The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Wednesday conducted the maiden flight of Panchi, the wheeled version of India's proven unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Nishant. The maiden flight, which lasted for about 20 minutes, was held at the testing facility of DRDO in Kolar.
As reported earlier, Panchi (bird) is capable of taking off and landing from semi-prepared runways. This gives ‘mission advantage' to operators as the turnaround time between sorties can be significantly reduced. Panchi has been undertaking various pre-flight trials from September itself.
Aggressive efforts by ADE: DRDO
For the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), the Bengaluru-based DRDO lab which rolled out Panchi, 2014 has been a lucky Year 2014. The lab recently demonstrated its capabilities in successfully conducting the first flight of India's subsonic cruise missile Nirbhay.
DRDO Director-General (Aeronautical Systems) Dr K Tamilmani termed Wednesday's Panchi flight as a great team effort.
"Aggressive efforts by the ADE team during the past eight months in creating this version are commendable. The entire team was so focused on Mission Panchi," Dr Tamilmani said.
DRDO says Panchi has all the surveillance capabilities of UAV Nishant.
"It will have longer endurance as it does not have to carry the air bags and parachute system as in the case of UAV Nishant," says Dr Tamilmani.
Panchi can play varying roles including data (intelligence) gathering, reconnaissance, target designation, surveillance among others.
ATOL role will follow: ADE Director
Panchi is expected to join the ranks of proven global wheeled UAVs including the Heron, Searcher, Predator and Global Hawk, once cleared for operations.
Speaking to OneIndia, ADE Director P Srikumar said Wednesday's was Panchi's ‘shake-down' flight.
"We were keen to see how the platform performed during its initial missions. We studied various characteristics of the flight. The idea was to get a feel of Panchi while in flight," Srikumar said.
The top scientist confirmed that Panchi flew at 150 km/hour during its maiden mission.
"We will also demonstrate in future the ATOL (Automatic Take-Off and Landing) role of Panchi. That will be a significant milestone for the programme," Srikumar added. Wednesday's flight was undertaken with the help of an external pilot.
In a related development, DRDO Chief Dr Avinash Chander said that DRDO's Rustom-2 UAV will be available for undertaking missions in the next one year.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)