At the Republic Day flypast, two Dornier aircraft will take to the skies in historic ‘Tangail formation’ to showcase not only the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) attempt to cherish the successful military strategy that outfoxed Pakistan during the 1971 war by paradropping a battalion into the hostile territory but also its willingness to embrace an eco-friendly practice.

Both the Dornier 228s will be flying on a type of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) produced by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), indicating that the IAF is willing to join the government’s efforts to align with the global agenda of having net zero aviation by 2050, IAF sources told businessline.

A Dakota vintage aircraft will also join the Dornier, a twin-engine general-purpose aircraft, in Tangail formation, IAF Wing Commander Manish Sharma said on Friday ahead of the IAF contingent’s participation in the Republic Day parade on Kartavya Path. The move is to relive the airdrop of December 11, 1971, by the 2nd battalion of the Army’s Parachute Regiment in the Tangail area of erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, said IAF officials. The secret operation, according to military historians, was then considered the first of its kind on the subcontinent.

The Dehradun-based IIP had sent a proposal to the IAF to use the SAF in the aircraft during the flypast, which is a blend of 10 per cent hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA)-based alternative fuel into the regular commercial jet A1 fuel, to push for greater reliability on less carbon-emitting sources of energy.

This would be IAF’s second initiative. In 2019, transport carrier AN-32 also participated in the IAF flypast, roaring on the HEFA fuel.

Sources aware of the SAF project stated that way back in 2018, the IAF gave a project to the IIP to blend 8,700 litres of aviation fuel into alternative fuel for the test flight of their aircraft. From 2019 to 2022, the IIP supplied them with the HEFA-blended SAF in different batches. Out of that, AN-32s have done 65 hours and Dornier 25 hours of sortie on climate-friendly energy. The IIP is expecting more projects from the IAF and Indian Army Aviation, which has a fleet of copters, since the HEFA is better and more friendly to all military and civilian air platforms, claim sources in the CSIR.

The IIP is looking at commercial production of the SAF, as the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) has indicated setting up a refinery plant just for this in Mangaluru, which would give a further boost to the government’s goals of gradual phasing out of commercial jet A1 to stop air pollution, CSIR sources added. It is also in the process of seeking international certification for its global sales push.

The move comes at a time when the IIP signed an MoU with Airbus on Friday to support SAF production and commercialisation and address the decarbonisation ambitions of the Indian aerospace industry. Both have come together to work jointly on technical assessment, approvals, market access, and sustainability accreditation efforts for the production of SAF, as per a statement issued by Airbus.

The world over, military aviation is experimenting with shifting towards SAF for their aircraft. The United States is said to be engaging companies and other channels to source at least 10 percent of SAF fuel blend for its military aircraft in the next five years. Likewise, the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the United Kingdom reportedly conducted the first military Airbus A330 flight with 100 percent SAF, as it has plans to become a carbon-free air force by 2040.