Bengaluru: State-run National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) will get its transport aircraft Saras-Mark 2 certified initially for military operations and civil use subsequently, Union Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Wednesday.
“The improved version (Saras-Mk2) will be a 19-seater transport aircraft instead of 14-seater and will be used for military operations and flying civilians later on under the state-run Udan scheme,” the Union Minister for Science and Technology told reporters hours after NAL flight-tested its prototype for the second time at the defence airport in the city’s eastern suburb.
Headquartered in Bengaluru, NAL is the second largest aerospace firm after Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and was set up by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The development and certification of the ‘Made in India’ multi-role aircraft will involve Rs 600 crore over the next 2-3 years.
Defence behemoth HAL will make the military version while private industry will produce the civil version of the aircraft after the regulators (Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Cemilac) certify it for safety.
“There will be 18 more test flights in the next four months after which the final production design will be sealed by June-July,” the Minister said.
The Indian Air Force would acquire the first 15 of the military version aircraft produced by NAL, Vardhan added.
“The aircraft, which is more than 70 per cent indigenous, will cost about Rs 40-crore, as against Rs 60-70 crore for imported ones, and will have far more benefits than imported ones,” he said.
The second test flight, which took place nearly a month after the first on January 24, was piloted by Wing Commander U.P. Singh, Group Captain R.V. Panicker and Group Captain K.P. Bhat of the Indian Air Force’s Aircraft and System Testing Establishment (ASTE).
The flight took off from HAL airport and flew for about 20 minutes, while the first test flight lasted for about 40 minutes.
The 14-seater civil aircraft programme, named after the Indian crane Saras, was conceived in the 1990s as a joint project between India and Russia.
NAL took it on its own when Myasishchev Design Bureau, the Russian state agency for civilian planes, backed out due to the financial crisis that emerged after the breakup of the then Soviet Union.
It took two decades for scientists at NAL to fly the plane first in May 2004.
In 2009, a prototype of Saras on a test flight crashed on Bengaluru’s outskirts killing three Indian Air Force pilots. Since then, the project had been in limbo till the government sanctioned around Rs 100 crore last year to revive the plane.
The previous UPA government had “dumped” the project after the accident in 2009, the Minister said.
“The project was dumped by the previous government after an accident during the test flight. Though the DGCA had exonerated the aircraft from any design flaw, no effort was made to revive it,” Vardhan said.
The revived Saras prototype was given nine different modifications to its design, engine and propeller after its crash in 2009.
“India needs 120-160 aircraft of this genre (light transport aircraft) — both civil and military versions — in the next 10 years,” said the Minister.
The improved version of Saras-Mk2 is expected to have low fuel consumption, short landing and take-off distance, low acquisition and maintenance cost and considerable drag/weight reduction among other things.
“The successful development of Saras will be one of the game changers for India’s civil aviation,” he added.