NTERVIEWBy Addisalem Mulat
Would you please introduce yourself to our esteemed readers?
My name is Major Bekele Gululat. I was born in 1928 EC in Harar city. I have got a sister and four brothers. My mother was a housewife while my father was a farmer. I started out in religious schools, before completing my primary and secondary school in Ras Mekonnen and Medhanialem Secondary School respectively. Our teachers were Americans and Canadians.
What was your childhood days like?
As any Ethiopian children do, I loved to play football day in, day out in the place where I was born and raised. I can even go on and say that I was an excellent footballer. Saying that there was nobody better than me in football in my home town would not be a hyperbole statement. I was that good. Most of my time was devoted to playing football and other childhood plays during those early years of my life. Mostly, I played with Gebre-Kirstos Desta as he was my best friend and next-door neighbour. But despite all this, I used to spend ample time concentrating fully on my studies.
When did you get married?
If truth be told, I got married to my wife fifteen years ago. I got married very late because of many unforeseen reasons. Anyhow, we have got a son. At this moment in time, he is attending school in ‘Cathedral’ Elementary School. He is an eighth grader.
How and when did you join the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force? What inspired you? And what was the teaching-learning process like when you were in there?
To begin with, when I was at Harar Medhanialem Secondary School, instructors from the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force were lobbying all the students to join the academy. Our hearts and minds were captured by their interesting stories all the time. At the end of the day, I entered the Air Force in a little while after I completed my high school. Our instructors at the time were Swedish. They trained us air-frame, which take account of fuselage, wings and undercarriage. What is more, they trained us an aircraft engine, which is the ingredient of the forward motion scheme for an aircraft that brings mechanical power.
They also educated us in aerodynamics. It, for the most part, deals with the forces of haul and lift which are caused by air passing over and around solid bodies. Everything considered, they trained us in a range of aircraft bodies. Passing through an assortment of challenges to achieve the intended target was mandatory. Five years later, I graduated from the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force in aviation engineering.
It took me another five years to become a commissioned officer. The requirement to join the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force was having good grades in mathematics and physics, as they were compulsory subjects. English language was mandatory as well; and we communicated through English language in the Air Force.
For what purpose was the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force was established?
Well, the flight school was established with a view of producing combat aircraft and passenger plane pilots. As a matter of fact, the main focus of the centre was to guard the entire country from possible threats. It was up-to-the-minute Air Force. Despite its small size, the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force was equipped with everything that is needed.
We were effective in our doings, and we were able to train countless aircraft pilots. Most of them hail from various parts of Africa. It was the first pilot training centre in Africa. Most importantly, the then Imperial Ethiopian Air Force was able to generate immeasurable famous pilots.
Did pilots get to fly instantly after completing their flight training courses?
At the time the Ethiopian Airlines planes were under the umbrella of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force, and airlines pilots were expected to fly a couple of destinations. For example, the first flight was to Cairo. Afterwards, they flew to Athens and Frankfurt in that order. At that point in time, there was no flight to West African countries. In 1968, by doing a lot of market research the airlines was able to expand various flying routines across the country. The Ethiopian Airlines branched itself out of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force, decades ago. Most of the instructors of the Ethiopian Airlines pilots are students of the school.
Why did the Ethiopian Airlines branch out from the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force?
The Air Force had trained combat and passenger plane pilots for many decades successfully. The Air Force reached into a decision to let the Ethiopian Airlines branch itself out of the force and train airline pilots on its own no matter what the cost may be. The main reason had to the fact that there were no sufficient aircraft to educate airline pilots. The Imperial Air Force did not have enough aircraft to train combat plane pilots. Furthermore, one of the board members of the Ethiopian Airlines who was in high position said, “We will give you pilot training planes. We do not have enough facility to train combat planes. There are no sufficient instructors. In this fashion, we are ready to help you.”
After that, they began recruiting students from different schools with various requirements. Most recently, anybody who is interested to join pilot school should be able to score high grades in physics and mathematics. In other words, they have their own recruiting requirements. The Ethiopian Airlines which began its operation in the aforementioned way possesses its own maintenance school, technical school, pilot school and the likes. Most of the instructors are graduates of the former Imperial Ethiopian Air Force.
How was the rate of accident during your time?
Numerous people have breathed their last breath during the pilot training programme.
As I have said, the instructors were Swedish. As we did not have modern combat planes as a result of our capacity, we were in the habit of bringing B-17 flying fortress into play. It was used during the Second World War. But we did not have a wee-drop of idea pertaining to their ability. Their self-esteem was very high. They did everything on their own way. They simply said that the plane was ready for flight. As we fully trusted them, we got ourselves ready to fly the plane. Sadly, our pilots ended up colliding with mountains. Recurrently, a number of air force pilots came across motor accident, communication failure and other fatal accidents. Most of our pilots went to meet their maker in this regard. Some air force pilots were able to save their lives by means of parachute.
