India's Rustom UAV Crashes During First Flight

Bad news. The first technology demonstrator of India's RUSTOM medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programme crashed during its first test flight on Tuesday, November 16, at the Taneja Aerospace airfield near Hosur in Karnataka. Sources present at the test have told LiveFist that the Rustom took off and flew for a bit. One its return path, it crashed into a grove of coconut trees. The RUSTOM-1 was almost completely destroyed in the mishap. The DRDO statement issued today smacks of a muff-up. "The taxing and take-off was exactly as planned. Due to misjudgment of altitude of the flight, the on-board engine was switched off through ground command which made the on-board thrust developed to go to zero. There are a lot of gains from the flight," the DRDO statement says. Whenever anyone says there have been "gains", and even if it's true, you can bet your last buck that it's been a bad accident (see photo on the left ©The New Indian Express)

It goes on to add, "The flight proved the functioning of a number of systems such as aerodynamics, redundant flight control, engine, redundant data link etc which go a long way towards development of complex UAVs. A lot of planning and care have been taken and notification through relevant authorities were done in order to cater for safety aspects in addition to taking a third party insurance for the flights. It is the first flight of its kind using a 700 kg airframe & sophisticated controls & hence prone to development hazards." The photo to the left shows the late Professor Rustom Behram Damania (after whom the UAV programme is named) demonstrating the Light Canard Research Aircraft (LCRA) to then President KR Narayanan. Prof Damania pioneered the LCRA upon which the Rustom UAV is based, though he is better known for his work on the Hansa light composite trainer.

The crash is an undeniable blow to the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), which was in the midst of pioneering the Rustom, first displayed to the public at Aero India 2009 (see photo at top). Here's hoping the ADE team quickly finds out what went wrong and moves forward. This is a Rs 1,000-crore programme that we cannot afford to have delayed, as it indubitably now will be. Stay tuned for updates.

Photo ©Shiv Aroor

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