Since India's independence, Indian Air Force has been actively
involved in defending territorial boundaries. In 1948, IAF acquired
its first jet fighter, the Vampire, and the Aircraft Testing
Unit (ATU) was raised under the command of Wg Cdr H Moolgavkar
to accept and test these aircrafts. By early fifties, IAF felt
the need to expand its aircraft holdings. The ageing fleet of
Vampires, Toofanis and Mysteres were required to be upgraded
and eventually replaced, to meet fresh challenges. Indian aviation
industry, in the form of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL),
was already being provided highly skilled pilots by IAF for
flight test duties. Anticipating the need for an indigenous
flight-testing capability, and to launch flight testing in India
on a formal footing, IAF deputed two pilots for NO.8 Test Pilots'
Course at Empire Test Pilots' School in UK in October 1949.
These pilots were followed by several others in succeeding years
and they formed the core group in the establishment of the Aircraft
and Armament Testing Unit (A&ATU) Kanpur, a precursor to
On 09 December 1970, keeping pace with its expanding field
of activity, the Commanding Officer's post at A&ATU was
further upgraded to Group Captain, and Group Captain Kapil Bhargava
VM was appointed to fill this prestigious slot. The next two
years saw an increase in avionics systems trials like IFF, V/UHF
sets, gun sights, FR cameras etc., in addition to armament and
airframe testing. The unit's role was growing and on 23 August
1972, A&ATU was reorganised as Aircraft and Systems Testing
The year 1957 brought further challenges to A&ATU in the
form of Gnat evaluation. Gnat aircraft had not yet been fully
evaluated in UK when the task of evaluating this compact fighter
for tropical conditions was assigned to A&ATU.
A&ATU geared up to meet this new task by setting up various
sections and Flight test instrumentation laboratories. Within
next three months, many test-handling sorties were flown and
a detailed report - the first of many full fledged reports generated
by the unit was submitted to the Government.
After the Gnat evaluation, the unit was busy with trials on
Vampire, Mystere and Hunter aircraft In 1961, a team from Boscombe
Down UK, arrived for tropical trials on the Saunders Roe P-53C
Scout helicopter, giving A&ATU its first exposure to rotary
wing testing. Trials on De Havilland Otter soon followed, adding
transport flying expertise to the repertoire. The next major
evaluation for A&ATU came up in 1964. Hindustan Aeronautics
Limited, Bangalore had developed the first indigenous fighter
aircraft HF-24 Marut, which was to be evaluated. In 1964, A&ATU
also carried out trials on Krishak aircraft.
Late sixties were productive years for the indigenous aviation
industry. A&ATU was tasked with preview and evaluation trials
for HJT-16 Hindustan Jet Trainer (Kiran), Indian variants of
Alouette helicopter, Chetak and Cheetah, and Marut developmental
test programme. In addition, the unit carried out trials on
HS748 (AVRO) medium transport aircraft, which was thereafter
inducted into IAF.
Jaguar aircrafts were inducted into IAF in 1980. Along with
it came technology transfer and a licence for manufacture in
India. HAL and ASTE once more became the centre stage for developmental
trials on advanced avionics, low-end electronic systems like
the radio altimeter, VHF communication sets and other instruments.
During November 1980, Air Commodore P Singh, the Commandant
of ASTE, led an IAF delegation to France for evaluation of Mirage
2000. In the next year Air Cmde P Singh led yet another delegation
to the USSR for evaluation and acquisition of MiG-27 and MiG-23
aircraft. In the same year, Wg Cdr P Rajkumar, Wg Cdr Parab
and Fit Lt AMS Kahlon completed flight evaluation of AN-32.
This aircraft was to become the backbone of IAF's tactical transport
operations from then on.
In 1982, during the Golden Jubilee celebrations of IAF, pilots
from ASTE took part in a very special event. A vintage aircraft
fly past was held in New Delhi. Four test pilots of ASTE flew
the vintage aircraft as a part of IAF's 50th anniversary celebrations.
Air Cmde P singh, Gp Capt IS Sandhu, Sqn Ldr PS Shetly and Fit
Lt Thomas flew Spitfire, Harvard, Vampire and Tigermoth. The
vintage aircraft of a bygone era taking to the skies with renewed
vigour was indeed a splendid sight to see! In 1982, ASTE moved
to its present location under Air Cmde PM Ramachandran AVSM
SC VM as the Commandant. The eighties and the nineties saw an
explosion in the scope, quantum and variety of trials conducted
by the Establishment
The Space Odyssey
In 1984, two officers of ASTE, Wg Cdr Ravish Malhotra and Sqn
Ldr Rakesh Sharma achieved celebrity status, when they were
selected to undergo training for the Indo-Soviet joint space
venture. On 03 Apr 1984, Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma was launched
into space in a SOYUZ T -11 along with his Soviet counterparts.
His spontaneous reply-when asked by the then Prime Minister
Shrimati Indira Gandhi, on how India looked from space - "Saare
Jahan Se Achch a" , is imprinted in the memories of millions
of Indians who had tuned into the broadcast. An ASTE pilot had
crossed the 'Last Frontier'.
of Presidential Standard
His Excellency Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the President of India, presented
the 'Presidential Standard' to ASTE on 21 Nov 05. The Standard
and Colours were presented during an impressive parade, commanded
by Gp Capt PP Reddy of ASTE The parade was followed by a fly
past of LCA, IJT, Kiran aircraft and 'Small Boy' formation by
Dornier and AN 32 aircarft. The ceremony included various events
namely. Photo Exhibition, Ceremonial Parade, Presidential tea
with air warriors, a grand banquet, and a Barakhana with the
CAS. Various senior dignitaries of IAF, Army, Navy and Civilian
organisations attended the function.
Flight - testing is one of the most demanding, challenging and
exacting professions in the world. ASTE ensures that the operational
pilot, as the end user, always gets a superior and a reliable
weapon platform. In this aspect, the Establishment's work has
always won laurels for the country, whether the task be carrying
out maiden test flight of jet fighters or orbiting earth in
a spacecraft. ASTE strives to set a fine example of how co-operation
among sister services, various defence research agencies and
aircraft manufacturers can be optimally utilised to make our
nation self reliant in its defence capabilities.