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Fully built desi trainer aircraft readies to fly

By Ajai Shukla
February 06, 2016 12:28 IST
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In a boost to ‘Make in India, the HTT-40 rolled out of the hangar with all its lights flashing and its cockpit powered on, reports Ajai Shukla.

If all goes according to plan, the HTT-40 will complete its flight test programme in two years, and be inducted into the IAF from 2018. Photograph: @MoD/Twitter

In an important milestone for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, its new basic trainer aircraft, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer -- 40 (HTT-40) rolled out for the first time from the hangar where it was built and began preparations for its first flight, later this month. For years, the Indian Air Force flatly opposed the HTT-40 project, demanding the defence ministry scrap it. In its place, the IAF wanted to import over a hundred new trainers from Swiss company, Pilatus, to supplement the 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainers it had already bought.

The IAF repeatedly told the ministry the HTT-40 would be overweight, over-priced and under-performing. But HAL doggedly continued development, committing more than Rs 350 crore of company funds.

Given this history, there was jubilation amongst the HTT-40 design team as their first prototype, fully designed in India, rolled out of the hangar with all its lights flashing and its cockpit powered on. “The project has managed to steer through the initial headwinds and now is going full throttle,” said T Suvarna Raju, the HAL chief.

An HAL media release on Tuesday noted: “The team composition of HTT-40 is the youngest ever on any prototype program in HAL.”

The IAF, now convinced about the HTT-40’s viability, wants to take charge of the project. However HAL, in a demonstration of confidence, insists on funding and controlling the project until the trainer takes to the skies. After that, the HTT-40 will be overseen by an “integrated project management team”, headed by Air Marshal Rajesh Kumar, who attended the rollout.

Before actually flying, the HTT-40 will undergo a series of ground tests. First, US firm Honeywell, which has supplied the TPE-331-12B engine, will verify it is properly integrated with the airframe. After that, the HTT-40 will do low-speed taxi runs, and then high-speed taxi runs. In the latter, it will speed down the runway, coming close to lift-off, but remaining on the ground. Only after all systems are proven on the ground, will inspectors allow the aircraft to actually lift off.

If all goes according to plan, the HTT-40 will complete its flight test programme in two years, and be inducted into the IAF from 2018. HAL says that the HTT-40 production line will build two trainers in 2018, eight in 2019, and reach its capacity of 20 per year from 2020 onwards. Some 70 HTT-40 trainers will join the fleet, supplementing the 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II already in service; and another 38, whose purchase is currently being negotiated.

HAL is looking beyond the IAF, at exporting the HTT-40 to air forces across the region. The designers say it can be developed into a capable ground attack aircraft that would be ideal for countries like Afghanistan, which need to provide air support to their ground troops, but cannot afford full-fledged fighters. “There are plans to weaponise and optimise HTT-40 aircraft”, said Suvarna Raju. HAL says: “Its role includes basic flying training, aerobatics, instrument flying, navigation, night flying, close formation etc.”

The PC-7 Mark II and HTT-40, both propeller-driven turbo-prop aircraft, will be used for Stage-1 training of rookie IAF pilots. While Stage-2 training is currently being done on the HAL-built Kiran Mark II, it could shift to the new Sitara intermediate jet trainer, which HAL is now completing after long delays. Finally, budding fighter pilots will do their Stage-3 training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer, which HAL builds under licence from BAE Systems.

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