BANGALORE: The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s floundering Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) programme just got the much-needed shot in the arm. A prototype of the long-delayed Russian engine that will power the trainer has arrived here for installation on the aircraft.
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 in India last November — has a higher thrust rating than the French-made Snecma Larzac 04H20 engine, which is currently flying the two IJT prototypes.
The AL-55I has been built in keeping with the Air Force’s air staff requirements 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 already been fitted on the IJT prototype one (PT1) and the aircraft was almost ready for the all-important ‘engine ground run.’
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 of 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 jet trainer’s design architecture.
While the engine ground run will enable the HAL to check out the working of the aircraft’s systems on the ground, 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.