LCA Tejas, the first made-in-India lightweight fighter plane, has been audibly scorching the Bangalore skies several times over the last few days as it heads for its first-stage flight approval or initial operational certification (IOC) on Friday.

Every day, two to three aircraft have been flying from among the eight limited editions produced for trials, said a senior official involved in the development.

The Light Combat Aircraft completed nearly 500 flights this year compared to over 250 last year. So far, it has made over 2,400 flights since it started flying in 2001.

Everyone is geared up, especially the test pilots who on that day will fly the aircraft in the presence of Defence Minister A.K. Antony, user IAF’s Chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne and developer agency DRDO’s Director-General Avinash Chander.

“Challenging task”

The run-up to this level of certification was challenging, said K.Tamilmani, Director-General R&D Aero and head of the military airworthiness certifying agency CEMILAC under the DRDO.

The LCA’s fly-by-wire systems, its glass cockpit among others, were new to the CEMILAC team but it learnt along with the development process. “Today we have a base available in terms of knowledge, procedure and certification. This will be useful for LCA versions of the Navy, trainer and Mark II, as well as the proposed Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft. There is a new confidence in the team,” he told The Hindu.

The IOC was split into two phases and the first partial certification was given in January 2011. This week’s IOC-2 will complete the rest of the requirements and enable IAF pilots to fully start flying the fighter.

The fighter will be inducted after it gets the final operational certification or FOC, slated for December 2014.

The LCA has been developed by the multi-agency Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) set up under the Ministry of Defence in 1984. The National Flight Test Centre under ADA coordinates the test flights — as it will do on Friday.

The IAF plans to raise a fleet of some 200 LCAs over the coming years. The planes will be produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Since IOC-1, the plane has passed multiple weapon release trials, including the recent missile firing. It has been exposed to various air fields, cold Leh and hot Nagpur. The radar and systems are being constantly improved.

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