By Girish Linganna
In a major boost for the Indian defence industry, the Ministry of Defence has given the green light for the procurement of 12 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) from state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). HAL, a leading aerospace and defence company in India, had reportedly received a Letter of Intent (LoI) from the government for the helicopters in March 2021. The official order for the LUHs is yet to be placed, but this approval marks a significant step forward in the development and production of these aircrafts.
HAL’s LSP LUH: The future of Indian military and civilian helicopter operations
HAL’s new helicopter factory in Tumakuru, Karnataka, has begun assembly of the first Limited Series Production (LSP) LUH after starting phase-1 operations last July. This follows the completion of three prototypes, which were built at HAL’s production facility in Bengaluru. The LSP series, also known as LRIP (Low Rate Initial Production), will now be built at the new facility in Tumakaru.
According to the information provided, LRIP1 consists of four LUHs, two of which will be delivered to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and two to the Indian Army, with delivery expected by March 2023. LRIP2, which will be built between 2023 and 2024, consists of eight LUHs, with four going to the Indian Air Force and four to the Indian Army. Additionally, Indian leasing company Vman Aviation Services has reportedly placed an order for five civilian LUHs, with the option for an additional five.
According to sources, the Indian military and civilian sectors are looking to replace their ageing fleets of helicopters with newer models. The Chetak and Cheetah, both previously used by the Indian Air Force, are among those set to be phased out. The Chetak, a licensed version of the French Alouette III helicopter produced by HAL in India, was primarily utilized for transportation, reconnaissance, and search and rescue operations. The Cheetah, on the other hand, is a light helicopter primarily used for reconnaissance and surveillance, as well as transportation and medical evacuation.
HAL’s LUH: The all-weather, all-terrain helicopter for reconnaissance and transport
The LUH is a versatile aircraft that is designed to perform a wide range of missions, including reconnaissance, surveillance, transportation, and medical evacuation. According to sources, the LUH boasts high performance characteristics, including low operational and maintenance costs, high reliability and safety, and good maneuverability. The LUH has a maximum take-off weight of 3,100 kg, allowing it to carry a useful load of 1,500 kg, and can reach a maximum speed of 220 km/h and a cruise speed of 200 km/h. With a service ceiling of 6,500 m and a range of approximately 500 km, the LUH is equipped with a 3-axis autopilot which allows for stable and controlled flight in a variety of conditions. The LUH’s glass cockpit features digital avionics and a modern instrumentation suite, as well as a weather radar system that provides pilots with real-time information on weather conditions. Additionally, the LUH’s cockpit lighting system is compatible with night-vision goggles, allowing for operation in low visibility conditions. The LUH can also be fitted with a range of weapons and equipment, including gun pods, rocket launchers and surveillance systems.
It is also designed to operate in all weather conditions, in day and night, at high altitude, hot and cold weather and in hostile environments. It is a 3-ton class, single-engine helicopter designed to meet the requirement of Indian armed forces for reconnaissance and surveillance, transportation, and casualty evacuation.
According to reports, the LUH being produced by HAL is designed to operate in a wide range of weather conditions, including day and night, high altitude, hot and cold weather, and hostile environments. The 3-ton class, single-engine helicopter is being developed to meet the specific requirements of the Indian armed forces for reconnaissance and surveillance, transportation, and casualty evacuation. It has been reported that production of the LUH has already begun at HAL, with two of the helicopters in a highly advanced stage of completion. The company is believed to be working towards fulfilling the requirements outlined in the Letter of Intent received from the Services, which calls for the manufacture of 12 LUH.
The future of helicopter technology: flexibility and durability in extreme conditions
The LUH has made history by reaching a significant milestone during its cold weather trials in Leh. The LUH, which is designed to perform missions at sea level to high altitude, achieved a speed of 120 knots at high altitude and in extreme cold weather conditions. This makes it the first helicopter to accomplish this feat.
The LUH has been in development for several years, with the first prototype (PT1) flying on September 6, 2016, the second one (PT2) on May 22, 2017, and the third prototype (PT3) on December 14, 2018. However, this latest achievement is a key step in the development and certification process for the LUH, as it demonstrates the helicopter’s ability to operate in the most challenging environments.
The LUH developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has proven its ability to withstand extreme cold conditions during a recent cold soak test. Originally planned for 24 hours, the test was grounded for 48 hours due to rough weather, with temperatures reaching minus 20 degrees. Despite the prolonged exposure, the helicopter performed without any issues, signalling a positive sign for its capability in diverse weather conditions, particularly in the Himalayan region.
Not only does the LUH have the ability to operate efficiently in extreme conditions, it also boasts a level of flexibility that sets it apart from other contemporary helicopters in its class. The helicopter has the potential to accommodate additional equipment in the future, allowing it to adapt to changing operational requirements. These features make the LUH a valuable asset for any mission, and an exciting addition to the helicopter market.
The LUH is set to make its debut at Aero India with a host of proven abilities. The design of the LUH is based on the best design philosophies of HAL’s proven platforms, which has helped the project to achieve its objectives. The designers are optimistic about completing the pending test points as per the time schedules, bringing the LUH closer to certification.
The LUH is a versatile helicopter, capable of performing a wide range of missions including Medevac (medical evacuation) and troop transportation. These features make the LUH a great option for the Indian Armed Forces and other civilian operators. With its advanced capabilities and proven design, the LUH is sure to make a strong impact in the aerospace industry.
Author is Defence and Aerospace Analyst
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