Two men from the city’s tool and die-making industry became aircraft restorers after they were accidentally hired to refurbish several aging exhibit planes at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
The plane had languished in poor condition for years. One is a British-made Hawker Hunter fighter-bomber acquired in 2009 from the Indian Air Force and a Pushpak light trainer from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as part of the Institute’s own air fleet that was in flight active until the 1990s. A third aircraft, a HAL HT-2, is awaiting restoration and could be completed by January, IISc officials said.
Professor Joseph Mathew, chairman of the Aerospace Engineering Department at IISc, stressed that the restoration work will not make these machines flyable. “We have tried to repair these displays for years. But the people who came forward were charging exorbitant amounts. The budget was limited, ”said Professor Mathew.
That changed when Manjunath PM, 27, and his father, Babi Muralidhar, walked into his office in the late stages of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in July. “It looked like they were looking for work and we had this project that needed to be completed,” Professor Mathew said.
Manjunath said he and his father were heavily involved in building jars and appliances for markets, as well as special components for custom industries. “However, we had a great interest in airplanes,” he said. DH, adding that his father had also worked for a time at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) as a mechanical engineer, which had piqued his interest in aviation. He added that Muralidhar also helped restore the Hunter jet once before in 2012.
Dr Duvvuri Subrahmanyam, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at IISc, said restoration work began in August. “The monsoon season was probably not the best, but we couldn’t wait to get started,” he said.
Manjunath said they specially designed a new metal body for the Pushpak, replacing the rexin-based skin that had rotted and torn over the years. “We also added cables to the aircraft to restore the operability of the flaps and ailerons,” he said.
For the Hunter aircraft, workers cleaned the machine and applied Duco acrylic paint to restore the original camouflage paint scheme. “Because this paint has a 30 minute drying time, we were able to apply coats between rain episodes,” Manjunath said.
Although there have been discussions at IISc to reintroduce a flying machine to the campus – IIT Kanpur for example has four flying planes – Professor Mathew pointed out that students at IISc are learning more advanced technologies than basic flight technologies.
A third member of the catering team was Sukumar, 60, a family friend.