Bengaluru, November 12: India on Wednesday, Nov 12 pinned an inspiring page to its chopper chapter when Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) successfully conducted the maiden test flight of the third technology demonstrator (TD-3) of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).
Piloted by Wg Cdr Unni Pillai (Retd), HAL's Chief Test Pilot (CTP), Rotary Wing (RW) and ably assisted by Gp Capt Hari Nair (Retd), Deputy CTP (RW), the 20-minute maiden outing of LCH TD-3 was a flawless affair.
The successful flight is a huge morale-booster to HAL, as the TD-3 project is being funded (Rs 80 crore) completely by the company, as part of the ‘bold strategy by the Board' to fast-track the programme. HAL has also set aside Rs 126 crore for LCH TD-4, which is expected to fly soon.
The LCH TD3's flight had its own share of suspense with the Bengaluru weather presenting a gloomy picture all through Wednesady. However, not-withstanding a light drizzle, the pilots took off the LCH TD3 from HAL's Helicopter Division and headed towards the Hoskote segment with a Dhruv chopper as the chase.
The confidence of the pilots were evident when they did a low fly-past over the Helicopter Complex before touching down completing all flight parameters as prescribed during the pre-flight briefing session.
"Every test point was done exactly with nothing unusual noticed during the flight. We are confident that the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) will now be achieved in September 2015, three months ahead of the deadline," HAL Chairman R K Tyagi told OneIndia.
Tyagi's bold steps vindicated
The successful flight vindicated Tyagi's bold stand in convincing the HAL Board to fund additional two technology demonstrators for LCH. "I knew that the only way to ensure an early IOC was increasing the number of flying hours. We did not want for wait for the customer funding and approvals. This is the paradigm shift in the thought process of HAL now. The results are there for everyone to see today," Tyagi said.
He was seen giving a pep-talk to Team LCH on Wednesday morning and interacted with the designers, engineers, Test Pilots, certifying agencies and shop-floor employees. The Indian Army has given a Letter of Intent for 114 LCHs and the IAF for 65 choppers.
Tyagi said that LCH will be an effective weapon platform capable of delivering precision strikes at high altitude. "This is a mean machine and we have made many changes to TD-3, compared to TD-1 and TD-2. The users gave us many feedbacks and our designers were quick to respond to the challenges," Tyagi said.
"We have ensured that LCH TD-3 and TD-4 will have more ‘Made in India' systems and components including Integrated Avionics and Display System and Automatic Flight Control System. Not a single snag was reported during today's flight," he added.
Bold steps, better results
Speaking to OneIndia soon after the flight, Ashok Tandon, Executive Director (Company Secretary), HAL, said that the bold decisions taken by the Board, are now showing better results.
"We decided to fund two technology demonstrators purely to expedite the project. The entire Board stood by the Chairman's out-of-the-box-way idea on LCH. In March this year, we sanctioned Rs 126 core for LCH TD-4 and the structural build of the platform is already ready. We are hoping to have the first flight of TD-4 in early next year," Tandon said.
He said HAL is now geared up to take on the challenges in aerospace and defence sector. "Expertise can't be built over night and we have stood the test of the time and are ready to move on with new ideas. The LCH, once inducted, is sure to replicate the success of Dhruv, which has become the mainstay of the Indian Army now," Tandon added.
Improvised TD-3 set to spit fire
For CTP Wg Cdr Unni (Retd), it was just another feather in his cap with the successful first flight of LCH TD-3. Explaining the new features of LCH TD-3, Unni said that the chopper has a lifting wing now making it on par with the Mi-25 and Mi-35. In addition, the HAL designers have shortened the length of the chopper to improve the vibration characteristics.
The wings are now sitting slightly on a higher attachment point, compared to TD-1 and TD-2. "The cockpit was glassier earlier and now we have fixed armour plating on the sides, reducing the glass factor. Even the height of the cockpit has been reduced. The LCH TD-3 will be soon be integrated with weapons and it will have a busy schedule ahead carrying out trials. We have improved on many features, including the gear boxes of LCH TD-3," Unni added.
Who dares wins, says HAL CTP
Unni said during the first flight, they we were keen to see how the changes that were incorporated responded.
" The ATC (Air Traffic Controllers) kept on telling us during the flight that heavy rain was coming in our direction. We never panicked and to our luck we missed the rain by a whisker. We checked all the parameters successfully," he said.
Regarded as one of the ‘most daring' helicopter Test Pilots in India, Unni said that LCH, once operational, can be a destructive platform at high altitudes.
"This will be the chopper to watch out for in Siachen Glacier and some of the other border areas above 18,000 feet. The TD-1 and TD-2 together have completed around 390 flights so far, logging 280 hours. The rate of flying was less because we were ensuring that all changes on LCH were of the final configuration. The basic testing of the LCH has been completed. Only systems need to be tested on different modes now," Unni added.
When asked about the mind of a Test Pilot moments before taking a new machine on its maiden flight, Unni said: "You have to be thoughtless when you take a mean machine for its first flight. Who dares wins!"
[RotorPlus is a OneIndia series focusing on various home-grown helicopter programmes undertaken by HAL. The series will not be appearing one after another.]
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)