Indian aircrafts in Indian skies
Likelihood in the near future.
There are very few countries in the world that have the complete know-how do design, develop and manufacture aircraft, be it military or civil. Other than few big nations like USA, Russia and China, there are small countries like UK, France, Germany and Israel that have been manufacturing and selling their aircraft including highly complex fighter aircraft.
India too belonged to this elite club way back in 1960s. The Marut (Storm God) was the first fighterbomber aircraft that was developed in the country, Kurt tank, a German being the lead designer. The aircraft, designated as HF24 (Hindustan Fighter) holds the distinction of being the first Asian jet fighter to go beyond prototype/test phase, into successful production and active service. The Indian Air Force employed 147 of these aircraft. Though envisaged to be an aircraft with supersonic capabilities, it could not be so due to non-availability of suitable engines, an issue that was limited by various
political and economic factors.
Though HAL kept on producing foreign made fighter aircraft under license production, nothing worthwhile was done to have an indigenous fighter for almost two decades. The story of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA, known as Tejas) is a sad one. The Indian government established The Aeronautical Development Agency to manage the LCA programme in 1984. The first flight took place after more than 16 years on 4 January 2001 and it was inducted in the Indian Air Force (just 5 aircraft) after another 15 years and still not in a fully operational mode.
All these decades, no attempts were made to design and develop a passenger aircraft so badly needed for the everexpanding Indian market, which has emerged as the third largest aviation market in the world. Presently, the commercial fleet consists of 550 aircraft showing an annual increase of 38% during the last three years and there are more than 650 aircraft orders with foreign manufacturers in the pipeline. And that is not the end of the growth scene!
Under the Government of India's UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik - let the common citizen of India fly) and Regional Connectivity Scheme, there is a plan to connect 2 and 3 tier cities by developing almost 500 airports. This would call for smaller aircraft (14-20 seater), presently not flying in the Indian skies. There appears to be a proverbial 'silver lining in the clouds,' as there are two indigenous aircraft namely Dornier and Saras that could be flying in the Indian skies under the logo of many commercial airlines.
Dornier is primarily a German Aircraft that has been produced and manufactured under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited since 1983. A large fleet of 125 aircraft manufactured in India have been inducted in the Armed forces and the Coast Guard. The aircraft has been used for various roles such as troop transportation, executive transport, aerial survey, search and rescue, cargo and logistic support, maritime surveillance and causality evacuation.
For use in commercial airlines, HAL is shortly going to test a 19-seater Dornier 228 aircraft, built completely at its Kanpur factory. The new
Generation Dornier 228 is basically the same twinengine aircraft supplied to the armed forces but now built exclusively for regional connectivity. The aircraft would require a very short length of runaway for takeoff (790 meters) and landing (450 meters) thus ideal for flying into smaller cities. In addition, it can operate from rough runways and in hot climates, a capability due to its supercritical wing which generates large amounts of lift even at slow speeds.
The updated aircraft will have better performance due to improved technologies. Each engine will have five-bladed fibercomposite propeller which will be more efficient, quick to start, and produce substantially less vibration and noise than the original four-bladed metal propeller. The aircraft will have the longest 'time between overhaul' of the order of up to 7,000 hours, much better than any 19seat aircraft presently operating anywhere in the world. An engine-indicating and crew-alerting system shall be installed for safety purposes. The aircraft will be completely airconditioned, shall be able to cruise at
410 kmph and will have a range of almost 400 km with full passenger load and can climb up to 25,000 feet which would mean lesser fuel consumption by the engines.
For use in commercial airlines, HAL is shortly going to test a 19-seater Dornier 228 aircraft, built completely at its Kanpur factory. The new Generation Dornier 228 is basically the same twin-engine aircraft supplied to the armed forces but now built exclusively for regional connectivity.
In the new version, Saras boasts of multi-role capabilities and could fly in various roles such as feeder-line aircraft, airambulance, executive aircraft, troop transportation, reconnaissance, aerial survey and light cargo transport aircraft. Though first conceived as a civil aircraft, NAL is working on military certification as well hoping to sell it to the Indian Air Force as well.
Saras (Crane) is the first completely indigenous multi-purpose civilian aircraft in the light transport aircraft category designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories.
The Saras project came into being after a feasibility study by NAL showed that there was a significant demand for a 9-14 seat aircraft in the country and estimated a market potential of about 350 aircraft during the next 10 years. The project began in 1991 as collaboration with Russia but financial trouble led the Russians to drop out early in the project. The project was finally sanctioned in September 1999 with initial schedule of its maiden flight by March 2001.
The first Saras prototype (PT1) flew in May 2004 but was in excess of design weight by about 900 Kg. This issue was partly resolved by using lighter composites for Saras-PT2 and the weight was reduced by about 400 kg from its first prototype. This aircraft however crashed during test-flight in March 2009 killing the crew of three. Though the investigation brought out that there were no design deficiencies, and the accident was caused due to procedural deficiencies, yet the project was shelved for almost eight years before revival.
In February 2017, lowspeed ground runs were carried out on a Saras
PT1N, an improved version of the earlier aircraft, followed by high speed taxi trial recently in January 2018. The aircraft is expected to have its first test flight later in the month. A total of about 25 flights are planned in this modified aircraft. By the end of 2019, it is planned to fly a production standard aircraft for airworthiness certification. Full scale production shall be taken up at HAL's Kanpur division, where Dornier will also be produced.
A total of ten modifications have been made to make the aircraft more pilot-friendly, agile and easy to control and to enable it to fly higher. The final Saras shall be able to cover 1,600 km at a maximum speed of 425 kmph at an altitude of 25,000 feet and have an endurance of five hours.
In the new version, Saras boasts of multi-role capabilities and could fly in various roles such as feederline aircraft, air-ambulance, executive aircraft, troop transportation, reconnaissance, aerial survey and light cargo transport aircraft. Though first conceived as a civil aircraft, NAL is working on military certification as well hoping to sell it to the Indian Air Force as well.
The nation can only hope and perhaps pray that this time there are no more proverbial 'slips between the cup and the lip.' When the two-aircraft fly in the Indian skies, it would not only be a moment of pride but also a heavy moneysaver on the national exchequer.
A RUAG Dornier Do 228NG in 2012.
HF-24 Marut preserved at the Deutsches Museum Flugwerft Schleissheim near Munich.
Saras PT1N: An improved version of earlier aircraft.