Things in the Air Force began to change when the Americans came in. They were hard working and knew the bolts and nuts of the whole lot. The Imperial Ethiopian Air Force fell under our control in next to no time. The safety turned out to be 100 per cent safe and sound. We began doing each and every step with high alertness. We did not simply grant permission to fly aircraft planes before we made certain the whole thing. Accidents began decreasing from time to time and thus we felt a huge weight was off our body. After the Second World War, all the planes were grounded and replaced by British planes. They were by far better than the previous ones. Then the Americans started helping us as time goes by. They gave us pilot training aircraft. Little by little, we advanced ourselves to jet, which was introduced in 1959. We had no capacity to buy. And the Finance Minster was very serious as he did not allow us to spend money for such purpose.
Can anybody easily grow into a pilot?
The airline pilot training is difficult. But combat aeroplane training is not as such difficult. The most important thing is being able to achieve the intended target in ground school, meteorology, aerodynamics, instruments and the likes. After you have passed simulator, the rest will be as easy as smile. While we are on the subject, flight simulator is a machine used in pilot and crew training that makes available a cockpit atmosphere and feelings of flight under authentic conditions. It also governs how aircraft flies, reacts to applications of flight controls and outside factors such as air density, turbulence, wind shear, cloud, perception and the rest. In simulators you can see every moment in the blink of an eye. You feel all the possible dangerous as if existent.
Which is safer; simulator or aircraft training?
By its very nature, simulator schooling is out of harm than aircraft training. Mostly, unusual and urgent situations may be learned and practised exclusive of risk to trainees. Numerous weather conditions, instruction on the subject of conflicts can be displayed in the simulator, devoid of the risk of exposure to the actual condition. Above and beyond, a flight simulator makes a more suitable learning environment than the cockpit of an aeroplane. It also enables students and instructors to focus completely on the learning assignment. It is crystal clear that students gain actual experience with navigation amenities that may not be accessible round the corner.
How does aircraft behave in the clouds?
At the outset, in every flight there is a certain optimum cruise altitude which would count on the weight of the aeroplane. The elevation of cruise may vary for airline to airline. If it is a long journey flight, it inadvisable to change cruising altitude numerous times. Every flight has a certain most constructive cruising remoteness from the ground which would put your faith in the weight of the aircraft. Flying too near to clouds may make it hard for the pilot to observe and pass through winds as they may lead to air turbulence. When it is cloudy the air density will be disseminated and thus create turbulence. That means the air plane cannot carry its own wings. It loses its balances. If you fly in high altitude above you will be in the safe zone because in high altitude less power is needed to propel the plane. Furthermore, as the altitude increases, the air in the earth’s atmosphere grows to be thinner. That means, when the air turns out to be thinner it offers less resistance to the aircraft to run effectively.
How many flight hours training are required to be an air force pilot?
It depends on the total flying hours. Instructors always follow up their students’ performance strictly. If instructors are fully confident in their students’ ability, they can grant them permission to solo flight. By the way, long flight is granted after trainees have proved themselves to be excellent at navigation. At this point in time, there is no any problem as the necessary materials are within the touching distance. If you are successful in flying small aircraft, you will not encounter with much difficulty. For instance, some trainees began flying an aircraft on their own after 90 hours solo-flight. There are even some trainees who need more than the aforesaid hours. The solo-flight could be from Debere Zeit to Addis Ababa or from Debere Zeit to Adama.
What does solo-flight mean?
Well, solo-flight means the flight time during which a student pilot is the one and only occupant of the air plane. This time, the student carries out the duties of a pilot which needs more than one flight crew member. In a word, solo-flight means a student pilot is in the aeroplane all by himself without the help of any person. Earlier than conducting a solo flight, student pilots should be able to familiarize themselves with the nuts and bolts of aeronautical intellectual capacity. Furthermore, student pilots should be able take pre-solo flight training and other solo requirements.
In what positions did you work in the then Ethiopian Imperial Air Force?
As I have tried to mention so far, I’m the first aircraft quality control inspector. I worked in the then Ethiopian Imperial Air Force for about 24 years. I studied the profession in Germany. At the time I was in air force primarily under my squadron, there were specialists in motor, instrument, radio, electrical system and the rest. All of them were under my control. I have trained countless professionals. Before each and every flight, my colleagues inspected the inside out of an aircraft to make sure that everything was safe and sound. There is test-flight, which means to fly an aircraft for the assessment of performance. I checked everything with employees under my supervision. After everything was completely completed, I put my signature after a while.
In the same way, I studied new technology in America pertaining to aircraft quality control. It was a new technology. At that point in time, the American government was helping the Ethiopian Air Force hugely. I turned out to be the first Ethiopian to study the new technology in the United States Air Force on the topic of quality control. I stayed in America just about two years. Almost immediately, I grew to be an aircraft internist. It was a tough course. When on earth there were troubles, I could easily figure out their whereabouts using radiography. It is very tough and strong. For instance, it has the capacity of turning a rabbit in 50 meter distance into ash seeing that it is an atomic radiation. I have trained most of my colleagues. As medical doctors interpret x-ray images, I also interpret radiology with no trouble. I know the inside out of an aircraft and solve their problem in next to no time.