Group Captain M J Augustine Vinoth was born to M.A. Joseph and Mary Joseph in Mumbai but his family settled in Chennai shortly after his birth. The eldest of 4 sons, he schooled at St. Peters Higher Secondary School at Royapuram. Even though he excelled in studies, he could not pursue higher education due to family circumstances. As his father’s small business was not doing well, Augustine had to shoulder responsibilities at a young age. While he was a school student, he did various odd jobs before and after school hours to help his mother put food on the table and also to fund the education of his three younger brothers.
Augustine joined the Indian Air Force in 1988 as an Airman and rose to become a pilot. In 1992, he became a Fighter Pilot after training for 1 ½ years. He got to fly MIG-21 and Mirage 2000 fighter jets. He later became a flying instructor and commanded the fighter squadron and also the radar station.
During his tenure in the armed forces, he graduated from the Indian Air Force Academy. He did his post graduation at the Defense Service Staff College, Wellington and followed it up with M Phil and PhD in International Relations and Affairs from the College of Air Warfare and Osmania University.
Augustine also trained to be an accident investigator and conducted many investigations. He participated in the Kargil war, Operation Parakram and was at the helm at the headquarters during the Balakot strike. He was promoted as Group Captain in April 2013. He won the prestigious Vishisht Sewa Medal in January 2014 and received the medal from the President of India. He retired from service in April 2019.
His journey with drones happened by accident. He lost a couple of his batch mates due to an ambush in Jammu and Kashmir. At this moment, he got a brain wave that drones could be used by soldiers who were going on patrol.
Augustine is married to Varsha Kukreti who was a squadron leader in the IAF. She retired from service in 2015 and together they started a company to manufacture drones. It was then that Automicro UAS Aerotech Private Limited took wings. According to Augustine, it is one of the oldest drone companies in India which has supplied drones to the Indian Army, the paramilitary forces and even to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Their drones are successfully flying in many parts of the world. In fact it was adjudged as the best innovation of the year by the IAF in the year 2018.
Varsha is a DGCA certified drone trainer and the CEO of Automicro UAS Aerotech Private Limited. The couple has two children- a son and a daughter. Their son graduated in Business Administration and works as a business development head in their company while their daughter who is also fascinated with flying is training to be a pilot.
Augustine has many interests and there is no boundary he has left untread- be it the skies, the mountains or the seas. He is a trained paratrooper and a United States Parachute Association (USPA) certified skydiver. Besides this, he is also into scuba diving and is a Scuba dive master rescue diver with specialization in night solo, technical diving. He has scaled a couple of peaks of the Himalayas. He also loves to go on long bicycle rides. Once in a while, he likes to cook in order to unwind or do a bit of carpentry too. However, the thing that fascinates him the most is drones and the technology that goes with it.
Though Augustine was not born with a silver spoon, he reached for the skies and succeeded by sheer hard work, grit and determination. His thirst for knowledge made him cycle for 10 kms to the library to do research as in those days there was no internet. His advice to the younger generation is to “be a go getter and strive to acquire knowledge as it will keep you sharp and happy.”
By Juliana Sridhar
Juliana Sridhar is a lawyer and columnist.