Pakistani popcorn seller who built his own plane

The engine is from a roadcutter, the wings are burlap, the wheels are borrowed from a rickshaw: a popcorn seller has caught the attention of the Pakistan Air Force by building his own plane.

The tale of Muhammad Fayyaz has captured the hearts of many in a nation where millions, just like him, have limited access to education and are fighting for opportunities.

“I was literally in the air. I couldn’t feel anything else,” Mr. Fayyaz said of his first flight in a machine he learned to build mainly from viewing TV clips and online blueprints.

Pakistan has been thrilled before by stories of scientific prodigies plucked from obscurity before — notably, that of the engineer who said in 2012 that he had invented a car that could run on water — a story that was later debunked by scientists.

But Mr. Fayyaz insists he flew and his claim is being taken seriously by the Air Force, whose representatives have now visited him multiple times, even issuing a certificate to commend his work, he revealed.

The 32-year-old said he had dreamed of joining the air force as a child, but his father died while he was in still in school, forcing him to drop out at the eighth grade and do odd jobs to feed his mother and his five younger siblings.

As an adult, his passion for flying remained undiminished, so he took a wild gamble on a new dream.

By day he worked as a popcorn seller, by night as a security guard, saving every rupee he could.

He sold a piece of family land, and took out a 50,000 rupee ($350) loan, which he is still paying off.

Mr. Fayyaz claims his friends helped him to block a small road which he used as a runway for that first flight attempt in February.

The plane reached 120 kph before taking off, Ameer Hussain, a witness, said.

“It was between two and two and half feet off the ground,” he said. “It flew for 2-3 km before landing.”