Dr. Parvez Kumar was flying above the English skies in the late 1960s when all of a sudden, his world went black.
The Sooke resident snapped back into consciousness moments later, with the bite of cold air hitting his face and his side window open. The plane he was doing acrobatics in was now hurtling towards the ground.
With a burst of adrenaline, his years of training kicked into gear, and he somehow managed to regain control of the diving mass of metal and landed the plane in an airfield.
“I was shaking like hell,” said Kumar, a retired aeronautic engineer. “All the confidence I had prior was blown away in an instant. I squeaked away with my life that day.”
Kumar later discovered he likely strangled himself with the seatbelt buckles that crisscrossed around his torso and shoulders. Even though he was in the prime of his life, he regained consciousness only because his harness loosened from his neck while in free-fall.
Kumar said that was one of the five times he faced death.
Now in his early 80s, Kumar spends a portion of his days compiling his memories from decades past into PowerPoint and written articles for his friends and family to look at when he dies one day.
Growing up in England, he completed his doctoral research in aerodynamic ground effect and its impact on the stability of aircraft, hovercraft, and vehicles.
Though he hasn’t been to space, he’s been associated with NASA for 25 years and has worked for Canada’s National Research Council and the Canadian Space Agency.
“One of the best things is that I’ve never had to look for a job,” Kumar said. “I was always approached by someone, which is how I ended up in Canada. We [Canadian Space Agency] wanted to produce the best astronauts in the world, and that was my goal.”
He was the training officer for the Canadian astronaut program. One class in the early 1990s included both well-known astronauts Chris Hadfield and Julie Payette, now Governor General.
Parvez’s first class included federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who ended up being the first Canadian astronaut to fly in space in 1984.
“What I admired most about Parvez, apart from his unquestioned technical competence, was his enthusiasm and his team spirit as he helped us take our first tentative steps,” Garneau said in a statement.
“This was all brand new for Canada and none of us knew much about the adventure on which we were embarking. He should be proud of the critical role he played as the astronaut program successfully took flight with the entire country watching.”
In the late 1960s, Kumar worked on the first Airbus A300, the world’s first twin-engine wide-body plane. He was in charge of helping design the wings.
“It’s the most important part,” Kumar said. “Being involved in space and aeronautics, you always take that risk with your life and others.”
The Sooke resident recalls losing a friend who was a test pilot on the prototype of the Bombardier Challenger 600, a series of business jets. The plane crashed in California’s Mojave Desert in April 1980 after falling into a deep stall, in which a plane can lock into position, and recovery is nearly impossible.
Kumar walked away from his position with Transport Canada after it refused to listen to his recommendation of adding a tail parachute.
Looking ahead, Kumar is hopeful about the development of supersonic passenger jets and the potential to send a human mission to Mars.
Until then, he’s taking life at a slower pace since moving to Sooke with his wife in 2004. Since his retirement, he’s self-published an autobiography, spends time out in nature, and relaxes in the gazebo he built on their property.
Sometimes when he stares at the sky, he’s taken back to his childhood. He hears the roar of British fighter aircraft, like Spitfires or Hurricanes, dreaming of the day he also can be in the clouds too.