Pull jet trainer, prevent red face

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Bangalore
  • Published 10.02.09
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Bangalore, Feb. 10: The defence ministry has asked its star firm to pull out a trainer aircraft from Aero India 2009 — billed as Asia’s “largest and biggest” exhibition of military aircraft — because it is not sure the plane can fly.

The Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) is being produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore since March 1999. It is supposed to replace the ageing Kiran aircraft that is flown by cadets training to be fighter pilots. The Indian Air Force was scheduled to have received 150 IJTs from HAL in 2005-06.

“They are not going to fly the IJT this year,” defence production secretary Pradeep Kumar said. “HAL wants to be sure about it being ready to fly.”

The IJT was a major embarrassment for the defence ministry — the host of the show in which all global aviation majors participate — in Aero India 2007 when HAL’s chief test (fixed wing) pilot squadron leader, Baldev Singh, who was taxiing out for a demo, suddenly felt the aircraft give away under him. The plane keeled over on a wing.

Singh was again in the IJT just last Saturday, with test pilot Wing Commander C. Subramaniam, when the plane they had flown on a routine sortie suddenly sat down on its belly at Yelahanka air force base — the venue of Aero India — after landing.

The IJT project has overshot all cost and time lines. It is being refitted with a Russian AL 551 engine. The aircraft had its maiden flight in March 2003 but has not got an initial operational clearance yet.

But HAL hopes to salvage some prestige by announcing shortly — Aero India begins tomorrow — that it has won its first export order for five Advanced Light Helicopters. Ecuador will buy the helicopters, called Cobra in the export version and Dhruv in India.

Talks are also on for the sale of Dhruv to Mauritius and Sri Lanka.