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HAL’s trainer aircraft achieving milestones, en route to help IAF despite delays

HTT-40’s predecessor, the Hindustan Piston Trainer (HPT-32), had multiple issues related to the engine and fuel supply.

The latest data on HAL's website states that the projected requirement is for 106 aircraft. (Ministry of Defence)

By Girish Linganna

Six years after its first flight, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)-designed Hindustan Turbo Trainer- the HTT-40 has received its airworthiness certificate. Tracking the development of HAL’s basic and stage two trainers shows that with its progress, this area has become a milestone of self-reliance in defence.

Basic Trainer: A Class above Its Predecessors

HTT-40’s predecessor, the Hindustan Piston Trainer (HPT-32), had multiple issues related to the engine and fuel supply. These issues often led to accidents and pilot fatalities. The HPT-32 fleet was grounded in 2009. Following this, the Indian Air Force (IAF) acquired a fleet of 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mk II trainers.

Later, the HTT-40 project was allotted $78 million for design and development. The HTT-40 is a trainer aircraft that has a speed of 450 kilometres per hour and a range of 1000 kilometres, with a maximum take-off weight of 2,800 kilograms. A Honeywell TPE-331-12B turboprop engine powers the aircraft, which HAL reports has 950 thrust horsepower. It will be used to provide personnel with basic flight training while also training them in instrument flying, navigation, aerobatics, night flying and close formation flying. The latest data on HAL’s website states that the projected requirement is for 106 aircraft. The HTT-40 has been delayed and received spin certification only last year.

After both the certification and the approval from the Centre for Military Airworthiness came a design evaluation, aircraft systems tests and flight tests; HAL and the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots were involved in these. Having received the airworthiness certificate, the HTT-40 now meets Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 23 standards.

Pilots need to receive 80 hours of training on the HTT-40. Following this, they train on the stage-two trainer- the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT).

Stage 2 Trainer Upcoming

In January this year, HAL’s IJT managed to carry out six turn spins, a significant necessity for the aircraft. While this marked a milestone, the IJT will still need to undergo two more years of testing before it is ready for induction.

Although this jet is now approaching production fairly steadily, this only comes after over two decades of work on the platform, which was built for stage two training of fighter pilots. It will replace the outdated Kiran Mk 2 trainers.

Also called HJT-36, this platform has found testing to be a rocky road. In 2016, the IJT departed from a controlled flight, bringing the programme to a standstill. HAL then redesigned the aircraft by shifting the vertical tail aft and expanding the rudder surface’. The plane must go through multiple rounds of flight trials and certifications before going into production. The IAF requires around 75 IJTs. However, HAL has not committed to any timelines, so IAF will have to continue using the trainers it presently has.

With the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign focusing heavily on defence, the chances of procuring trainers from abroad have significantly diminished. HAL has claimed that it would soon have sophisticated trainers for stages 1 and 2 of training pilots of the IAF based on the completion of spin certification of the HTT-40 and the progress achieved by the IJT.

Group Captain Anupam Banerjee, a former IAF spokesperson, explained: ‘It is more about efficient asset management of limited resources. Advanced jet trainers are limited in number and best utilized for honing skills of air combat and armament training, while the basic trainer in the IJT category focuses on sharpening the basic flying skills of a trainee.’

However, training has remained an issue for the IAF, plagued for decades by simultaneous availability issues for all three trainer types – the Pilatus PC-7 basic trainer, IJT, and Hawk advanced jet trainer. HAL advancing with the work on current trainers can alleviate trouble here, even if some delays exist.

(Author is Aerospace & Defence Expert. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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