Ravi Sharma

Rookie pilots to fly the AJT in Bidar on August 4

It will help IAF take training to an advanced level

BANGALORE: An almost 25-year-old wait will come to an end on August 4 when trainee Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots at the Air Force Station in Bidar (North Karnataka) get into their Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) cockpits and go through the paces as they attempt to become full-fledged fighter pilots.

For the IAF, the need to procure an AJT was felt way back in the early 1980s. The Indian Government signed a contract worth around $1.75 billion for the purchase of Hawks in March 2004 with the British BAE Systems. Under the contract, the IAF will procure 66 Hawk Mk 132s, of which 24 will be built in the United Kingdom by BAE Systems, and the remaining 42 being manufactured under ‘licence build’ in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Speaking to The Hindu Air Marshal V.R. Iyer, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command, Air Force, said that the batch of rookie fighter pilots, all of whom had been commissioned into the IAF last June and were currently undergoing training, would be the first pilots in India to be trained on the Hawks.

But with delays plaguing the delivery schedule of the BAE Systems built Hawks — only 14 of the 24 aircraft have so far flown into Bidar — and with one crashing during a sortie, only 18 of the 37 pilots in the batch will be flying the Hawks.

The other pilots will fly the Kirans, which will be in service with the IAF till 2011.

According to Air Marshal Iyer, the Hawks will enable the IAF to take fighter pilot training in the IAF to a new and more advanced level. “Trainee pilots will learn various aspects of tactical fighter flying like close formation flying, air combat, weapon delivery and navigational skills in an aircraft whose avionics is as good as that in any frontline combat aircraft. Pilots will be turned out much better prepared and obviously better products.”

After completing training on the Hawks, these pilots will get posted to the IAF’s operational fighter squadrons, flying aircraft such as the MiG-21 Bison, Mirage 2000 or the Su-30 MKI.

The IAF is hoping that most of the next batch of pilots will be able to train on the Hawks since around 30 of these aircraft should be in its inventory by January 2009. HAL will be delivering the first indigenously built Hawk by the middle of August.