The Indian Air Force (IAF) after three-and-half years of ‘make-do,’ has received a basic trainer aircraft.

Ever since the crash and grounding of the Hindustan Aeronautics designed and manufactured Hindustan Piston Trainer-32 (HPT-32), the IAF has been without a basic trainer to train its ab initio pilots — seven courses or around 450 pilots have graduated to the Stage II of training without a basic trainer. The IAF recently took possession of the first of 75, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd manufactured-Pilatus PC-7 MkII turboprop aircraft.

$550 million contract

Under the terms of the contract which is over 500 million Swiss Francs (around $550 million), Pilatus will also provide an integrated ground-based training system and a comprehensive logistic support package. According to a company spokesperson, the contract also contains an option clause for extending the scope of the contract within three years from signing. According to the schedule, five aircraft are to be delivered every two months, with the AFA receiving 30 PC-7s by the end of the year. The remaining will be delivered over the next two years.

Pilatus Aircraft will also be establishing in-country depot level maintenance capabilities, which includes the required transfer of technology to HAL, thereby enabling in-country maintenance of the PC-7 throughout its service life of over 30 years. The well-tested proven trainer is expected to be a more maintenance friendly, unlike the HPT-32, which had to be grounded on numerous occasions because of technical snags and crashes.

The first of the PC-7 trainers landed at Air Force Station Yelahanka over the weekend and will according to Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command, IAF, Air Marshall Rajinder Singh, make a “heaven and earth difference” in the training of pilots. According to Air Marshall Singh, all rookie cadets at the Air Force Academy (AFA) will now do around 65 hours of fixed wing flying on the PC-7, before being trifurcated into the fighter, transport and helicopter streams.

While the pilots chosen for the fighter stream will then go onto Stage II training on the vintage Kiran trainers, helicopter and transport pilots will switch to training on helicopters and transport aircraft. This will reduce the workload on the aging fixed-wing Kirans which only have a few precious hours of flying left in them.

A lack of a basic trainer had forced the IAF to re-jig their training schedules, with trainee pilots having to undergo training straight away in a Stage II aircraft and only 22 hours (not 65) of Stage I flying on the Kirans.

(This article was published on February 7, 2013)
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