IISc restores weather-damaged display aircraft

IISc restores weather-damaged display aircraft

The aircraft had been languishing in poor shape for years

Credit: Special Arrangement

Two men from the tool and die-making trade in the city have turned aircraft restorers after they were serendipitously contracted to refurbish several ageing display aircraft at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

The aircraft had been languishing in poor shape for years. One is a British-made Hawker Hunter fighter-bomber acquired in 2009 from the Indian Air Force and a Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Pushpak light trainer part of the Insitute’s own air fleet which was engaged in active flight until the 1990s. A third aircraft, a HAL HT-2, is pending restorative work and could be completed by January, IISc officials said.

Prof Joseph Mathew, chair of the Aerospace Engineering Department of IISc, stressed that the restorative work will not render these machines flyable. “We were trying to fix up these display machines for years. But the people coming forward were charging exorbitant sums. The budget was limited,” Prof Mathew said.

That changed when Manjunath P M, 27, and his father, Babi Muralidhar, walked into his office at the waning stages of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in July. “It seemed as though they were looking for work and we happened to have this project that needed to be completed,” Prof Mathew said.

Manjunath said he and his father were largely involved in building jars and mixer home appliances for markets plus special components for industries on-order. “However, we had a great interest in aircraft,” he told DH, adding that his father had also worked for a time at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) as a mechanical engineer, which had stoked his interest in aviation. He added that Muralidhar had also helped to restore the Hunter jet once before in 2012.

Dr Duvvuri Subrahmanyam, an assistant professor of Aerospace Engineering at IISc, said the restorative work started in August. “The monsoon season was probably not the best time, but we were keen to get started,” he said.

Manjunath said they had purpose-built a new metal body for the Pushpak, replacing the rexine-based skin which had rotted and torn over the years. “We also added wires to the aircraft to restore operability to the flaps and ailerons,” he said.

When it came to the Hunter aircraft, the workers cleaned the machine and applied Duco acrylic paint to restore the original camouflage paint scheme. “Because this paint has a drying time of 30 minutes, we were able to apply coats in-between bouts of rain,” Manjunath said.

While there have been discussions at IISc to reintroduce a flying machine to the campus - IIT Kanpur for example has four flying aircraft - Prof Mathew stressed that students at IISc are learning about more advanced technologies than basic flight technologies.

A third member of the restoration team was Sukumar, 60, a family friend.

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