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Crash-scarred IAF seeks jet design

New Delhi, Nov. 8: India will urge the original manufacturers of the MiG and Jaguar fighters to expedite delivery of their designs, Indian Air Force sources said here today.

A meeting chaired by defence minister George Fernandes in the wake of Tuesday’s crash of a Jaguar in Ambala concluded that though the accident rate of air force craft was progressively low, the IAF inventory basically comprised aircraft that were built on technology of 1950s and 1960s vintage.

More than 50 per cent of IAF crashes are of the MiG 21s which are the core of its combat fleet. Neither the MiG 21s (by the now-Ukraine-based MiG Corporation) nor the Jaguars are commercially produced by the original manufacturers — MiG Corporation and British Aerospace-Dassault Breguet — anymore.

The Jaguars are manufactured in India under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore and the MiG 21s are being upgraded by HAL facilities in Koraput and Lucknow.

There is, however, little evidence to suggest that the original manufacturers will part with the design though, the sources expected, it might be possible within the overall framework of India’s long-term associations with them.

The Jaguar that crashed in Ambala on Tuesday was of recent vintage, having come out of the Bangalore facility only in 1997. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Rehani, too, was fully operational and had 400 hours of flying experience in the Jaguar and was considered “high average” in ability. He had flown the same aircraft just a week back.

The sources said that though the flight data recorder (Black Box) had been recovered from the debris, it had not yet been unspooled because it was jammed. The machine has been sent to Bangalore. The recorder is expected to reveal in detail what happened in the crucial seconds before the crash.

Preliminary investigation suggests that Rehani found the controls were not responding immediately after takeoff. The undercarriage had frozen and the wheels did not close. About 300 feet in the air, Rehani felt the Jaguar rolling to the left. It was at that stage that he ejected. “Fortunately his parachute opened but he fell badly, injuring his spine. He is still in hospital and it is difficult to say even now how he will shape up,” the sources said.

In May this year, another Jaguar from the same (14) squadron had crashed in Ambala and the pilot, Flying Officer Paliwal, was killed. The sources said the reason for that crash was possibly human error. Paliwal’s Jaguar was found to have “over-rotated” on takeoff when the wheels hit the barrier around the airfield and the airbrakes were activated.

The sources said the air force and its support outfits — National Aeronautical Laboratory and Hindustan Aeronautics — were seeking to overcome the gap in knowledge on design databases by indigenisation. But there were crucial sub-systems where more information was necessary. “Since the design data is never available, there is a limit to indigenisation,” the sources said.

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