DRDO’s aero test range to be inaugurated on Sunday

The facility is an integrated test centre for the organisation’s cluster of laboratories, mostly in Bengaluru

Updated - May 27, 2017 09:02 am IST

Published - May 26, 2017 09:07 pm IST - CHALLAKERE

A view of Aeronautical Test Range at Challakere in Chitradurga district, Karnataka.

A view of Aeronautical Test Range at Challakere in Chitradurga district, Karnataka.

Over a decade ago, when a new international airport for Bangalore was being planned at Devanahalli, its private developers feared that the new landing site and paths of its civil flights would clash with a World War II airfield, some 70 km away at Kolar. The Defence Research & Development Organisation was using the airfield to test its new projects.

To cut the story short, Bangalore (as it was then called) got a new civil airport in May 2008 and, in the bargain, the DRDO got a new flight testing place for itself — although much farther than Kolar.

The new Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) has been up and running for a few months. It will be formally inaugurated on May 28 by acting Defence Minister Arun Jaitley. The Hindu had a special preview of the range that nestles in an undulating, almost barren sprawl of shrubs and lined with hillock.

The ATR is a facility under the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) which works on a range of UAVs (unmanned air vehicles). It will be an integrated test centre for the DRDO’s cluster of aeronautical laboratories, most of them based in Bengaluru, according to a few scientists.

The labs primarily using the range will be the Centre for Air Borne Systems, the Gas Turbine Research Establishment, the Defence Avionics Research Establishment, the Centre for Military Airworthiness & Certification, all based in Bengaluru, and the Aerial Delivery Research & Development Establishment, Agra.

Military development labs need large spaces to fly and test aeronautical products. In November last year, the DRDO used the ATR to conduct the first successful flight of the UAV ‘Tapas’ 201, earlier called Rustom-2. As recently as on May 21, ADE engineers again flew one of the two early versions or prototypes of Tapas at Challakere for six minutes. Tapas is a MALE or medium altitude, long endurance UAV that can do continuously, slowly watch over a 200-km area for 24 hours. The pictures it captures will be interpreted by the Armed Forces or security.

The 20-km perimeter of the strategic facility is fenced and under radar surveillance. About 3 km inside, the DRDO has built a 2.2-km runway at the ATR for the pilotless Tapas aircraft and is due to extend it to 3.2 km in course. According to a scientist, the longer runway will enable the developer labs to bring in bigger aircraft for tests: for instance the AEW&CS (Airborne Early Warning & Control Systems) aircraft meant for surveillance and intelligence gathering from sensitive areas.

The DRDO’s first two AEW&CS are built on Embraer aircraft and in future, will include much larger Airbus platforms, the agency had said earlier.

While these are pilotless planes, the ATR will also serve development of manned aircraft versions such as the LCA fighters.

For the past nine months, the ATR has been abuzz with activities. An optic fibre network, connectivity and other work have been going on. Officials said some scientists had been staying at Challakere town while teams of ADE and other engineers commuted frequently from Bengaluru.

Outside the range, about 3 km away, a 200-acre township with schools, medical and all other amenities is shaping up, making what is designed to be a world-class ATR.

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