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Hercules black box sent to US

- IAF expects data to demystify crash causes
The debris of the aircraft. (Reuters)

New Delhi, March 31: Still baffled by the crash of its brand new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft on Friday, the Indian Air Force has sent its voice recorders to the US expecting data to demystify the causes within this week.

An IAF spokesperson said the flight data recorder (FDR or black box) and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) have been sent to Lockheed Martin, the maker of the aircraft in the US, “because of damage to the equipment”.

The aircraft crashed on the banks of the Chambal about 70 miles west of Gwalior during a training sortie that involved “tactical low-level flying”.

IAF sources denied that the aircraft’s multi-function display (MFD) had poor quality China-made components, a concern raised by a US Senate investigation in 2012.

They said that soon after that concern was raised first by the Canadian Air Force — that also flies a variant of the C-130 — the IAF had sent the equipment to the US for a check. Most of the equipment has been returned with the assurance that the suspect components had not gone into the IAF’s C-130J aircraft.

Defence minister A.K. Antony had confirmed this in a reply to Parliament. In any case, the sources said, even if the MFD was not giving correct readings, it would not directly impact flight safety because of secondary systems that would give the pilots information on height, speed, altitude and warnings for obstruction in the flight path.

The CVR is expected to give a recording of conversations that the crew would have had in the last 30 minutes of the tragic flight. The FDR is programmed to give all data from the moment the batteries of the aircraft were switched on before take-off from Agra.

The sources said though the squadron itself is equipped to download data from the FDR, the IAF had decided to send it to the manufacturer because of suspected damage to wiring in the box from the impact of the crash. “We want to avoid losing any data,” they said. There was no emergency call from the aircraft.

The four-engine turbo-prop C-130J Super Hercules has one of the best safety records for military aircraft. The training exercise required the aircraft to be flown at a low level, leaving a 10 nautical mile margin on either side of the flight corridor. The aircraft can “lock itself” in an altitude not less than 500 feet “above obstruction level”. In particular, the C-130J is equipped with a ground collision avoidance system (GCAS).

The C-130J that had taken-off from the Agra airbase at 10am on Friday was the second of two aircraft on a training mission simulating a wartime combat exercise for insertion of troops and/or goods in enemy territory.

Such a mission requires tactical low-level flying to evade enemy radar. The C-130J is a special operations aircraft and its primary task involves such capabilities.

The aircraft had a crew of five, all of whom were killed. Among the five were three pilots — one of whom was probably being trained — a loadmaster and a flight engineer.

The flight was captained by Wing Commander Prashant Joshi, one of the most experienced of the 77 “Veiled Vipers” squadron of C-130J aircraft that is based at Hindon near Delhi.

After Friday’s crash, the IAF has five C-130J aircraft. An additional six are on order under a government deal with the US.