A month before demise, Dr Kalam wished India’s RTA mission took off again

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M

Bengaluru, Dec 13: Former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam wanted aerospace brains in India to chase the dream of developing a homegrown Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA), an idea that got grounded many times.

Speaking to OneIndia on Sunday, Dr Kota Harinarayana, currently a visiting professor with IIT Mumbai said that Dr Kalam constantly reminded the scientific community to get the plane project back on the flightpath.

Dr Kota Harinarayana

"My last meeting with Dr Kalam was during the last week of June this year and he wanted me to push various stakeholders to put some life back to the RTA project. He always said that India must have an own RTA programme. It was his intense desire," says Dr Kota.

Dr Kota is widely revered as the man who gave wing to India's desi fighter jet programme - the Light Combat Aircrfat (LCA). Often referred to as the ‘Father of LCA programme,' Dr Kota was closely associated with many missions of the former President.

Interestingly, India's transport aircraft dream was initially called as RTA-70 (70-seater) and later it became NCAD (National Civil Aircraft Development) project, with a 90-seater mandate.

The National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) played a major role initially and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) too joined hands later. The project saw feasibility studies undertaken by many experts, but finally NCAD ran out of funding and the idea was shelved quietly.

Dr Kota says he hasn't given up hopes and is pursuing Dr Kalam's vision. He is of the firm opinion that RTA should be a turbo-prop one, so that it gives an advantage to military operations.

Turboprop RTA best for military operations

"Two schools of thought always existed - the turbofan and turboprop -- and many feasibility studies were also held. I am backing turboprop for the simple reason that it will be easy for our armed forces. Short runways are always an advantage for military operations and only a turboprop can offer that," says Dr Kota.

Dr Kota Harinarayana

He said all the five existing major RTA players are offering 14 different variants of turbofan platforms, including Embraer (Brazil), Bombardier (Canada), Superjet (Russia), MRJ (Japan) and ATR21 (France-Italy).

"ATR and Bombardier are also offering turboprop platforms and we saw a market potential in that segment. Dr Kalam wanted us to push the idea again with the government and industry so that a PPP (Private, Public Partnership) model was in place. He also wanted a proven international player be roped in as a risk-sharing partner," says Dr Kota.

Time will prove the worth of Tejas

He said only if India took on the challenges head-on, can we master technologies and inspire the industry.

"Now everyone is happy with Tejas and the knowledge the programme imparted to scientists, engineers, industry and the academia. It is the collective responsibility of all those who believe in India's aerospace capabilities to get the RTA programme going," he adds.

Dr Kota, who was the former head of Aeronautical Development Agency, also expressed his satisfaction over the government's decision to order 100 modified Tejas MK1As.

"Good decision and this will further the industrial growth in India. Unless the Indian Air Force buys Tejas in large numbers, how will others show interest? Time will prove the worth of this fighter made in India. Any amount of buying from abroad cannot build technology capabilities within the country," says Dr Kota, who is also now associated with IIIT, Jabalpur.

On reports of a possible outing by Tejas at the upcoming Bahrain International Air Show, the man who gave a major part of his life to the programme said: "More skies Tejas paint its success story, better days for India's aeronautical missions."

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. Currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow with University of Mysore, he is a Consulting Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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