Ravi Sharma

First flight of IJT with new AL-55I engine could take place in mid-January

AL-55I engine has a higher thrust rating than French engine

225 HJT-36s are to be produced

BANGALORE: After almost a two-year delay, Russian turbofan engines that will power the indigenous intermediate jet trainer (IJT) are scheduled to arrive here on Sunday. With stability tests and acceptance test procedures completed, the three AL-55I engines, designed and developed by Russia’s NPO Saturn, were airlifted from Zhukovsky, near Moscow. These are to be fitted on the IJT’s Prototype Trainer One (PT1).

The custom-made AL-55I (‘I’ for Indian) engine has a higher thrust rating than the French-made Snecma Larzac 04H20 that is now flying the two IJT prototypes. Known as the Hindustan Jet Trainer-36 (HJT-36), the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-designed IJT will become the backbone of the Air Force’s stage II combat pilot training programme, replacing HJT-16 or Kiran. Around 225 HJT-36s are to be produced, for serving the Navy, the IAF and its Surya Kiran aerobatic team.

Official sources at HAL said the IJT’s first flight with the Russian engine could take place in mid-January. With integration using a prototype, yellow-banded engine completed, officials estimate that one week will be sufficient to fit the new engine on PT1. Flying is expected to start after two engine ground runs.

Though HAL has planned to do around 50 sorties for spin trails, spin chute, and documentation of the performance of the aircraft, to write performance manuals and graphs, the officials hope to finish the tasks with 28-30 sorties, by July 2009. Thereafter, the aircraft will go in for hot weather trails and fine-tuning and closing of all on-board systems.

The only blip is that AL-55I, at around 950 kg, is heavier by 200 kg than promised. The Russians have formulated a plan that could at best cut 100 kg.

PT1, which has not flown since it careened off the runway after its canopy inadvertently opened while the pilot was taking off in February 2007, will get airborne first. PT2, now the only flying IJT, will then be put down for a month to integrate AL-55I. The Air Force, which was originally scheduled to get HJT-36 by 2005-06, can now expect to get them in June 2010.