India's aviation industry traces its roots to December 1940, when industrialist Walchand Hirachand established Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), with American technical assistance and capital and land provided by the Mysore government. Soon after the outbreak of WW II, the Indian government, realising the strategic significance of this enterprise, bought one-third stake in HAL.
HAL had barely started licensed production when it was nationalised in 1943, and handed over to the US Army Air Forces (USAAF). Functioning as an Aircraft Maintenance Depot, HAL repaired and serviced hundreds of flying boats, fighters, bombers and transport aircraft for the USAAF during the war. Bangalore, thus, became the hub of aviation industrial support to Allied forces deployed in the SE Asia Command, and produced thousands of aeronautical technicians.
Soon after independence, HAL's Chief Designer, eminent aeronautical engineer Dr V.M. Ghatage, boldly embarked on three aircraft design projects: Each of them attaining a substantial degree of success. Over the next decade, HAL manufactured more than 400 Ghatage-designed aircraft: The HT-2 basic trainer for the IAF; the Krishak observation aircraft for the Army; and the Pushpak light-aircraft for the civilian sector. Ghatage's last outstanding achievement was the design of the HJT-16 jet trainer, Kiran, of which 190 were built and are still serving the IAF after nearly three decades.
HAL's crowning glory, however, came in June 1961 with the flight of the HF-24, Marut, the first jet fighter-bomber designed and built in Asia. The government, in a rare flash of inspiration, had acquired the services of WW II German designer Dr Kurt Tank, in 1956, to help HAL design a jet fighter. An aerodynamically elegant design, the Marut had huge potential as a supersonic fighter, but powered by two, small British Orpheus turbo-jets its performance remained sub-sonic and sub-par. (end of excerpt)
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