Bangalore: The second prototype version (PT2) of India's first indigenously designed commercial civilian aircraft, Saras, recorded a successful 40-minute maiden flight here on Wednesday.
Designed and developed here by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), a constituent of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the eight to 14-seater light transport aircraft, Saras PT2, now joins the first prototype (PT1), which flew in May 2004.
Piloted by Wing Commanders R.S. Makker and A. Malik, with Wing Commander M.S. Ramamohan as the flight-test engineer, PT2 had an almost flawless flight, climbing to an altitude of 9,000 feet and attaining a maximum speed of just under 150 knots.
The pilots executed several mild manoeuvres to get a feel of the aircraft's handling qualities, and reported "no surprises."
Dr K Yegnanarayan, head of NAL's Centre for Civil Aircraft Design and Development, said, "We have realised whatever parameters we set out for; our estimates have been met." PT2's next flight is expected on Friday. The next few flights of PT2 would enable scientists to obtain qualitative data on its performance.
The chief difference between PT2 and PT1 is the incorporation of two turboprop (rear facing propellers) Pratt and Whitney PT 6A-67A engines of 1200 hp each and propellers of a larger diameter, which differ from PT1's two PT 6A-66 engines of 850 hp each.
"This has been done to meet the stringent climb gradient requirements under one engine failure condition as stipulated by the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR-25) of the United States, which is the certification standard for Saras. The supporting stub-wing structure and the engine nacelle were also modified to suit the new engine. Improvements have also been incorporated in the flight control system, the flap operating system, avionics and the electrical system," Dr Yegnanarayan said.
According to NAL officials, though the PT2 is much closer to the final production standard, NAL has also begun a weight-optimisation programme. This would be achieved "through optimisation of metallic structures, stringent fabrication control and increased use of composites."
According to NAL sources, uncertainty still surrounded a number of issues regarding the Saras, particularly its proposed manufacturer, the timeframe of its manufacture and its cost structure.
Also, even though the Indian Air Force (IAF) was expected to be the launch customer it was yet to send in a letter of intent. The IAF is expected to use the aircraft for training and other roles.
NAL is expected to validate the performance levels of the PT2 to the IAF by simulating the all-up weight of 7,100 kg.
NAL hopes to pitch Saras in various roles such as a feeder and light cargo aircraft as well as an air ambulance.