Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Mysorean who became India's first aviator and aircraft designer

Till a few years back, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata more famously known as JRD Tata was reckoned to be the first aviator from and of India.  A pioneer in many fields, JRD was unanimously credited with having kickstarted India’s first international airline.
However, over the three to four years, there has been another claimant to bag the distinction of being India’s first aviator and it is a matter of pride for every Kannadiga that this man was from Mysore.
Unfortunately, this man has not been given his due and even today a majority of Indians are ignorant of the Mysorean’s deeds and his contribution to the field of Indian aviation.
He is Venkata Subba Shetty or Venkata Subba Setti of Mysore, who today is unanimously known as the first Indian aviator. He flew an aircraft just eight years after the Wright brothers’ historic flight in 1903.
This Mysorean was both pilot and aircraft constructor. He was a  pioneering aeronautical engineer who himself designed built and flew an aircraft. This seminal event took place on June 16, 1912, while he was employed with  A.V.Roe & Co. (“Avro”) at Brooklands in Manchester,  England.
VS Setti had joined A.V.Roe on May 8, 1911 as a “time keeper” but he soon began practicing flights in a Gnome powered Farman Pusher bi-plane. On May 27, 1911, Setti and another Indian,  S.V.Sippe, took off  on a practice flight.
Within some months, Setti had “rolled”  or flown in a 35 horse power  green-powered Avro Type D. He also flew the 35 h.p. Vialeengined Avro Type D (No. 6).
On June 17, 1911, a group of Indians visited the Avro hangar in Brownsfield Mills on Great Ancoats Street in Manchester. It was Setti who spoke to them about the planes. On  September 27, 1911, Setti had his first flying accident, ending up in the sewage farm adjacent to Brooklands.
Such accidents were rather frequent in those days and nobody gave any thought to them. Setti again ended up in the same sewage farm on February 21, 1912 while flying an Avro Type B. He escaped injury both the times.
Luckily for us, some journals of those times have captured Setti’s feat. The Modern Review journal, published from Calcutta, carried an article called “The Indian Aviator”  and an 1912 London interview of Setti. Both these articles were discovered in the  Gothel library of Calcutta. The articles reveal Setty’s role in designing the Avro Duigan and Avro 504 planes.
Setty, who was with the Avro in 1911, designed and tested Avro. It was successful in its flight on March 12, 1912. This aircraft was later named Avro Duigan.
Setty's design then became the basis for Avro 500 series built by A V Roe. Subsequently, in May 1912, Setty started designing a new aircraft and declared in the July 1912 issue of  “The Modern Review journal”  that it was a new biplane, different from the Avro 500. After completing the design, he left for India on June 30, 1912.
In later years, the new biplane which Setty had designed turned out to be Avro 504, the popular World War I bomber. Interestingly, the Avro 504 was the first to bomb Germany in November 1914.
Setti’s grandson, Jayaprakash G, N., is an engineer with DRDO.
Thus, Karnataka has pride of place in the history of aviation in India.
Apart from a Mysorean’s first flight, the first aircraft factory in India was Hindustan Aircraft Limited which was set up in 1940 by Walchand Hirachand in Bangalore. The first aerospace laboratory,  National Aerospace Laboratory, came up in Bangalore in 1960. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, was the first institute for aeronautical physics in India; and the first course started in 1942. Today, Karnataka has transformed into the aviation hub of the country and produces more than a quarter of all components. Karnataka is home to a large number of aviation and defence research centres.

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