Seeing Through the Fog

Dr. Shubha, the Chief Scientist and Head of Airport Instrumentation at the National Aerospace Laboratories, amazed the Rotarians with her impressive list of achievements last Tuesday. Not only does she have dozens of patents and copyrights in her name, she has also received the 2016 Bushwick Award for Outstanding contribution to Science and Technology and the 2015 National Design Award from the National Design and Research Forum.

To add to her extraordinary accomplishments, in lieu of International Women’s Day, The Rotary Club of Bombay and The Godrej Group awarded her the Sohrab Godrej Award for Science and Technology for her pioneering efforts in and contributions to individualisation, aeronautics, the Drishti transmitter, the Atmiya Missile’s RCF thrusters, and over 40 other projects of national importance.

049With over 42 years of experience in the research, development, science, and technology fields of high tech aviation, she has engineered various projects for the India Meteorological Department, many of which were very crucial to the Air Force but previously imported. One of the most notable projects she worked on was called Drishti, a visibility measuring device. During her talk, Dr. Shubha enlightened the Rotarians about Drishti and its impact on India’s aeronautics.

“Drishti is a crucial and mandatory instrument for the take-off and landing of planes,” Dr. Shubha stated. “Drishti, true to its name, measures visibility.” Visibility is when a pilot can see a prominent unlit object on the runway during the daytime and the central light of a runway during the nighttime.

Atmospheric problems like fog, rain, and smog reduce visibility. The Drishti system communicates to the pilot the distance that they can see – a parameter of vital importance – and a representative condition of the runway for the safety of the passengers, aircraft, and the aircraft crew.

073The system’s transmitter projects a beam of light to the receiver. The optical detector in the receiver then measures the intensity of this light and converts it into metres. This distance is finally communicated to the pilot. Varying distances are used to grade airports into different categories of 1, 2, 3A, 3B, and 3C. The different categories shed light on the visibility at a specific airport. While airports in category 1 have a visibility of less than 550 metres, category 3B airports allow planes to land with just 50 metres of visibility.

115The Drishti technology, which has replaced imports, reducing two-thirds of the overall costs, has increased reliability, requires minimal repair, and is controlled by a software, which removes the requirement of 80 stand-alone equipments. To help Rotarians gauge the system’s importance, Dr. Shubha shared: “If the system was down for a mere 10 minutes, the airport would have to bear enormous costs.” These costs include pay-outs to international airlines, fuel for the airplanes, and passenger relocation, amongst other expenses.

The heart of this system is in optical physics and yet, it makes use of all the knowledge that engineering has to offer including structural, mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering, and even aspects of chemistry and communication.

131Dr. Shubha’s insightful talk opened up a wide spectrum of aeronautical engineering, giving her listeners an abundance of critical knowledge. She walked the Rotarians through the journey and challenges that Drishti faced and the way the team tackled them.

A commendable work in engineering, with 47 systems placed in 21 airports across the country, Drishti is the right step towards Make in India. It remains a state-of-the art specimen of Dr. Shubha’s brilliance.