Ravi Sharma

Prototype of long-delayed Russian engine arrives

IJT’s first flight with the AL-55I likely by September

AL-55I has a higher thrust rating than

French-made Snecma Larzac 04H20

BANGALORE: The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s floundering Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) programme just got a shot in the arm.

A prototype of the long-delayed Russian engine that will power the trainer has arrived here.

Developed by the Russian aero engine house NPO Saturn and christened AL-55I (I for Indian), the custom-made engine — which was to have arrived last November — has a higher thrust rating than the French-made Snecma Larzac 04H20 engine, currently flying the two IJT prototypes.

The AL-55I has been built keeping the Air Force’s staff requirements in mind and is a scaled-down version of the AL-31FP engine that flies the Su-30 MKI combat aircraft.

Official sources from the HAL working on the programme told The Hindu that the Russian engine had been fitted on the IJT prototype one and the aircraft was almost ready for the all-important ‘engine ground run.’

Minor adjustments

Being larger than the French engine, the installation of the AL-55I necessitated minor adjustments such as the modification of the engine bay doors and the re-routing of pipelines on the trainer.

The HAL has, however, not been able to fit the ‘standby generator’ on the aircraft as this will require shaving off a few centimetres from the engine’s casing. The task, which will have to be undertaken by NPO Saturn, is necessary since the standby generator — a safety enhancement device — is very much an integral part of the trainer’s design architecture.

While the engine ground run will enable the HAL to check out the working of the aircraft’s systems, the trainer cannot get airborne until the Russians successfully complete the engine’s flight tests.

Reports quoting the CEO of NPO Saturn, Yuri Lastochkin, have indicated that an AL-55I engine is being installed on the Russian MiG-AT trainer and is ready for flight tests.

The Russians will have to undertake 50 sorties to get the engine certified. The HAL hopes to undertake the IJT’s first flight with the AL-55I by September-end.

Meant to become the backbone of the Air Force’s stage II or combat pilot training programme, the IJT christened Sitara was sanctioned by the government in 1999 with an initial budget of Rs.180 crore.

After the first flight in March 2003, it was meant to replace the Air Force’s workhorse, the Hindustan Jet Trainer-16, or Kiran. Around 225 HJT-36s are to be eventually produced, serving the IAF, the Navy as well as the Air Force’s Surya Kiran aerobatic team.

As per the original schedule, the first batch of IJTs was to have been delivered to the Air Force in 2005-06. Coded the Hindustan Jet Trainer (HJT)-36, the HAL has received an order for 12 Limited Series Production (LSP) and 60 production aircraft. The revised schedule is for the Air Force to receive the 12 LSPs by 2010.