The yard received an image makeover under the Navy’s Rs 600-crore Project Ashok

Tucked away at the far end of the naval airfield on Willingdon Island is a critical facility, which is the lifeline of western-origin naval aircraft, especially the aging Sea Harrier jump jets that operate from the aircraft carrier INS Viraat and Seaking anti-submarine and commando-carrying choppers.

At the turn of the millennium, when obsolescence rendered the Harriers and the Seakings nearly unserviceable, the Naval Aircraft Yard in Kochi, NAY (K) as it is known, chipped in to turn the tables in Navy’s favour. The yard received an image makeover with the installation of key facilities for maintenance and overhaul of aircraft structure, avionics, hydraulics, engines and components under the Navy’s Rs 600-crore Project Ashok, in memory of noted air engineer Captain Ashok Sawhney, in 2001.

It set up an MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) and a test bed facility for the Rolls Royce Pegasus engine that powers the Harriers and has since overhauled 46 Sea Harrier jet engines. “Besides setting up state-of-the-art facilities, we also got our highly skilled personnel trained in each area of specialisation, which yielded rich dividends in our indigenisation effort,” says Commodore V.M. Doss, Commodore Superintendent of the yard.

With its 650-plus workforce comprising 450 civilian technicians and 20 service officers, the yard subsequently diversified into carrying out repair and overhaul of all western-origin naval aircraft.

Under the Navy’s ‘Recovery’ programme, it brought back to operational life seven Seaking Mk 42B anti-submarine warfare helicopters over the last decade. When sourcing of components from the original equipment manufacturer — AgustaWestland, in this case — became an expensive, time-consuming affair, the yard’s indigenisation cell stepped in to design and develop circuits and nearly 250 non-flight critical components like aircraft panel and seat cushion, with automatic test facilities to boot, which by far enhanced operationability of the vintage platforms.

“In obsolescence of aircraft, we saw an opportunity and adapted ourselves pretty well to keep them flightworthy. We’ve overtime repaired everything from the Harrier fighters and Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft to helicopters like UH-3H, Seaking and Chetak,” says Cmde Doss.

It is the Navy’s singular turn-around station for the Seakings, which are sent here for vital maintenance.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Avionics Repair and Software Development (CARES) under the yard has harnessed state-of-the-art technology to do critical avionics upgrade.

The NAY(K) had a humble beginning as a Fleet Repair Unit set up by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in 1956. It became Naval Aircraft Repair Organisation after naval take-over in 1960. The present name was given in 1981.

The yard is on call for structural repair of naval aircraft anywhere in India, says Commodore Doss. “We have a flying squad that attends to structural damage of aircraft and rectifies fuel leak and cable issues.”

The yard’s moment of glory arrived back in 1987 when the Chetak helicopters it modified conducted aero-magnetic survey of Antarctica. In the 1990s, it played a major role in converting the Islander aircraft from piston engine to turboprop. With the vintage Seaking helicopters still forming the backbone of the Navy’s anti-submarine operations, the yard continues to turn them around without ado.

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