This flight test centre ensures IAF gets its right fit

ASTE has been functioning in the city since 1973. Photo: Sampth Kumar G.P.

ASTE has been functioning in the city since 1973. Photo: Sampth Kumar G.P.  

What is common to the Indian Air Force's recently acquired assets, namely, the French Rafale medium fighter, the US-origin C-17 transport aircraft, and the small Swiss-made Pilatus P-7 pilot trainer?

They were all flown, evaluated and green-signalled as fit for the IAF - as also their co-contenders - by one of its important arms operating quietly right in aviation hub Bengaluru.

Should there be a war across the border, they will be part of it, either on the battlefield or in technically keeping the aircraft flying fit.

Aircraft and Systems Test Establishment (ASTE) has also trained around 500 men to become test pilots - those who risk their lives to check out raw aircraft or systems on it that are still being perfected. A few of their fraternity have lost lives in the process.

ASTE, which has been functioning in the city in this name since 1973, was actually born in Kanpur in 1959. It has the country’s only test pilot training school producing about 25 of the precious air men every year.

There are only five such others in the world that totally bring out 100-odd test pilots each year, says its Commandant, Air Vice-Marshal Sandeep Singh, who is an experienced test pilot for the IAF's Sukhoi-30 MkI fighters.

IAF apart, ASTE also covers all flight-related research projects of the Army and the Navy, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Fighter, trainer, helicopter, transport plane and every piece of hardware and software that later gets added on to them - “all flying things of the Forces” and their upgrades - must first pass the ASTE's muster, says Group Captain S. Chaki, also a Su-30 test pilot. Only then are they recommended for certification and induction into the forces.

“ASTE is part of all flight evaluations of new aircraft and systems before they are inducted into the IAF. It does flight testing with weapons and avionics systems that are being integrated into aircraft that get upgraded; and flight test of indigenous prototype aircraft and systems,” Gp Capt Chaki said during a media interaction at the ASTE ahead of Air Force Day, which is observed on October 8.

ASTE will be an important part of ISRO’s proposed human flight project whenever it takes shape. The only Indian astronaut, Wing Commander (retd) Rakesh Sharma, was a test pilot at the ASTE, said Gp. Capt Chaki.

The five aircraft that participated in the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) campaign that lasted nearly a decade were tested for 750 parameters.

The indigenous projects such as the LCH, LCA, the Intermediate Jet Trainer under HAL; the fitment of the BrahMos cruise missile on the Su-30, the three surveillance aircraft being fitted with the DRDO’s Airborne Early Warning & Control System (AEW&CS); or the upgrades of Mirage-2000, Jaguar and MiG-29 fighters; the weapons, missile fitments, avionics and electronic warfare suites on them will all be scrutinised by ASTE’s pilots.

Bulk of the establishment’s staff provides technical support for the aircraft - which includes 11 fixed-wing aircraft and five helicopters of the Forces across categories.

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