After high school, Shah considered going on to college. Yet even though public universities are free, his family couldn’t afford losing the extra pair of hands.
Given his circumstances it’s easy to understand why people were skeptical when Shah announced his plans to build a microlight airplane after seeing one featured on a documentary and doing a bit of Internet research.
“I didn’t have money and there was no one to help me,” says Shah. “Everyone was saying, ‘Have you studied about airplanes? Do you know anything about airplanes?’ I would say, ‘I have got some recommendations from the Internet.’ Nobody believed I could build it.”
Undeterred, Shah continued his research and worked a series of odd jobs to save up money for parts and equipment. As he progressed, friends and family donated money. An uncle in Australia gave him a vital $2,000 donation and even Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili contributed $1,000 when he learned of the project.
After three years, Shah had constructed a microlight airplane using a propeller he made himself, a small Toyota car engine, a homemade fiberglass body, a wing made of a metal frame and cloth, and some spare gauges he bought at the market for his instrument panel. The project cost Shah a total of $12,000, a small fortune here.
When it came time for his first test flight, the Afghan Ministry of Defense agreed to use a military helicopter to transport Shah and his plane to an airfield north of Kabul. The trip was the first time Shah had ever traveled by air. “I was frightened a little when I was looking down,” he says, recalling the trip.
Before Shah climbed into the pilot seat, a retired Afghan pilot who’d flown jets for the Soviets and now managed the airport gave him a few pointers. Otherwise, he was relying on manuals he’d collected on other microlight aircraft.