Deccan Herald(04-10-2005)

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 (LCA).

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 and Japan.

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 from rotodynamics.

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 career.

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 engineer.

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 in 1987.

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 direction.

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.