Modified Saras takes to skies after nine years

Last Updated 24 January 2018, 16:47 IST

Almost nine years after a fatal accident, the indigenous Saras aircraft once again took to the skies on Wednesday.

Developed by CSIR's National Aeronautics Laboratories, the 14-seater aircraft took off around 11 am from the HAL airport and flew at an altitude of 8,500 ft with a speed of 145 knots, circling Bengaluru for nearly 40 minutes.

"It was a text book flight," the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research - the parent organisation of NAL - said in a statement.

The aircraft was piloted by Wg Cdr U P Singh, Gp Capt R V Panicker and Gp Capt K P Bhat from the Indian Air Force's Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment.

The first flight of Saras-PTN1 comes nearly nine years after Saras-PT2 crashed at Seshagirihalli near Bidadi, killing all the three IAF personnel on board.

An investigation report from the Director General of Civil Aviation identified a number of design flaws as well as human errors behind the tragedy.

"Saras-PTN1 has several improvements from the aircraft that crashed. It has improved avionics, radar, linear flap actuator, environment control system, engine flap actuators and flight control system," NAL director Jitendra J Jadhav told DH.

Initially, NAL made two aircraft - Saras-PT1 and Saras-PT2. While one met with the accident, the modifications were carried out on the remaining one after the Union Science Ministry gave its green signal.

The primary objective is to evaluate the system performance in about 20 flights and the data collected from this shall be used to freeze the design of production version aircraft. The production version aircraft will be of 19-seat capacity and will undergo civil or military certification depending on the end user.

"Once we have the data, we will freeze the design and seek the Cabinet's approval to make two production-version of the aircraft that would serve as the prototype. Also weight and drag reduction issues could be addressed at the prototype stage," Jadhav said.

Fund crunch

The development on Saras was stalled first by the accident and subsequently due to a financial crunch. The project was practically shelved between 2013 and 2016 for want of money and revived only towards the end of 2016, sources said.

Weeks before the accident, Saras flew in the biennial Aero-India, but without any DGCA approval. "Aircraft was used for flying demonstration in Aero India 2009 from February 11-15, 2009 in Bengaluru. But no DGCA permission was taken by the NAL," says the DGCA probe report on the fatal crash.

The DGCA report pointed out the lack of effective and continuous monitoring of Saras test programme by the management committee comprising NAL and ASTE.

The CSIR statement on the Saras PTN-1 flight now claimed involvement of NAL, ASTE, Hindustan Aeronautics and the two regulatory agencies, DGCA and CEMILAC in making the modified aircraft's maiden flight successful.

(Published 24 January 2018, 16:24 IST)

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