RUAV from India's only academic lab for helicopter research

The contrast couldn’t have been starker. As the Advanced Light Helicopter’s various versions stood all decked up at the Aero India 2013, a small, but working “Rotary Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” (RUAV) sat quietly in a remote corner, deep inside Hall-E.

That RUAV–which looked more like a toy for the lay visitor-- was the only product of India’s only laboratory in the academia devoted to helicopter research, a small lab attached to the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

That unmanned helicopter symbolised the hugely unexplored potential of the academic institutions in boosting R & D through industry partnership. Despite funding from the department of Science and Technology, the students and their mentors at IIT, Kanpur had to struggle for six years with the project.

Only during this airshow, could they manage to strike a deal, a Technology Cooperation Initiative agreement, with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to take the project beyond its first phase.

IIT-Kanpur and HAL will now carry out further research and development on Autonomous Rotary Wing vehicles and, convert the RUAV into an industry product that could be used for both civil and military applications.

For six years, 30 students had worked on the RUAV, re-engineered from a basic model procured from the United States. The 7.5-kg flying machine operates on a two-stroke petrol engine sourced from Germany. “We have developed controllers and most other parts such as landing gear and radio-controls from scratch.

After all those years of working, we can now programme the RUAV to hover on its own and programme complete flight missions. You could use it for multiple applications such as ground controlled aerial photography and reconnaissance,” Puneet Singh, a masters’ student working on the project told Deccan Herald.

The RUAV could fly for 40 minutes with a half-litre fuel and touch a maximum speed of 80 kmph. The altitude could be as high as a kilometre. “But, the RUAV can be reconfigured to enhance its capabilities. Fuel capacity can be increased to boost its load-carrying ability.

Even the range could be enhanced,” explained Puneet. Yet, despite achieving “autonomous hover” capability, the project has a long way to go to reach industrial production stage.  

The small IIT, Kanpur helicopter lab, the brainchild of the institute’s Aerospace Department head Dr C Venkatesan, has managed to make five models of the RUAV so far. But, that was achieved fighting a mountain of odds, even for an pre-eminent institution such as the IIT!

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