The Indian Air Force, which lacks a basic aircraft trainer to train its flying cadets, has given clearance for a parachute recovery system (PRS) to be fitted on the Hindustan Piston Trainer-32 (HPT-32). The PRS, it is hoped, will improve the confidence of HPT-32 pilots, enhance survivability during an emergency in the air and prevent the trainer from dropping out of the sky like a stone.

The IAF's decision, which is based on the recommendations made by a committee headed by Air Vice Marshal Pradeep Singh, will hopefully revive the HPT-32, a Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-designed and manufactured primary trainer that became operational with the defence forces in 1984, but was grounded last July after a fatality near Hyderabad that killed two senior flight instructors.

Reliability of the HPT-32 has long been in question with technical issues caused by the integration between the American Lycoming piston engine and the indigenously designed airframe being the most hurting. For the IAF engine cuts (a situation where the aircraft's engine suddenly switches off in mid-air) on the HPT-32 have been disastrous: there have been over 90 engine cuts during the HPT-32 operational life and given the trainer's poor power of glide, fatalities have been frequent.

But with no other basic trainer available, the IAF is left with no choice but to revive the HPT-32. Ever since the HPT-32 was grounded, it has had to reschedule its flying training making do with the aging Kiran intermediate jet trainer.

The PRS will entail a parachute being fitted on the trainer. During an airborne emergency the pilot will pull a lever which in turn will deploy the parachute, bringing the trainer down safely.

Officials from the HAL told The Hindu that two foreign vendors had been identified and asked to give presentations/proposals on what they could offer. Once the vendor is chosen the airframes of around 100 HPT-32s will be fitted with parachutes with the HAL most likely to undertake the task under a licence arrangement. It could take at least three to four months before the first PRS fitted HPT-32 is airborne.

Modifications

HAL officials said the trainer's airframe would have to undergo modifications. These would include strengthening, to prevent the structure from shearing off when the parachute is deployed, and also to take the extra weight. Trials need to be undertaken to optimise the flight characteristics of the aircraft once the PRS has been fitted, and the Lycoming engine overhauled — since the entire fleet has not flown for nearly nine months. The PRS will also have to ensure that the aircraft comes down horizontally and not nose or tail first.

The IAF, which has already sent out a request for proposal looking to acquire a new trainer aircraft, will like to utilise the PRS-fitted HPT-32 as a stopgap until the new trainer arrives.

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