Rasheed Kappan and Ravi Sharma
For HAL, it is the second accident in a week
BANGALORE: A prototype version of the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) careened off the runway after its canopy inadvertently opened just as the pilot was getting airborne for an aerobatic sortie at Aero India 2007 exposition, triggering a wave of panic on Thursday afternoon.
With the canopy opening on one side, the aircraft tilted and lost balance and shot off the runway. When the aircraft pulled back to the runway, a tyre burst. The aircraft's right wing was damaged, and unconfirmed reports said the undercarriage was also broken.
Piloted by Squadron Leader (retd) Baldev Singh, Chief Test Pilot (Fixed Wing), the two-seater trainer was designed and developed by the state-owned aviation major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The pilot escaped unhurt after two fire tenders rushed to douse the tyre that caught fire. For HAL, it was the second accident in a week after the Dhruv helicopter crashed last Friday, which killed a co-pilot.
Panic spread as news of an "air crash" spread, and the crowd getting ready for the evening flight displays rushed to the tarmac boundary. The IAF personnel had a tough time keeping them at bay even as the announcers urged the public to remain calm. The loud noise that followed the tyre burst and the thick cloud of dust it generated caused some distraction.
The mishap occurred at 3.05 p.m., when a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) had just completed a sortie. Further flights were put off for an hour.
The accident is a big cause of worry for HAL, already shaken by the Dhruv crash during an aerobatic rehearsal sortie for the air show last week. One of the pilots, Sqn. Ldr. Priye Sharma, died and the other is in hospital. The HAL had blamed pilot error for the crash.
Also called Sitara and the HJT-36, the IJT was indigenously designed and developed by HAL to replace the ageing Kiran trainers. Its inaugural flight was on March 21, 2003. Two of the IJT development prototypes were brought for flight displays at the air show.
The Sitara had also done a slow sortie on Wednesday during the inauguration ceremony of the air show, along with a Dhruv helicopter and Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft. HAL had showcased the IJT as a successful indigenous product with an export potential. With most major global aerospace players attending the airs how, the accident could not have been more ill timed for HAL. The IJT is due for certification next year.
Half an hour before Thursday's accident, Tata group's Chairman Ratan Tata had touched down after his maiden sortie on the F-16 of Lockheed Martin, an aircraft in the race to sell 126 multi-role combat aircraft to the Indian Air Force.