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Tycoon Pilot Sets Record In Ultralight Plane

September 10, 1988 GMT

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ The scion of a wealthy Indian family made aviation history today when he finished a 6,000-mile journey from Britain to New Delhi in an ultralight aircraft in 23 days.

Vijaypat Singhania landed in his red and white L’Esprit d’Indian Post to loud applause at New Delhi’s Safdarjung airport around noon.

″I wanted to be an ambassador for my country and show people India is not just a country of snake-charmers,″ he said. ″I was running out of stories to tell my grandchildren. Now I have a fund of tales.″

The 49-year-old millionaire, head of India’s third largest business concern, faced high winds, sandstorms in the Sahara desert and hundreds of miles of open sea sitting for hours inside the cramped one-seat cockpit.

Singhania beat a 34-day ultralight record set earlier this year by a British television journalist, Brian Milton. Singhania finished the journey in 23 days, having left Biggin Hill, Britain on August 18.

The plane weighs 330 pounds, the weight of a medium-sized motor-scooter, or, as Singhania said, ″the weight of an average couple.″

″It belongs to the lightest possible category of aircraft,″ Aditya Dev, a pilot with Indian Airlines, said.

The name of the aircraft, Singhania said, was a combination of his ″two passions,″ the spirit of adventure and a Bombay-based daily newspaper owned by his family, The Indian Post.

″There have been only five long flights (above 5,000 miles) undertaken in a microlight aircraft,″ said Milton, who was at the airport to congratulate Singhania. ″Anyone who now attempts such a flight will have to beat Vijay to make the record.″

As he emerged from the 21-feet long aircraft waving a cap, Singhania was mobbed by hundreds of people who had gathered at the central Delhi airport. After being garlanded with flowers in a ritual of welcome, he was taken to a dais, presented mementos and praised for having ″done India proud.″

At a news conference later he described what had made him undertake the journey that was, by his own admission, gruelling. ″I lost more than 11 kilograms (24 pounds) during the trip and have got countless heat sores from sitting cramped in the cockpit so long.″

″Flying at 10,000 feet over the Mediterranean, my longest single non-stop spell of flying, I saw ships and tried to visualize how long it would take for them to pick me up if I fell in,″ Singhania said.

″I had a life-jacket strapped on, shark-repellent by my side and kept talking to my granddaughter’s picture that was strapped to the front of the cockpit to prevent myself from going crazy.″

″I kept my spirits up but let me tell you I was most relieved to see the shore at Alexandria,″ he said of the most arduous portion of the flight.

″My most thrilling moment was this morning, when I landed at Delhi. I knew I had come to the end of the journey and that I had established the record.″

But the aviator did not seem ready to go on to further flying successes.

″I want to sleep for four straight days before I even think of flying again,″ he said. ″I never plan to repeat the feat.″