Bengaluru: The 10th series production fighter (SP-10) from Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas production line is ready. It has completed the full performance engine ground run.
Weather-permitting, the low and high speed taxi trials are lined up next leading to its first flight soon.
The SP-10 will be likely to be piloted by Air Cmde K A Muthanna (Retd) or Gp Capt K K Venugopal (Retd), both Test Pilots with the National Flight Testing Centre here.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), under immense pressure from various quarters to scale up the production rate, needs to deliver 16 aircraft to IAF this financial year.
The LCA Division, the youngest of all units in HAL, is hopeful that the delivery schedules will be accelerated in the months to come.
HAL has a second Tejas line too running at its Aircraft Division which is working on SP-11, SP-13 and SP-15.
This division has been entrusted with equipping the aircraft, in addition to manufacturing the central fuselage and wings. The SP-5 and SP-8 were the first two Tejas platforms that flew out of this division.
In the years to come, the division will be scaled up to a full-fledged Tejas line, producing the fighters independent of support from the LCA Division.
The LCA Division now produces coupled fuselage in seven months of loading of the first component on to the jig.
HAL insiders say that they will have to keep the production line going with the fighters, since there is no written confirmation yet from the IAF on the Tejas trainers, though both parties have ended the stalemate recently.
“The lead time involved for aircraft manufacturing is close to 12 months, hence the standard to which fighter aircraft gets produced needs to be frozen at least 18 months in advance,” says an official.
With the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) nowhere in sight, HAL has to go ahead with the available standard of preparation released by regulatory bodies and the IAF in October 2017.
“The standard freeze only will allow aircraft to come out in numbers otherwise we are only looking for piecemeal production approach and economies of scale will never happen in such short production runs,” adds the official.
“Unless it is flight critical or mission critical, IAF should not insist for any modifications,” he adds.
Initial FOC fighters with concessions
Interestingly, IAF sources say that HAL has requested to start accepting some of the initial fighters from the FOC variant.
“HAL wants us to accept some of the early production variants from the FOC block with some concessions. Aeronautical Development Agency is still undertaking the air-to-air integration probe trials and the other pending points as per the target document,” says an IAF official.
In short, HAL wants IAF to accept the initial fighters from next block (from SP-21 onwards) based on the provision DAL (drawing applicability lists) for FOC released in October 2017.
DAL is the reference document for the production division as well as the certification agencies.
As reported by Onmanorama earlier, the LCA Division has already loaded the parts of SP-21 on to the assembly facility.
“Many of the concessions and modifications are getting fulfilled during the delivery of SP-10. The IAF is extremely happy with the finish of the series production platforms,” says an official.
(The writer is an independent aerospace, defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)