Dr. Vishnu Madav Ghatge with then Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, OBE

by Divya Shekhar

December 1942. World War II was at its peak and India faced a bleak political situation. A young student, TN Krishnaswamy, confused about his career prospects, joined the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). On his first day, he entered the cabin of his professor, aerospace engineer Dr Vishnu Madav Ghatage, also the founder of the department. 
During that brief exchange, Krishnaswamy noted that Ghatage was an eloquent speaker and had clear-cut ideas regarding the future of aeronautical activities to be pursued and how he proposed to go about them. With Ghatage being his mentor, he would go on to become a professor at his alma mater.

This anecdote is part of a tribute written by Prof TN Krishnaswamy when Ghatage passed away in December 1991 after suffering from cancer.

Padma Shri VM Ghatage, often referred to as “Bhishma Pitamaha” of the Indian aircraft industry, was a plane-maker. He led the team that designed the Hindustan Trainer No 2 (HT-2), the first aircraft designed, developed and manufactured in India. Born in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, in October 1908 — this year marks his 110th birth anniversary — he was one of the two Indians to be trained by Professor Prandtl (whose work laid the foundation of modern aerodynamics) at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Germany in 1933.

“He researched and wrote about fluid mechanics under different thermal conditions after which he returned to India in 1940 and joined the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL),” said Rajani Ghatage, his daughter, who works in the hospitality industry. “After two years, he moved to the IISc because he did not want to work for the British. He remained there till 1948.”

IDN: Hindustan Trainer-2 (HT-2) was India's first powered aircraft, it is a two-seat primary trainer which flew for the first time on 13th August 1951

In 1948, Ghatage became chief designer at HAL and designed the HT-2, which found service in the Indian Air Force (IAF). “He then designed light aircraft Pushpak, which was used by flying clubs, agriculture aircraft Krishak and jet trainer Kiran,” said Rajani. All these aircraft would go on to be star attractions at IAF shows. He rose to the post of general manager and managing director of HAL and retired in 1971.

Ghatage, who received a Padma Shri in 1965 and the Sir Walter Puckey Indian Prize for his contribution to production engineering, was also an avid golfer and painter. According to Rajani, he was instrumental in forming the Karnataka Golf Association in the 1970s. He specialised in portrait paintings in water colour and had a good eye for colour schemes. HAL has named one of its convention centres after him.