LCA Navy all set for ski-jump trials at SBTF Goa

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M

Bengaluru, Dec 8: Scripting a new chapter in India's naval aviation history, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Naval Prototype-1 (NP-1) is all set to undertake critical trials at INS Hansa in Goa for the first time. Sources confirm to OneIndia that the NP-1 undertook ‘extensive pre-requisite flying' at HAL Airport in Bengaluru ahead of its expected ferry to Goa soon.

"The aircraft is in a good shape now. In the last two weeks alone, we did five flights. Specified speed, Mach No, altitude, Angle of Attack, undercarriage operations and ground accelerations all have been tested and found satisfactory," an official said.

The NP-1 (trainer variant) was rolled out with great fanfare on July 6, 2010 and the aircraft had its maiden flight on April 27, 2012. As on December 6, 2014, the platform could only achieve 29 flights.

NP-1 to perform a challenging task at SBTF

An advance team of experts has already landed at Goa ahead of the NP-1 campaign at INS Hansa. "Modifications on the NP-1 have already done for the ski-jump activities. Ski-jump is a technologically-challenging task achieved by India. Only very few countries (US and Ukraine among known nations) can boast of a facility like SBTF," the official said.

The SBTF is currently regularly used by the MiG 29Ks, before their operations onboard INS Vikramaditya. "The MiG 29Ks have been undertaking ski-jump and arrester hook landing for some time now. The LCA Navy will be doing only ski-jumps now. We will have two-week preparation time ahead of the first mission," the official added.

The NP-1 will be ferried (flown from point to point) from HAL Airport and it would cover the distance to Goa within an hour. It will be first a home-grown naval aviation platform will to land at INS Hansa. Commodore T A Maolankar from the National Flight Test Centre is expected to pilot NP-1 during Goa mission.

The Navy is expected to give an official name for the LCA Navy soon as they were not keen to go with Tejas. It was former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee who named the IAF variant as Tejas. The ADA-HAL-Navy teams plans to invite PM Narendra Modi for the naming ceremony in future.
The trials at the SBTF are crucial as it would give the team confidence to undertake further trials on NP-1. A second prototype (NP-2, fighter variant) is also getting ready at the HAL hangars, which is expected to have its maiden flight before the end of this year.

Largest R&D programme in India

The LCA programme has become the largest R&D programme India has undertaken in the military aerospace arena. Each LCA costs around Rs 250 crore, while the GSLV is pegged at Rs 220 crore, PSLV Rs 80-100 crore and Agni Rs 50 crore.

"Though the aircraft is dogged with some problems right now, few local sorties have set the stage for the ferry. Joining NP-1 will be PV6 trainer and probably LSP7 from the Tejas flightline. The latter two may further proceed to Leh. In parallel, the HJT-36 (Intermediate Jet Trainer) is also scheduling sea level trials and asymmetric stores jettison exercises at Goa," an official said.

SBTF is a tech marvel

The SBTF replicates a static model of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) being built at the Cochin Shipyard. The SBTF has 14 deg parabolic profile ski-jump for take-off and an arresting gear for landing. The main objective of SBTF is for the certification of naval LCA for ship-borne operations, which is a mandatory requirement ahead of the aircraft's operations onboard IAC for the carrier compatibility test (CCT).

The SBTF is equipped with restraining gear system with ski-jump for take-off and an arresting gear system for landing. It also uses an optical landing system, TV landing control system, light signaling system and a series of auxiliary units, akin to the IAC.

The story so far dogged in delays

Similar to its elder sibling Tejas, the Indian Air Force (IAF) variant of LCA, the NP-1 too got embroiled in serious developmental issues, delaying the project. In the past, its designers at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and makers at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) had to deal with nagging issues linked to the arrestor hook, landing gear and LEVCONs (control surfaces which allow for better low-speed handling).

LCA Navy5

In an interview to OneIndia recently, Navy Chief Admiral R K Dhowan had expressed concern over the delay in LCA naval programme. "It's an important programme for us and we have the IAC (Indigenous Aircraft Carrier) in Kochi getting ready and the SBTF waiting for LCA Navy. It's important that the programme is speeded up," the navy chief had said.

Naval sources say that the Navy Chief is expected to review the progress of the project in Delhi on December 8. "The Chief will also be briefed about the scheduled events that are expected to be undertaken at SBTF," a naval official said.

(Photo credits: Tarmak007)

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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