Signalling a new, positive attitude in the Indian Air Force (IAF) towards indigenous aircraft, its recently appointed chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, test-flew the prototype Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Bengaluru on Thursday.
Bhadauria became the first serving IAF chief to fly an HAL-developed aircraft at the prototype stage. Bhadauria, himself an accomplished test pilot who has test-flown the Tejas fighter, was taken through the gruelling “six-spin routine” in which the HTT-40 prototype was allowed to spin six times before the pilot recovered it into level flight.
For a prototype trainer aircraft, the “six-spin” test is considered the most conclusive landmark that signals the aircraft is ready to go into operational service.
“The air chief expressed his satisfaction with the aircraft performance and appreciated the design, project and flight test teams for having achieved commendable progress”, stated HAL after the flight.
The HTT-40, which will be used for training rookie pilots of the IAF and navy, has now completed all major test points and met the performance parameters spelt out in the IAF’s Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR). During testing the HTT-40 has completed stalls, engine re-lights, inverted flying, acrobatic flying and systems testing.
“The project now needs to be speeded up for certification and HAL must target setting of modern manufacturing facilities with high production rate from the beginning,” stated Bhadauria.
HAL is now looking forward to receiving a Request for Proposals (RFP) from the IAF for manufacturing the HTT-40. An estimated 106 basic trainers are needed to supplement the IAF’s fleet of 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainers that were imported from Switzerland.
For years, the IAF has tried to shut down the HTT-40 programme, demanding the import of more Pilatus trainers instead. But through this period successive HAL chiefs have backed the HTT-40, committing Rs 350 crore of internal HAL funds to the project.
Over the last five years, a team of young, talented HAL designers have worked without IAF assistance or funding, backed to the hilt by former defence ministers, AK Antony and Manohar Parrikar.
For the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer, the successful flight testing of the HTT-40 most likely spells the end of further imports. The HTT-40 falls under the category of “Indian designed, developed and manufactured” (IDDM) equipment, and the MoD cannot import more Pilatus without a detailed explanation of why the HTT-40 is being ignored.