HAL's Light Utility Helicopter to prove its mettle at plane carnival

HAL's Light Utility Helicopter to prove its mettle at plane carnival
During the recent Leh trials, the Light Utility Helicopter was cold-soaked for 48 hours, before successful engine start. Photos: RWRDC
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Bengaluru: The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), the youngest rotary wing sibling flying out of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) hangars, is all set to strut its stuff during the upcoming 12th edition of Aero India.

This will be the second outing for LUH during the plane carnival. Aero India is set to take off at Air Force Station, Yelahanka, on February 20.

During a recent visit by Onmanorama to HAL’s Rotary Wing Research and Design Centre (RWRDC) here in Bengaluru, the designers and flight test crew confirmed that LUH is back after successfully completing the cold weather trials at Leh, last month.

“During the high-altitude weather trials at Leh recently, LUH was cold-soaked for 48 hours at minus 20 degrees. It had a very successful engine start and we recorded flawless performance of all systems,” Arup Chatterjee, Director Engineering and R&D, HAL, said.

Among the flight test crew who were part of the Leh mission were Wg Cdr Unni Pillai (Retd), Wg Cdr Anil Bhambhani (Retd), Gp Capt Pupinder Singh (Retd), N C Karnic and Cdr V S Kumar, both Flight Test Engineers.

Leh is at 3 km above sea level and LUH’s cold-soaking trials were held at a height of 4.5 km. The three prototypes of LUH cumulatively have logged in close to 200 flights so far.

HAL says the design concepts adopted in LUH make it a versatile platform, meeting various needs of both military and civil sectors.

HAL's Light Utility Helicopter to prove its mettle at plane carnival
The test-crew recorded flawless performance of all systems of the Light Utility Helicopter during the Leh trials.

“LUH is designed to perform the required missions from sea level to high altitude. LUH has the growth potential to accommodate additional equipment in future based on emerging needs. These features make LUH to stand out in comparison to other contemporary helicopters in its class,” says an HAL official.

The first prototype (PT1) of LUH flew on September 6, 2016, the second one (PT2) on May 22, 2017 and the third prototype (PT3) on December 14, 2018.

High, hot weather trials next

At Leh, the test crew achieved the engine start with 70 per cent battery charge.  

HAL had already carried out the sea-level trials of LUH near Chennai and the hot weather trials at Nagpur.

The platform will now be subjected to high and hot weather trials in Leh during the months of July and August later this year when the temperature soars around 30 degrees.

Designers say that months of July and August are the stringent periods of helicopter performance, both from operational and certification point of view.

Ahead of the Leh trials, LUH had crossed a key milestone in December 2018 in Bengaluru, by flying at 6 km altitude.

“The December trial at 6 km altitude was a critical requirement towards the certification of LUH. We had satisfactory feedback from the pilots with exceptional handling qualities. The flight was part of the envelope expansion tests and flying.

HAL now hopes to have the basic version of this utility helicopter certified by September this year and the mission role version, subsequently. The designers are also not ruling out the possibility of an armed version in future.

Best chopper brains

HAL has in principal order for 187 LUH that includes 126 for Indian Army and 61 for IAF. This 3-ton class chopper is set to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet widely used by Indian armed forces.

HAL's Light Utility Helicopter to prove its mettle at plane carnival
HAL hopes to certify the basic version of the Light Utility Helicopter by September this year.

As reported by Onmanorama earlier, a dedicated facility for manufacturing LUH and its associated systems is coming up at Tumakuru in Karnataka.

Powered by TM Ardiden 1U single turboshaft engine, the helicopter can undertake reconnaissance\surveillance roles and can fly at speeds up to 220 kmph, with a service ceiling of 6.5 km and a range of 350 km with 400 kg payload.

“LUH has tremendous potential for civil version and HAL is working towards the same. During Leh trials, LUH became the first helicopter to cross 120 knots speed operating at such high altitudes when compared to some of the existing platforms,” an official added.

HAL has pooled in the best chopper brains behind this project at the RWRDC, with versatile expertise in designing and manufacturing ALH (Advanced Light Helicopter) and LCH (Light Combat Helicopter).

With the best design philosophies of HAL’s proven platforms aiding LUH project, the designers are now hopeful of completing the pending test points as per the time schedules.

“This Aero India, LUH is landing with most abilities proven and closer to certification. In its class, this helicopter has a tremendous future be it for Medevac (medical evacuation), troop transportation and in armed roles,” says an official.

(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)

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