In­dian air­crafts in In­dian skies

Like­li­hood in the near fu­ture.

Alive - - Contents - by Wg Cdr DP Sab­har­wal

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 228

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

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.

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