Bangalore: The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme crossed another important milestone last week Saturday with the first of the limited series production (LSP-1) aircraft successfully undertaking a low speed taxi trial. Technically, the LSP aircraft are just one step away from the Indian Air Force's standard of production (SOP) requirements.
The low speed taxi trial, which comes on the heel of equally successful ground runs, is an important precursor to the aircraft's maiden flight, which sources indicate may take place within a month. However, before that the aircraft would have to receive clearance from the Safety Test Review Board and undergo two further high-speed taxi trials.
The eight LSP aircraft, along with the two technical demonstrators (TDs) and five prototypes vehicles (PVs), are part of the LCA's flight test programme, and are a stage away from the actual series production aircraft that will be inducted in the IAF's combat squadrons.
The LSP-1, incidentally, is also the first LCA to be manufactured by the aircraft division of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The LCA Tejas project has received a determined boost from recent developments, with the IAF not only placing an order for 20 aircraft, but also taking on the responsibility to steer the programme. The IAF will now engage both the design agency (ADA) and the manufacturing agency (HAL), and drive the certification process.
Towards this end, the IAF has appointed its deputy chief of air staff, air vice marshal N Anil Kumar Browne, to head the LCA Review Group. The IAF will steer the programme through a14-member LCA project management team posted in Bangalore.
The team will report directly to air force head quarters and will have officers from the electronics, flying and mechanical branches. According to air force sources, the team will drive "every aspect" of the LCA programme to ensure that the LCA matures quickly into an operational platform.
Sources indicate that the IAF has also made it clear to ADA and HAL that it will not accept anything less than, or falling short of, what it has contracted for. According to sources, the critical areas that the IAF wants addressed is accelerated progress on the digital flight control computer, the flight control system software, design changes to reduce noise levels in the aircraft, availability of adequate number of line replacement units, which will remove the need to cannibalise spares from existing aircraft, a lessening of the mean time between failures, and also the fitting of drop tanks.