(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)
Above: The Tejas trainer final assembly
Left: Author with two designers of the LCA trainer and the vice head of the Aircraft R&D Centre
Right: another view of the Tejas trainer final assembly
Below: a view of the cockpit. Many of the instruments have not yet been fitted
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Feb 09
It took immense public pressure and the deaths of tens of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots for the government to okay the purchase of 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) for training rookie pilots on fast jets before sending them off to the MiG Operational Flying Training School (MOFTU) in Tezpur. There they are put into the cockpit of one of the world’s fastest and most unforgiving fighters: the MiG-21. It is no coincidence that accidents are dramatically down since training began on the Hawk.
Now the IAF is purchasing another trainer that could equip its pilots even better for flying the high performance fighters --- the upgraded Jaguars, MiG-21s, 27s and 29s, the Mirage 2000s, the brutally powerful Su-30MKI and the MMRCA, when that is inducted --- which will comprise the new IAF.
Top MoD sources have told Business Standard that the IAF will soon order from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) twelve of the newly developed two-seater trainer version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The DRDO chief, Dr M Natarajan confirms that the Tejas trainer is set to make its first flight within two months.
This will give IAF pilots an additional stage of training. Currently, Stage I is carried out on a basic trainer, the HPT-32; Stage II on slightly faster and more complex aircraft like the Kiran; and Stage III on the jet-engined, but sub-sonic Hawk AJT. The induction of an LCA trainer will allow IAF pilots to fly a supersonic, light fighter before graduating to the combat squadrons.
Most advanced western air forces do not conduct four stages of training; instead, they rely extensively on aircraft simulators. But the IAF, like some other air forces, has tended to prefer live flying. To benefit from such a demand, South Korea has built and is marketing a supersonic trainer called the T-50 Golden Eagle. DRDO chief, Dr M Natarjan, declared at Aero India 09 that the Tejas trainer would compete effectively with the Golden Eagle.
Ashok Nayak, Managing Director of HAL’s Bangalore Complex, and the company’s next chief, explains that the Tejas assembly line will be busy until 2014, producing the IAF’s first order of 20 Tejas aircraft, which will include 16 single-seater fighters and 4 twin-seater trainers. Then, while the Tejas is reengineered and flight-tested with a new, more powerful engine, the assembly line will produce 12 more trainers.
For HAL, the new order is a relief, as it will keep the Tejas assembly line rolling. Mr Nayak points out, “It is not in the interests of the Air Force, or of HAL, to have a break in production.”
Business Standard travelled to HAL for an exclusive look at the new Tejas trainer. From the outside, there is little to distinguish it from the single-seater fighter that performed aerobatics at the just-concluded Aero India 09 show. A closer look, however, reveals an expanded cockpit, in which two pilots --- an instructor and a trainee --- sit one behind the other, both equipped with all the controls needed to fly the aircraft.
The design team for the twin-seater Tejas trainer was led by two women engineers of HAL’s Aircraft Research and Development Centre, Ms Poongothai, and Ms Mamatha K. They pointed out that the additional pilot’s seat and controls have all been squeezed into the existing airframe, obviating the need for time-consuming redesign of the single-seater Tejas’ airframe.