After stalling HAL’s trainer (above, under fabrication) for years, the Indian Air Force comes around
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Oct 15
On Thursday, the defence ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) will discuss a project the Indian Air Force (IAF) has tried for years to kill. However, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer - 40 (HTT-40) basic trainer aircraft has not just survived but will take to the skies shortly.
The HTT-40 project is alive because, even as the IAF insisted on a Swiss trainer --- the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II --- and on shutting the HTT-40 project to buy more Pilatus trainers; Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) proceeded with the Indian alternative.
In an unprecedented show of confidence, HAL allocated Rs 350 crore of internal funding for the HTT-40, after the IAF stonewalled HAL’s “detailed project report” (DPR), which asked for funds.
On Thursday, in a triumph for “Make in India”, HAL will brief the DAC that the HTT-40 is on track to fly before the financial year-end. Another two years will go in flight-testing and, by March 2018, the HTT-40 will be ready for serial production.
Despite IAF’s insistence that the HTT-40 cannot be built, three successive defence ministers --- AK Antony, Arun Jaitley and now Manohar Parrikar --- have steadfastly backed HAL. Now, their faith is being vindicated.
“The IAF is working closely with us and is now willing to fund the project. But we have decided to first fly the aircraft and then move the file for funding. This is HAL’s vote of confidence in the project,” said HAL chairman, T Suvarna Raju.
IAF head, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, addressing the media ahead of Air Force Day last month, publicly accepted the HTT-40. “As we get the HTT-40, indigenously built by HAL as a basic trainer, I think we will be well on our way in making up the deficiencies in our pilot training”, said Raha.
The IAF trains its fighter pilots in three phases. Stage-1 training of rookies, done on propeller-driven basic trainers will be on the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II and the HTT-40, when it joins the fleet. Next, pilots will graduate to Stage-2 training on the Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT), which is completing development. Then pilots do Stage-3 training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT), which HAL builds under licence from BAE Systems.
To bring the IAF around to accepting the HTT-40, the defence ministry cut a deal in the DAC in February. It was agreed the IAF would buy 38 more Pilatus trainers under the “options clause” of the May 24, 2012 contract for 75 PC-7 Mark II aircraft. HAL, in turn, agreed to pare down its HTT-40 order to 70 aircraft from the promised 106. HAL said at least 70 trainers were needed for economical production.
Business Standard visited the HTT-40 design centre in HAL Bengaluru, where the first prototype is being assembled in the fabrication hangar. A Honeywell TPE-331-12B engine, a version of which is already flying with the IAF, navy and coast guard on the Dornier-228 aircraft, will power the HTT-40. The engine has arrived and is waiting to be fitted into the first prototype.
The design team calls the HTT-40 a “nice, simple aircraft”, which is unlikely to create problems in the crucial spin and stall trials. These prove that an aircraft a trainee pilot has stalled, or put into a spin, can bring itself back easily into level flight.
“We will set up our production line in HAL Bengaluru, with a rated output of 20 trainers each year. The first year we will build just two aircraft, eight in the second year and 20 aircraft from year-three onwards”, says the design team head.
Since the IAF has committed to buying just 70 HTT-40s, HAL might run out of orders by 2022. However, the HTT-40 could be built in larger numbers if the IAF rejects the Sitara. In that eventuality, the IAF chief has an alternative plan for Stage-2 training to be done using the expanded flying envelope of the Stage-1 trainers.
“As soon as we get the HTT-40… this aircraft will also be used in Stage-2 training if we find that it meets our requirements. If it doesn’t, the HTT-40 will be used only in Stage-1 training”, said Raha.