IAF to induct 15 indigenously-built Saras aircraft

The IAF is in the process of placing orders for acquiring 15 aircraft developed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Bangalore, official sources said.

The IAF order is considered to be a shot in the arm for NAL. A prototype of the 14-seater aircraft had 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 the NAL by year-end," a source said.

This transport aircraft has suffered delays for a decade due to design flaws, an under-powered engine, excess take-off weight and non-availability of components following the 1998 sanctions imposed by the US.

However, when contacted, NAL Director A R Upadhya said that the new aircraft will have better engines that pack more power and engineers have also succeeded in reducing the total weight of the aircraft by 500 kg.

The earlier prototypes were heavier by at least 500 kg, thus leading to operational difficulties.

Upadhya said that a Commission of Inquiry has been investigating into the crash of the Saras prototype and the report is expected in another three weeks. Upadhya said the NAL Saras 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.

Saras is equipped with two rear-mounted turbo-prop Pratt and Whitney engines in a pusher propeller configuration and 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 an 19-passenger variant in multiple modes of operation.

The two prototypes of Saras, named after the Indian crane, have flown at least 100 hours since its maiden flight in May 2004 till the crash of prototype-II in March.

Engineers at NAL are now building another prototype which is expected to be flight tested next year. NAL expected the aircraft to be certified by 2010.

Saras is only the second plane after Hansa, a two-seater trainer aircraft, that is being developed indigenously.

NAL is also working on designing a 70-seat passenger aircraft called the RTA-70 for regional transport.

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