New Delhi: In December 2021, Lt. Cdr Vivek Chaudhary (retired) became the first former submariner from the Indian Navy to become a commercial pilot — a feat that has earned him a place in the Asia Book of Records.
On Wednesday, the former naval officer, who achieved the title of the “Grandmaster” after he became the “first submariner in the world” to become a pilot, was felicitated for his accomplishment by the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar.
— Vivek Chaudhary (@CdrVivek) August 3, 2022
“This Dolphin is now flying the skies”, Chaudhary told ThePrint.
Submariners in the Indian Navy are often referred to as Dolphins because of their insignia.
Born and raised in Delhi, Chaudhary, who’s currently the head of the department of Operations Center and System Automation in Reliance Retail Ltd and lives in Mumbai, completed high school in the Capital and then went to Haryana to pursue mechanical engineering. After he graduated, he enlisted with the Indian Navy through its Short Service Commission in 2007, retiring from service in 2017.
From 2007-2009, he served in the Navy’s executive branch and became a submariner in 2009.
What is it like to live underwater? “For the 10-15 days that you are on a submarine, life passes amidst the cacophony of machines embedded in the narrow passages and walls of the vessel,” he told ThePrint. “On average, a submarine is 75 per cent narrower than a ship. There is minimal contact with life above sea level.”
What made him decide to become a pilot? It was a childhood dream, he said, but financial difficulties prevented him from pursuing it.
“The Navy gave me the chance to serve the country and the opportunity to pursue this passion after service,” Chaudhary said.
Serving in Russian Kilo-Class submarines
After two years with the executive branch of the Navy, Chaudhary opted to serve in the submarines.
“For this, we underwent rigorous and intensive training for eight months in Vishakapatnam. We were taught the technical and non-technical skills for serving and surviving 350 meters underwater in Vishakapatnam,” Chaudhary said.
Chaudhary served on three Russian Kilo Class Submarines from 2010 to 2016: first on the INS Sindhughosh, a diesel-electric submarine, then INS Sindhushastra, and at last, the INS Sindhukirti.
On average, a submarine voyage lasts 5-10 days, he said. With no window and completely cut off from the world outside, realities become skewed, he said. It’s hot on board as well, as temperatures would soar to 45-50 degrees Celsius.
Despite being submerged in the sea, water is a scarce resource, and officers and sailors don’t bathe to conserve it, he said.
“The longest and most challenging voyage was on INS Sindhushastra. We were below water for 45 days, travelling from Mumbai to Vishakapatnam,” said Chaudhary.
Retirement, IIM-A, and the journey to a pilot’s license
After he retired in 2017, Chaudhary went to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) for a master’s degree in business management and eventually worked at Fortis Healthcare in Gurugram.
It was at this time that he decided to pursue his childhood dream.
“When I started at Fortis, the desire to be in the skies remained. So I decided to pursue flying classes on weekends while working at Fortis,” Chaudhary said.
From 2018 to 2020, Chaudhary would clock in at Fortis Gurugram from 9-5 on the weekdays and then travel some 300 km to Chandigarh for flying lessons.
In September 2020, his weekly toils paid off: he was granted a commercial lincence to fly ATRs by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). An ATR is a French-Italian aircraft manufacturer that builds aircraft with turboprop engines. Chaudhary has a specialisation in flying the ATR 600 aircraft.
“Essentially, the feeling of fulfilling my childhood passion is quite an achievement for me. Being the first Dolphin to fly — makes this even more special,” Chaudhary said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)