This paper examines the beginnings of aircraft manufacture and maintenance in India by exploring the early history of Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL), India’s premier producer of military aircraft. Scholars have seen HAL’s beginnings primarily as an instance of colonial imperatives subjugating indigenous enterprise. In contrast, this paper emphasises the multiplicity of actors and the broader, often extra-imperial networks that played a role in HAL’s development.
The plant in Bangalore was commissioned by a team of American engineers under W.D. Pawley, who would arrange for manufacturing licences, machinery and materials through his American company. These American experts supervised a team of Indian engineers and technicians. Other crucial actors were the princely government of Mysore, which provided land and concessions for the factory; German and Germany-trained experts who worked in HAL’s design teams after Indian independence; and the Indian Institute of Science.
Thus the paper argues that the birth and development of the aircraft industry in India is best understood not solely through the framework of imperial metropolis and colonial periphery, but in a global context.
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