Wednesday, 18 December 2013

ON AIR: The HAL Museum

As India emerges as one of the fastest growing aviation sectors worldwide, the absence of dedicated aviation museums in India are a huge disappointment. India's aviation history goes back to 1932 when J.R.D. Tata, flew an airplane from Karachi to Bombay. Hence, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum in Bangalore is a pleasant surprise for an aviation enthusiast. The HAL Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum is open for the general public and also permits photography at very minimal costs.

The unique museum was formulated by Dr. Krishnadas Nair, the then chairperson of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, one of Asia's largest aerospace companies. It was formally inaugurated on August 30, 2001. Through meticulous descriptions and carefully illustrated exhibits, the museum narrates the tale of India's aviation progress and in particular, maps the growth and progress of HAL. The museum, with its extensive collection of aircrafts and two mock-ups, is one of the largest public aviation museums in India.


Devon Aircraft 
Hansa designed by NAL
The museum's biggest attraction is its aircraft collection which is exhibited outdoors. Aircraft designed, developed and built by HAL as well as those produced under a licensing pattern for the Indian Air Force are on display. Each aircraft has its own a display zone which is cordoned off by chains with a plaque giving details of the aircraft. A few prominent planes displayed here are the transport plane Devon, the small plane Hansa developed by the National Aerospace Laboratories, a mock-up of the Light Combat Aircraft and HAL's trainer aircraft Pushpak and Kiran, both of which are still used by amateur flying clubs and the Indian Air Force. 


A scaled down model of a PSLV
A scaled down model of a GSLV
There are also some exhibits on the Indian aerospace industry, among them being scaled down models of polar satellite launch vehicles (PSLV) and geosynchronous satellite launch vehicles (GSLV). The most interesting space-related exhibit has to be the full-sized model of the nose-cone of the PSLV, the heat shield used to house the satellite and protect it on its journey through the Earth's atmosphere. 


HAL factory site: January 1940
Lord Mountbatten visiting HAL
The museum also chronicles some interesting HAL history. Hall 1 is housed in a circular building which has several rooms and each room depicts milestones in the HAL story over the last 65 years. Other photos include those on the production line of some of HAL's planes and some others of famous visitors to HAL, including Lord Mountbatten, India's last viceroy.


HAL ATC Tower and Tarmac: April 1957
Hall 2 gives visitors an idea about the various technologies involved in aircraft manufacturing and the changes that have taken place over the years. The upper levels of the hall house two rudimentary flight simulators and the popular Air Traffic Control Room. Although there is also some dummy ATC equipment, the real attraction here is the clear view that the ATC has of Bangalore's old airport runway. 


In a country where preservation of aviation history is not on the priority list, this modest attempt by HAL to educate common visitors is commendable. The setting up of the HAL Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum is a giant step forward in preserving India's aviation history and heritage. This is largely a tribute to the hardworking scientists and machines that have propelled India's rise into the global aviation field making it a force to reckon with. 

P.S.: There is a nominal entry fee of Rs. 20/- for every visitor plus Rs. 25 to be charged for a camera for still photography. A video camera attracts Rs. 45 as the fees. There is a staff of ten to look after the Museum's operations, including a security detail to keep visitors off from touching the exhibits. The Museum houses a small souvenir shop that sells mementos, postcards and posters for reasonable rates.

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