Aircraft And Systems Testing Establishment


ASTE Crest The ASTE crest shows a futuristic aircraft carrying guided weapons ringed by an ellipse. A slide-rule is superimposed on the fuselage of the aircraft The slide-rule portrays precision and accuracy needed during flight-testing. It also signifies the aspects of technical knowledge and training involved in producing test pilots and test engineers. The missiles represent armament that forms the major preoccupation of ASTE as a defence services establishment. The ring portrays significant aspects of the role of ASTE. First of all, it depicts the sighting ring of a gun sight, which symbolises not only the involvement of ASTE with armament, but also its concern for constant vigil on correct aims and objectives. Secondly, it symbolises the aiming circles provided on the ground targets as seen from the air and signifies the need for accuracy of results to be obtained during flight testing. The crest also symbolises the aspirations and ambitions of ASTE in involving itself with the country's future plans in the realm of aerospace, The words 'Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment' and 'Indian Air Force' are inscribed on the roundel in a light blue background. The 'Ashok Stambh' heads the crest and laurel leaves surround the crest. The motto printed on the crest "Sukshamta Avum Utkarsh", means "Precision and Excellence", two invariable and steadfast goals to which ASTE aims, in everything it does.


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 ASTE.

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 Establishment (ASTE).

Flight Evaluations

Light Combat Aircraft  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. In a first, Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava VM, was deputed by the IAF to the Egyptian Aircraft Factory to carry out flight tests of their indigenous fighter aircraft, HA-300.

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.

ASTE was instrumental in the flight testing and operationalisation of the Light Combat Aircraft-Tejas, which saw successful induction into the Indian Airforce. The flight testing, spanning close to two decades was quite successful, in that no aircraft were lost during the whole process.

The single largest ever defence deal in the country's history to date came in the form of the MMRCA tender wherein six modern fighter aircraft, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-21, Mikoyan MiG-35, and Saab JAS 39 Gripen were assessed by Test Pilots and Flight Test Engineers of ASTE in 2011 resulting in the selection and integration of Dassault Rafale.

ASTE has been instrumental in integrating modern weapons such as the long range Air-surface missile -Brahmos, ASTRA BVR missile, Sensor Fused Weapon and Derby BVR missile. Additionally, a major upgrade have been carried out on the MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar aircraft giving the Indian Air Force a significant edge in the subcontinent and has made it a force to be reckoned with.

Vintage Flights

Vintage AircraftVintage Aircraft 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

Wg Cdr Ravish Malhotra and Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma Wg Cdr Ravish Malhotra and Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma 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 Smt. Indira Gandhi, on how India looked from space - "Saare Jahan Se Achcha" , is imprinted in the memories of millions of Indians who had tuned into the broadcast. An ASTE pilot had crossed the 'Final Frontier'.

With a growing need to explore beyond the reaches of the final frontier, the Gaganyaan programme was instituted by ISRO with an aim to send astronauts to orbit on an indigenously developed space vehicle. Experimental Test Pilots of ASTE were specifically chosen as candidates to be trained as astronauts. After extensive medical, psychological and physical screening in 2019, four test pilots were chosen and are presently undergoing astronaut training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia and are likely to cross the 'final frontier' again, in 2021.

Silver Jubilee

ASTE maintains a strong bond among its members. Reunions are held at regular intervals where the younger generation gets a change to rub shoulders with those who held the mantle aloft in the past. In 1997, ASTE celebrated its Silver Jubilee. An international seminar was held on the occasion and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, then scientific adviser to Defence Minister was the Chief Guest. It was a happy and nostalgic reunion for many of the erstwhile members of ASTE.

Award of Presidential Standard

Award of Presidential Standard Award 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 aircraft. 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.

Looking Ahead

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.


Sr. No. Name Period
01 Sqn Ldr Bhopinder Singh Jun 57 to Nov 59
02 Sqn Ldr Suranjan Das Nov 59 to Jun 61
03 Wg Cdr JJ Bouche Jun 61 to Jan 64
04 Wg Cdr BK Ghosh Jan 64 to Jun 68
05 Wg Cdr Karan Yadav Jun 68 to Dec 69
06 Wg Cdr/ Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava VM Jan 70 to Dec 72
07 Gp Capt/ Air Cmde CV Gole PVSM AVSM Dec 72 to Aug 74
08 Gp Capt/ Air Cmde RD Sahni Aug 74 to Dec 77
09 Air Cmde PK Dey AVSM Jan 78 to Jul 79
10 Air Cmde P Singh AVSM VM & Bar Jul 79 to Sep 82
11 Air Cmde PM Ramachandran AVSM SC VM Oct 82 to Dec 84
12 AVM PK Dey AVSM Jan 85 to Jul 86
13 Air Cmde/ AVM AS Lamba Vr C Aug 86 to Apr 91
14 Air Cmde P Rajkumar AVSM VM May 91 to Jul 93
15 Air Cmde SC Rastogi VSM Jul 93 to Jan 96
16 Air Cmde AK Thakur Jan 96 to Dec 96
17 Air Cmde P Mehra VM Jan 97 to Jan 99
18 Air Cmde Parvez Khokar VM Jan 99 to Jan 01
19 Air Cmde AK Nagalia VM VSM Jan 01 to Mar 02
20 Air Cmde Anil Chopra VM VSM Mar 02 to Dec 04
21 Air Cmde PR Sharma Dec 04 to Dec 06
22 Air Cmde M Matheswaran VM Dec 06 to May 08
23 Air Cmde Jose Mathappan VSM May 08 to Dec 10
24 Air Cmde BR Krishna SC Dec 10 to Dec 11
25 AVM R Nambiar VM & BAR Dec 11 to Jun 14
26 AVM Rajeev Hora Jul 14 to Jun 16
27 AVM Sandeep Singh AVSM VM Aug 16 to Dec 18
28 AVM SK Mohlah VM Dec 18 to Jul 20
29 AVM J Mishra VSM Jul 20 to Till date