The Indian Science Congress is the largest fair for scientists in the country. Researchers show off cutting-edge research in all disciplines of science, innovators showcase groundbreaking inventions and students from all over India lap it up eagerly.

And then there were the ancient aviation machines from the Vedic period.

At the symposium on Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit at the 102nd Indian Science Congress in Mumbai on Sunday, Anand Bodas, a retired principal of a pilot training centre, and Ameya Jadhav, a lecturer at the Swami Vivekanand International School and Junior College in Mumbai, laid out their evidence that sophisticated flying vehicles existed in Vedic times.

Their elaborate lecture might in fact have been treading shaky ground. Bodas and Jadhav claim that their work is based on the Maharshi Bhardwaj Vaimanika Sastra, a text they say was written around 400 BC [full text here]. But scholars at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore have debunked this text. They say it was actually written between 1900 and 1922.

The panel did not start without controversy. Ram Prasad Gandhiraman, a scientist at NASA, started an unsuccessful online petition asking the organisers to cancel the lecture.

Bodas declined to comment, apart from saying that he had not seen the petition and therefore had no reason to think about it.

Here are some features of the ancient planes, that Bodas listed in his presentation.

1. They were large, nimble and had many weapons

The planes ranged from 60x60 feet to 200x200 feet, around the size of today’s jumbo passenger jets. They had 32 systems to check elevation, navigate and control the aircraft. Twenty of these were missiles for wartime purposes. The planes could stop in mid-air, go forward and backwards, upwards, downwards and diagonally. They could also do barrel rolls.

2. They had exhaust pipes like elephant trunks

The ancients had devised planes with exhaust pipes (shundal) that were flexible like the trunks of elephants, Bodas said. The shastra gives the theory to make up to 33 alloys, he said, but is unfortunately silent on the exact process of manufacturing them. Bodas appealed to the young in the audience to produce furnaces that could reproduce these alloys, for the development of the nation.

3. They had radars that could show the shape of the moving object

Modern planes have radars that can tell you in what direction a flying object is headed. Vedic planes had radar that could show exactly what the other aircraft looked like. This worked, Bodas explained, because any animate or inanimate object radiates energy all the time. When radiations stop, it means we are dead.

4. Pilots wore magic suits

Apart from an annual prescribed diet that consisted of alternating between buffalo, cow and sheep milk, pilots also had special suits made not just of cotton or silk but also fibres from underwater plants. These special suits protected pilots from the weather. They were also shockproof, waterproof, electricity resistant – and were capable of protecting pilots from 25 viruses.

5. Planes were capable of interplanetary travel

The Mars Mission is no longer India’s first expedition to other planets. These planes could travel from country to country, continent to continent and planet to planet. This, said Bodas, was the most befitting and satisfying definition of aeroplanes he had ever read.