New Delhi: The country's indigenous aircraft design and development programme is set to receive a big shot in the arm with the Indian Air Force finalising a decision to induct the Saras light transport aircraft into its fleet. According to official sources, the IAF may place orders for as many as 15 of these propeller driven aircraft designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Bangalore.
A prototype of the 14-seater aircraft crashed during a test flight in March, killing three persons onboard.
"The IAF has already finalised that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will be manufacturing the aircraft and the firm order will be placed with NAL by year-end," defence sources said.
This is another indigenous effort that is reaching late maturity. The programme suffered from an excess take-off weight problem, as well as non-availability of components following the 1998 sanctions imposed by the United States. It also struggled with an under-powered engine.
According to NAL director, AR Upadhya, the new aircraft will now carry more powerful engines. He also said that designers had succeeded in reducing the total weight of the aircraft by 500 kg - the weight in excess required to be shed.
Upadhya mentioned that an inquiry commission has been looking into the crash of the prototype and its report was expected in about three week's time.
NAL's Saras, named after the Indian crane, is a multi-role aircraft ideal for executive transport, light package carrier, remote sensing and aerial research service, coast guard, border patrolling, air ambulance and other community services. Equipped with two rear-mounted turbo-prop Pratt and Whitney engines in a pusher-propeller configuration the Saras is designed to take off from and land on short, semi-prepared, runways.
It is designed to carry between eight and 14 passengers and can be extended to a 19-passenger variant in multiple modes of operation.
The two prototypes of Saras have flown at least 100 hours since its maiden flight in May 2004. The crash of the prototype in March was the first suffered by the programme.
NAL is now building another prototype, which is expected to be flight tested next year.
NAL expected the certification process of the aircraft to be completed by 2010.
NAL is also working on the design of a 70-seat passenger aircraft, called the RTA-70, aimed for the regional transport market.