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The Story of NAL's Wind Tunnels


The Nilakantan Papers


NAL's Wind Tunnel Centre as it looked in the early 1960's.

The photograph which you are beginning to see at the top is likely to make NAL old-timers nostalgic. It shows NAL's Wind Tunnel Centre as it looked in the early 1960's. The Bellandur Lake (alas, only an ugly and polluted pond now, partially covered with hyacinth) appears serene and majestic. It was hereabouts that the real NAL story began.

NAL was established on 1 June 1959 with offices in Delhi and moved to Bangalore on 1 March 1960. The early years (1960-67) were spent in setting up wind tunnels across the Bellandur Lake; notably the 1.2m trisonic blowdown wind tunnel which continues its splendid run to this day.

Then followed a decade of remarkable consolidation, facility build-up and the creation of R&D divisions encompassing practically every facet of aeronautics: theoretical and experimental aerodynamics, structures, materials, propulsion, electronics and systems.

By the mid-1970's, NAL had become one of the major actors on the Indian aeronautical scene. It was recognised as one of CSIR's best-managed national laboratories undertaking over a hundred high science high technology R&D projects in aerospace. The factors driving NAL's R&D effort were the pursuit of excellence, national self-reliance in a strategic sector, proof of technology (largely through the pilot plant demonstration concept) and the creation of outstanding testing and servicing facilities.

 

 

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NAL was established on 1 June 1959 with offices in Delhi and moved to Bangalore on 1 March 1960. The early years (1960-67) were spent in setting up wind tunnels across the Bellandur Lake; notably the 1.2m trisonic blowdown wind tunnel which continues its splendid run to this day.

 

Sadly, after the heady success of the 1960's, the 1970's also saw a slump in Indian aircraft development activity and NAL was then often likened to an " very attractive and well-decked bride with nowhere to go".

By the early 1980's, and largely due to the personal initiative of NAL's leaders and well-wishers, the tide was beginning to turn. India's light combat aircraft (LCA) project was formally approved by the Government in 1983, and the coming of this project led to a quantum leap in NAL's R&D activity. India's space programme too attained a significant level of maturity during this decade. This, coupled with the demands and success of the missile development programme of India's DRDO, meant that NAL had its hands full. This was the decade when NAL graduated into a major national player in aerospace.

The 1990's has been a very busy decade for NAL with its continued involvement in national aerospace programmes and NAL's own initiative in the area of civil aviation. In tune with the times, NAL's priorities and role are changing. But the resolve to be one of the world's best R&D centres in aerospace, shared by each of NAL's five Directors so far: Dr P Nilakantan, Dr S R Valluri, Prof R Narasimha, Dr K N Raju, Dr T S Prahlad, Dr B R Pai and now Dr A R Upadhya is still firm and undiminished. As always, NAL remains an exciting and happening place.

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