What is the state of aeronautical engineering in India?

I single India out for special treatment, for a simple reason:

India should be the next leading light in aerospace, if it maximizes its natural advantages.

If.

For way too long, the most populous nation on the planet has been impoverished and impeded from the economic benefits of aerospace and other technology industries.

Now, Indians have an opportunity to better themselves and their nation. Indian aerospace engineers should be at the forefront of this effort. An excellent start has been made. Large western firms have already established engineering centres, usually in Bangalore, sometimes elsewhere, to “geo-arbitrage” their engineering, i.e. get it done for cheaper.

Everything I’m reading and hearing says that this great start has stalled somewhat.

India has become known as the place to get stuff done for cheap.

But not for quality.

This article on Slideshare provides some evidence. Admittedly, it is about IT, but it could as easily have been about aerospace.

I have a British stress engineer friend who, at the peak of the A380 launch effort, recounted to me how he had outsourced a large package of stress analysis work to an Indian firm. The work was done. On time, on spec, and on budget. Great, eh?

Nope, not great.

The problem was, the results of the study weren’t what my friend wanted to hear. Reserve factors (that’s the ratio of stress to allowable stress, for the uninitiated) below 1.00 were everywhere. The Indian firm had solved one problem for him, and handed back 100 new problems and zero solutions.

Not great for a manager who’s due to appear at a design review Monday morning to inform programme management how the design is going. And all he’s got is bad news.

The Indian firm had done exactly what they were told to do. And that’s the problem.

In the aerospace world (and, I venture to suggest, in most of the world), we might tell you what we want you to do. And that’s what we will actually put in the contract spec.

But what we actually want is for you to make our life just that little bit easier. Just that little bit less painful.

We want you to make our problems go away.

And that is something that Indian aerospace firms (and probably a lot of sectors) have not completely learned yet.

What does this mean for you, the Indian aerospace geek, who just wants his/her first (or next) job designing flying machines or space toys?

It means you should have two heads.
(1) Your default head, the one that respects authority, and does as your boss or teacher tells you.
(2) A Value Head, that reads between the lines, and seeks to understand what your boss or customer really wants, what keeps him up at night, that he can’t tell you because it’s embarrassing or (more likely) he doesn’t know how to tell you.

(And maybe you need a third head, to discern which of Heads (1) and (2) you should use at any one time.)

If you can figure that out, then you will be well positioned to make inroads in the aerospace world, to create new customers inside and outside India, to create new products and technologies that will position India at the aerospace forefront.

Please do that.

I, despite not being Indian, would love to one day board an Indian-designed and -build aircraft to fly me somewhere.

It’s nowhere close to a reality yet. But there is no longer any reason why it can’t be.

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