Unravelling HAL's heritage

Unravelling HAL's heritage

Walchand Hirachand Doshi (1882-1953), a prominent Indian industrialist and founder of the Walchand group, was inspired by an American aircraft company manager to start the Hindustan Aircraft company in 1940. For this purpose, he met Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar of Mysore.

As a result of their meeting, an aircraft factory came up in the city of Bangalore. Besides Walchand and the Mysore Government, Tulsidas Kilachand and DM Khatau also invested in this project. Walchand is also known for being a pioneer in  the fields of ship making, automobile manufacture, insurance and a number of other industries.

Japanese attacks during World War II made British India acquire one-third of Hindustan Aircraft in 1941 and later nationalise it in 1942. Hindustan Aircraft came to build ties with aircraft manufacturers of the US. Hindustan Aircraft handed over their factory to those companies and hence, US aircrafts were made in Bangalore. In 1947, the company was transferred to the Indian government. In January 1951, Hindustan Aircraft came under the Ministry of Defence and continued building foreign aircrafts and engines under license.

The company also designed and produced the HT-2 Trainer, the first indigenous aircraft, under the guidance of aeronautical engineer Dr V M Ghatage. It was first flown in 1951 and was introduced in 1953. This two-seater remained in production until 1990. Ghatage was also responsible for the HAL planes Pushpak, Kiran and Krishak. He started making the HAL Marut prototype before he retired from HAL. Then, he moved to Germany and transferred the project to Kurt Tank, a celebrated German aeronautical engineer and test pilot.

At Hindustan Aircraft, Kurt designed the HF-24 Marut fighter-bomber, which was India’s first indigenous fighter aircraft, in 1961. Hindustan Aircraft was renamed as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 1964 after it merged with the Indian Air Force’s manufacturing units in Kanpur.

Many of the aircrafts that HAL produced are displayed at the HAL Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum in Bengaluru. It has an open courtyard with seven rooms around it. Each of the rooms  is dedicated to various decades of HAL’s existence.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, aircrafts such as the HAL glider, Harlow, Krishak, Pushpak and Tigermoth, Walrus seaplane, a Catalina seaplane, a Devon aircraft, a Logistic support aircraft and a Dakota aircraft were made, either under license or indigenous, original
designs. Between 1971 and 1980, HAL made Chetak and Cheetah helicopters, Ajeet fighter planes and Kiran MK-II aircrafts.

France’s aerospace company, Aerospatiale, made the SA 315B Lama utility helicopters for the Indian armed forces and first flew them in 1969. First introduced in 1971, the following year the helicopter set an absolute altitude record of 40,814 ft which was unbroken until earlier this year. HAL began to build the Lama under license and called them Cheetah. HAL also made two variants of Cheetah and called them Cheetal and Lancer.

The planes made by HAL in the 1980s included the Hindustan ATS-1 Ardhra glider, the HTT-34 aircraft, the Jaguar trainer and the Jaguar fighter. In 1988, a division of HAL was set-up to help Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in its space research.

The HAL planes of the 1990s included the Lakshya pilot-less target planes, the MIG-29 fighters, the LCAs and the Mirage-2000s. Those of the noughties (2001-2009) and beyond include the Intermediate Jet Trainers (IJT), the HAWK advanced jet trainers, the HTT-40s and the Sukhoi (SU-30) fighters.

With a lot of contributions having made to the field of aeronautics, it is indeed inspiring to see HAL grow in leaps and bounds.

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