The renewed thrust for regional connectivity and the Indian Air Force’s need to replace some of its transport aircraft fleet will see India revive three aircraft programmes, all being designed in Bengaluru, including the re-engined and modified version of the ambitious 14-seater Saras aircraft.
The National Laboratories Limited (NAL), which first conceived Saras as a civil aircraft has been pushing for a military certification in the past two years, hoping to sell the aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Saras, the Light Transport Aircraft has presently been handed over to the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment of IAF, and NAL is hopeful of having the first flight in about 45 days. NAL Director Jitendra Jadhav said: “The modified Saras will have a configurable configuration. While the design is for a 14-seater plane, it can be configured to accommodate 19.”
Union Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan, who had a meeting with Jadhav, said that the Centre is completely behind the project and that it will provide complete support, including fulfilling any financial requirement. “NAL has improved a lot in the past one-and-a-half years and I want to assure them that no project will suffer for want of funds,” he said.
Jadhav said that manufacturing of two Limited Series Prototypes will require Rs 400 crore to Rs 500 crore. “The final product will be taken care of by the IAF, but we will need this much money for the prototypes,” he said.
If the project is truly revived Saras will boast of multi-role capabilities like feeder line aircraft, air ambulance, executive aircraft, troop transport, reconnaissance, aerial survey and light cargo transport.
The Saras programme had come crashing down after a 2009 accident. The original design included a maximum take-off weight of 6,100kg and a maximum payload of 1,232kg. The first prototype which completed its maiden flight on May 29, 2004, was overweight at 5,118kg compared to the 4,125kg design specifications.
Harsh Vardhan and Jadhav, added the 70-seater aircraft programme—which has consistently failed to take off from the drawing board—will also be revived given the renewed emphasis on regional connectivity.
As of now only a paper design is complete as the project was shelved about three years ago. “The aircraft will now be re-configured, given that the regional transportation police will require capacity building,” Harsh Vardhan said. When the project was shelved, NAL projected an estimated cost of Rs 9,000 crore.
Sources told TOI that that the aircraft, which will be capable of short take-off will be able to operate from smaller airfields and airports that the Regional Connectivity Policy is aiming to revive.
Jadhav said that part of the re-configuration will be looking at a next-generation turbo prop engine.
Further, NM5-100, the 5-seater aircraft jointly developed by NAL and Mahindra Aerospace, testing of which was being done in Australia since 2011-12 after it was felt that the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) lacked the expertise to certify aircraft, will be brought back to India for certification.
“There have been 12 flights in Australia. Now the DGCA has improved and they have about 20 engineers in Bengaluru. We will be bringing the aircraft back to India for certification,” Jadhav said.
SOURCE: Times of India