A pioneer in aero-engineering
K Ramachandra, the head of the Kaveri Engine Development team, has always
remained focussed on the one love of his life - aerospace/rocket engineering.
He was recently honoured by the Indian Institute of Engineers, for excellence
in service, writes Bidanda M Chengappa.
The Indian Institute of Engineers, Bangalore, recently honoured eminent
engineers with awards as part of the Vishveswaraya birth centenary celebrations
and Dr K Ramachandra was one of them. He is a defence scientist in the hot
seat who is tasked with the design and development of the first ever aero-engine
in the country - the controversial Kaveri engine for the Light Combat Aircraft
Considering that the country, till recently had not even indigenously developed
an automobile engine for the motor car, developing an aero-engine with far
higher performance parameters is clearly a challenge. Today, there are only
five aero-engine manufacturers in the world, namely the UK, US, France, Germany
The development of the Kaveri engine would propel India into the high technology
club. Dr Ramachandra is the Director of the Gas Turbine Research Establishment
(GTRE) in Bangalore. The route to development of an aero-engine is to bridge
the gap between gas turbine power plants at one end and metallurgy with high
temperature materials on the other, he says.
Dr Ramachandra assumed charge in December 2003, as the sixth Director of
GTRE and has inherited the legacy of his predecessors.
While Air Vice Marshal Roy Chowdury, the founder director, initiated the
project as an engine technology startup, Arun Prasad developed test facilities.
Dr R Krishnan concentrated on materials and metallurgical support, besides
setting up test beds and also engine integration with the LCA, and thereafter
S C Kaushal focussed on component testing and certification procedures apart
Dr Ramachandra is a true Bangalorean who has never been out of the city for
more than 60 days. About the transformation of Bangalore, he says that till
the 1980s Bangaloreans were thrifty, but after two decades conspicuous consumerism
characterises their spending habits. Born in 1946 at Ambur in Tamil Nadu,
his parents moved to Bangalore in 1944-45, where he did his schooling at
the United Mission High School. His schooling considerably influenced his
He says “Teachers encouraged me to build models of ships.” The proximity
of his school to the erstwhile US Information Services facility near the
Unity Buildings, where he saw films and listened to talks on rocketry/space
launches during the 1960s also conditioned his choice of a career as a mechanical
With a research and teaching background besides a PhD program related to
aeroengine gearboxes and machine design, he joined the DRDO in 1977 as a
Scientist ‘C’ at the GTRE rather than go west for higher education.
In spite of this lateral entry, he, as a Divisional Head, had to immediately
dovetail into the Kaveri engine or GTX engine design and testing program.
Technology challenges, technical freedom and a supportive environment endemic
to GTRE have enabled him realise a seamless continuity of his technical activities
and build a cohesive design and development team. He was instrumental in
establishing an Experimental Stress Analysis Laboratory at the GTRE - the
only one in the country.
Dr Ramachandra got married in 1975 to Vijayalakshmi and had two daughters
- both engineers and pursuing higher studies in the UK and Germany. He is
a 1968 batch mechanical engineer from the BMS College of Engineering and
graduated from the Vishveshvaraya College of Engineering with a postgraduate
specialisation in machine design.
Evidently, he realised that engineering excellence is synonymous with Germany
and he learnt the language well. He has done his MII from Max Mueller Bhavan.
After three years of work experience, he embarked on a PhD programme to gain
momentum in his career graph and was awarded his doctorate in 1980. Eventually
he went on to become a well rounded technocrat. Dr Ramachandra has also acquired
an MBA with a specialisation in financial management from Bangalore University
Dr Ramachandra is now the organisation head, a job which involves tremendous
transition from a scientist into a manager or Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
As a CEO, he has to interface with external agencies and his technical background
enables him to understand problems to drive the organisation in the right
When asked on how he coped with professional stress, he said that television
serials especially cartoons and an initiation to golf at the Bangalore Golf
Club have helped him relax.