engines.

We have seen these stories of hobbyists using available parts to assemble craft that have little chance of flying before, but Shah appears to have taken the time to get it right. According to The Guardian, he used photographs obtained online and at least one technical manual written for U.S. amateur builders to guide him in construction.

The wing is constructed of steel tubes and Shah had to recover it twice before he got the shape right. The wood propeller was the most challenging; he created five prototypes, and tested them by using an electric motor from a roadside juicing machine attached to a toy car to measure its ability to create thrust.

Test flying the craft proved the most dangerous aspect of the project as he had never flown except for a ride on an Afghan military helicopter the day before. Shah was courting intrigue, however, since he began assembling the craft for its first flight next to Kabul’s only runway and was promptly asked by the U.S. military to find a more remote location to continue his testing. Once at the remote strip the first flight lasted seconds and reached approximately 150 feet in the air.

"I didn't believe it would ever take off so I was very frightened when I first flew," Shah told The Guardian. "I didn't know what to do so I just put it right back down on the ground."

His only instruction came through some advice from a long-retired jet fighter pilot from the 1980s. A fourth flight met with disaster when he crashed in rough terrain near the runway and caused considerable damage to the aircraft. Shah spent about $8,000 building the aircraft and claims it’s the first homebuilt aircraft in Afghanistan’s history. He told the newspaper that the government should train him to fly or send him abroad for training, "otherwise it is much too dangerous."


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