Bangalore: In a setback to India’s civil aircraft development programme, a Saras aircraft crashed on Bangalore’s outskirts on Friday during a test flight, killing three Indian Air Force pilots.
This could put back the already delayed project schedule by at least two years, analysts said.
Two prototypes of Saras—being developed by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) and named after the Indian crane—have flown at least 100 hours since its maiden flight in 2004. A third so-called production-standard aircraft was expected to fly later this year.
Crashed: Saras is only the second plane after Hansa—a two-seater trainer aircraft—that is being developed locally. Hemant Mishra/Mint
NAL expected the aircraft to be certified by 2010.
Despite a civil aviation boom in India and airlines buying passenger planes from Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS, the country does not have a strong manufacturing base. Saras is only the second plane after Hansa—a two-seater trainer aircraft—that is being developed locally. NAL is also working on designing a 70-seat passenger plane called the RTA-70 for regional transport.
“This will put the programme (behind) by two years. The best way to tackle them is to learn the lessons and produce a better aircraft,” said T.J. Master, chairman of Master Aerospace Consultants Pvt. Ltd, an aerospace consultancy firm. “Aircraft development is fundamental job. It is like fundamental research—it is open to hazards,” Master said.
The cause of the crash is yet to be ascertained. The aircraft was being tested by pilots of aircraft systems and testing establishment, the elite agency of the air force that certifies every plane and system it intends to use.
“It is terrible. most unexpected. I am surprised,” said Roddam Narasimha, an eminent aerospace scientist and a former director of NAL.
“There will be setbacks. We have to move forward,” said M.S. Chidananda, project director of Saras at NAL. An inquiry will be ordered to ascertain reasons for the crash, he said. Till the inquiry is completed, the other aircraft will be grounded.
The air force is slated to be the first customer for Saras and had expressed an interest to buy 15 of the 14-seater passenger planes that could be used for transporting goods. The plane was to be built by military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
Saras is powered by two turboprop engines of Canada’s Pratt and Whitney and designed to take off and land on small runways. It is expected to replace the air force’s ageing Dornier 228 transport aircraft fleet, which it has used since the 1980s.
German plane maker Dornier Gmbh, which has since ceased to exist, lost an aircraft during development trials of the Dornier 228.
Saras, which has seen delays due to non-availability of components following the 1998 US sanctions, has been criticized because it is heavier than its desired weight of 7,100kg.
The third aircraft was to be lighter by 500kg by using lightweight composites that would replace some metal parts.