KARNATAKA

Delay in IJT programme irks IAF

Ravi Sharma

BANGALORE: A technical hitch in the recently installed Russian AL-55 I turbofan engine has turned out to be the latest irritant causing a further delay in the indigenous Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) programme.

The delay has infuriated the Indian Air Force (IAF) for whom the trainer is being built.

Designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), the IJT, called the Hindustan Jet Trainer - 36 (HJT-36), is meant to replace the IAF’s aging Kiran trainer that is currently used for the second stage of pilot training.

Discovered during a routine test flight, the malfunction in the Russian engine’s lubrication system and the resultant oil leak, prompted HAL and the Russian team to send an SOS to the AL-55 I engine’s chief designer who flew in from Moscow.

Luckily for the programme, the snag has been traced to a faulty component and not a design deficiency.

Abrupt grounding

But the problem resulted in the abrupt grounding of prototype trainer one (PT1), the only aircraft on which the Russian engine has been mounted. Officials from HAL told The Hindu that the investigations into the causes for the problem were almost behind them and tests flights of PT1 had been resumed.

They said that only a handful of sorties were needed before the engine’s certification on the IJT was achieved.

The sources said that PT2, which had been “recovered” from last February’s crash, would be fitted with the AL-55 I engine.

This would result in HAL having two HJT-36 prototypes for its IJT test programme.

Modifications

While PT1 had been slotted for the engine integration programme, PT2 after modifications, including a spin chute, would be utilised for testing the aircraft’s spin characteristics, longitudinal tests, etc.

The all-important spin characteristics tests are schedule to start in March.

Thereafter, the aircraft will under go weapon trials. However, officials do not expect the trainer to meet its June 2010 deadline for initial operational clearance.

Under development for over a decade and having made its inaugural flight in March 2003, HAL was, as per the original schedule, to deliver its IJT in 2005-06. However, delays, primarily in the arrival of the new and more powerful Russian AL-55 I engine (which replaced the French Lazrac engine) and crash of the two HJT-36s have not helped the programme. The delays have forced the Indian Air Force to continuously take corrective action and drastically alter the training plans. “We are preparing to induct the HJT-36, but we know we won’t get them even in 2010,” an officer said.

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