AR&DB: DRDO Driven Aeronautics Development Towards Aatmanir Bharat

By Editor 09-Jun-2021


The two wars in the sixties made our country to adopt a shift in the approach that  was required for orienting itself towards self-sufficiency specially in the field of aeronautics.. This was due to the fact that the country  was loosing the knowledge base after successfully developing indigenous fighter HF-24 Marut.The knowledge  base was important for design and development of indigenous fighter aircrafts, missiles, helicopters and regional transport aircraft; and thereby reducing FE outflow and building up necessary technology base in the country. To achieve this, the Aeronautics Research & Development Board (ARDB) was formed in 1971 on the recommendation of Committee on Aeronautics chaired by former Cabinet Minister in Charge of Defence, C Subramaniam.

The purpose of AR&DB was to lay a roadmap for the development of aeronautics in the country and to advance the cause of self-reliance in aeronautical technologies and systems. The journey of AR&DB began with constitution of core panels. The Aerodynamic, Structures, Materials and Processes Panel in 1971; Propulsion Panel, Systems Panel in 1972 and over the years as the new technologies  developed many specialist panels were constituted as per the requirements.  Human Engineering Panel (HEP) in the year 1979, with the objective of advancing Human Engineering activities mainly in relation to the aircraft design and flight safety. Operational Problems Panel(1979) had addressed itself to all the problems related to operation of civil and military aircraft, to improve reliability and maintainability of aircraft and systems supporting aviation. Aerospace  Information Panel in 1986 to create facilities for collection, processing and dissemination of information. With a view to give boost to the development of aeronautical manpower and attract talent to aeronautical engineering, DRDO had constituted a Manpower Development Panel under AR&DB in 1989.

Through the different panels, AR&DB in seventies worked on seed projects for fighter aircraft, missiles, aero-engines, helicopters and cargo aircraft. Among the first few projects of AR&DB were “Orpheus 703R-2000K”, “Research on GTX-Engine components”, “Experimental study of instantaneous structure of turbulent flow”, “Design construction and commissioning of a cascade wind tunnel at IISc”, “Development of computer programme for evaluation of aerodynamic characteristics of swept wing aircraft”, and “Development of Mrigasheer Sail Plane”. These projects were the need of that time and developed critical knowledge base in the aerospace research.

There were also many First-Ever in the country projects executed and completed successfully by funding through AR&DB. Among them, the first one was; First Hypersonic Shock Tunnel in the country at IISc, Bengaluru in 1973.  It was built by the efforts of Dr. NM Reddy, who had studied under Prof. Irvine Israel Glass and Prof. Satish Dhawan.

Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri is the Chairman of the Board and members of high standing in aeronautics are drawn from academic, R&D and production agencies concerned with Aeronautics/missiles/space and also from the Ministry of Defence and Civil Aviation. Over the years, All the well-known Aeronautics scientists of the country have been associated with the board. Few examples are as follows. In 1971, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam who was then in SSTC, TERLS, Trivandrum was associated in AR&DB Panels and then became the Chairman of the AR&DB Committees and later while being SA to RM, he was also the Chairman of AR&DB. Dr Raja Ramanna, Prof. Roddam Narasimha, Dr. B.R.Somashekar, Prof. K.Rajaiah and Dr. Kota Harinarayana are among the first heroes of AR&DB.

Among the major goals in the roadmap of AR&DB was design and development of indigenous fighter aircraft. This dream has come true with Design, development and induction of the LCA Tejas aircraft. Also extracted from the Book – “Radiance in Indian skies: The Tejas saga”, written by Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd) & B R Srikanth – In a manner of speaking, the astounding journey of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme started through AR&DB. Prof Roddam Narasimha of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, conceived the idea of a supersonic Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). "I was with the Department of Aerospace Engineering, IISc, at that time, and I couldn't meet even the normal expenses associated with my involvement in the project. I was at that time head of the group, making studies on LCA performance and configurations. I mentioned this to Dr Raja Ramanna, then Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister. He sent Mr Vivek R Sinha, at that time the Secretary to ARDB, to discuss the problem with me. After Mr Sinha found out what my problems were, he agreed the simplest way the difficulties could be sorted out was to sponsor a project titled 'LCA Studies' with me as the Chief Investigator. A sum of Rs. One lakh was very promptly released for the purpose," reminisced Prof Narasimha.

And over the years many critical technologies developed through different panels of AR&DB and Centres of excellence such as First centre of excellence in Aerospace CFD at IISc in 1996, Centre of Excellence for Aerospace Systems Design & Engineering (CASDE) at IIT Bombay (1998-2013), AR&DB Centre of Excellence in Composites Structures Technology (ACECOST Phase I-III, 1999 – 2018) has led to the design and development  of Tejas-our national pride of atamanirbharta.

The other major aeronautical system with its seeding history from AR&DB is missiles. Missiles panel also was initiated in the formative years. AR&DB Missiles panel had promoted a large number of projects (86) in many institutions in the areas of missile aerodynamics, structures, control & guidance systems, specialized materials besides solid and liquid propulsion systems and propellants. These projects contributed significantly in our endeavour, to indigenously design and develop state-of-the-art missiles and systems. The panel led to the formation of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) .

Other few noteworthy projects are Prevention of bird concentration near airports, which significantly reduced bird strike incidents and saved precious resources of IAF and civil aviation as well. Atmosphere studies and weather-forecast-modelling which resulted in the Indian Reference Atmosphere.

Apart from setting up first hypersonic wind tunnel, AR&DB has supported establishment of many other Aeronautics Testing Facilities across the country. An important part of this effort has been oriented towards application to composite structures. A significant development of which has been a state-of-art computer-controlled autoclave facility developed at NAL; it is a breakthrough in the field of fabrication technology of composite components. A uni-directional prepreg machine has been successfully designed fabricated, tested and demonstrated at IIT Kanpur.

Another major area of R&D effort has been fatigue and fracture mechanics of metallic structures which has finally resulted in the development of full scale fatigue test facility at NAL for fighter aircraft. This has been completely indigenously built facility which is unique in the country. Ground Vibration Testing and Analysis of aerospace Structures facility in NAL, Bangalore has been used to study the dynamic characteristics of aircraft before flight trials. Later in a series of projects, this facility has been enhanced to carryout on-line monitoring. The equipment has been successfully used on AEW-TDP aircraft, HANSA-2 and on the ALH.

Besides this, the other facilities which were developed are Wind Tunnels. It is worthwhile to take stock of what the AR&DB has accomplished so far. The one-of-a-kind Gust Tunnel at IIT Kharagpur, the Rarefied Gas Dynamics Facility at IIT Madras and the National Wind tunnel Facility at IIT Kanpur are used significantly for Aerodynamics research of aerospace vehicles.