Challakere: The new address for testing India’s future manned and unmanned platforms will be: ATR, Co/DRDO, Voru Kaval village, Challakere taluka, Chitradurga District, Karnataka. From now on, fighter jets and unmanned platforms will jettison over the Challakere skies, undertaking missions to boost India’s military preparedness.

Around 250-plus km from Bengaluru, the Aeronautical Test Range (ATR) inaugurated today, will be soon home for many ongoing and future aeronautical projects of DRDO.

With Indian Space Research Organisation, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Indian Institute of Science too landing at Challakere, the togetherness of aerospace minds at close proximity augurs well for India’s future.

DRDO officials say that the facility will be extended in Phase-2 with the current runway set to become 3.2 km in length, compared to 2.2 km now. Additional hangars and other gen-next technologies are also billed for the ATR. The hangars will be under smart-fencing, preventing even a harmless fly from peeping in.

“By the time LCA Mk-2 is ready, the ATR will be waiting with an extended runway and all other facilities needed for fighter operations. Before that, hopefully the AEW&C (Prying Plane) would have commenced its missions from here. We are trying our best to land it here at the earliest,” says an official from the Centre for Air Borne Systems.

Pilots of AEW&C made several attempts as part of their recce ahead of the inauguration to land at the ATR with an option of a steep take-off.

 “When we planned ATR, we kept in mind the needs of AMCA and UCAV (Ghatag) as well. The ATR has multiple uses and not just for flying platforms alone. We will also use this facility to test many EW systems as well,” says the official.

Tejas dropped bombs at ATR in 2010

Interestingly, on December 15, 2010, Tejas had unofficially made the ATR operational by dropping the first bomb.

A Tejas PV-2 piloted by Gp Capt (Retd) R.R. Tyagi had dropped practice bombs on with the Aeronautical Development Agency fixing air-to-ground target and range safety officer (RSO) bunkers for the stores release. A mobile telemetry too was in place for the ‘bombing missions’ then.

Tejas bombing

With the ATR become operational now, the load on DRDO’s Kolar test facility and HAL airport is expected to come down in future.

“Kolar had issues as it was coming in the flightpath of Kempegowa International Airport. Many of our missions had to be restricted. At HAL airport, the military flying traffic has increased significantly with DRDO, HAL and ASTE vying for time slots. Lots of activities will be under the roster of ATR soon,” he adds.

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(The writer is the Content Consultant to Mathrubhumi English Online and tweets @writetake.)