Piotr Butowski brings us the latest news from this year’s Aero India, held between February 14 and 18
Aero India, like every big air show is driven by money. After the conclusion of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) fighter tender and several other procurement programmes for the Indian Ministry of Defence, a brief respite. Only 549 companies took part in this year’s 11th exhibition at Yelahanka Air Base near Bangalore (there were 623 in 2015 and 650 in 2013). The exhibition was opened by Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar, followed by an air parade headed by three Mi-17 helicopters, suspending the flags of India, the Indian Air Force and Aero India. ‘Made in India’ was the theme of the formation which featured a group of Dhruv, Rudra, LCH and LUH helicopters and then a group of Tejas, Su-30MKI, Do-228, Hawk-i and HTT-40 aircraft. Aero India focuses exclusively on military aircraft and there were no token civilian aircraft present this year.
New Show, Old Tale
The author has reported from Aero India since 2005. His reports usually contain details of aspirations of the Indian Air Force including its objective to have 42 fighter squadrons operational by 2022; how the MiG-21 fighter fleet is close to the end of its service life; and how the expected deliveries of new Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and MMRCA Rafale fighters have yet to begin.
There are currently 33 fighter squadrons in the Indian Air Force order of battle comprising about 700 aircraft; a squadron complement is 18 aircraft plus a few more for maintenance reserve and strike off wastage.
Current squadron count includes 11 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s, soon to be deactivated, which means India must purchase 400 fighters to equip 20 squadrons by 2022. Since the introduction of the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 fighters 30 years ago, India has only introduced the one type of fighter, the Su-30MKI Flanker, albeit in large numbers. Despite its urgent need for 126 MMRCA fighters, the procurement programme was cancelled and India ordered just 36 expensive Rafale fighters instead; the first batch should arrive in India in 2019. Three Rafales took part in Aero India 2017, two flying and one on static display
In early October 2016, the Indian Ministry of Defence issued a Request for Information (RFI) about a new fighter with just two conditions: the aircraft is to be a singleengine design (thus cheaper than the Rafale) and production is to be undertaken in India. Consequently, the list of contenders is short, just two types qualify as singleengine designs: Lockheed Martin’s Block 70 F-16 and SAAB’s JAS 39E Gripen.
SAAB had a significant presence at Bangalore, displaying a mock-up of the Gripen E and three JAS 39C Gripens on the flight line.
Lockheed Martin, was as usual supported by the US Air Force with two F-16C Fighting Falcons on the flight line.
Assessing the chances of both candidates is difficult. Most observers lean toward the Gripen, but Lockheed Martin can play a trump card: an offer to produce an export version of the F-35 Lightning II in India in the more distant future.
Since December 31, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa stated selection of the new fighter would not only be a choice of the aircraft, but also the choice of a strategic partner that will launch a production line in India, provide transfer of technology and, in the more distant future, help India with the development of a next generation of indigenous fighter aircraft. India’s Ministry of Defence has not included the number of single-seat fighters required in the Request for Information. Dhanoa has simply said the Indian Air Force will maintain an optimum ratio of light, medium and heavy class combat aircraft.
Minister Manohar Parrikar quite unexpectedly mentioned at Bangalore that India was considering a further fighter competition (presumably for a twin-engine type) that will only be addressed once the tender for the first competition is concluded. Because India has already placed orders for two squadrons of Rafales, six LCA Tejas squadrons and two Su-30MKI squadrons; tenders for a single, and perhaps a twinengine fighter, may involve 200 aircraft.
At a press conference on December 2, 2016 (Navy Day), Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba caused a storm stating the Indian Navy is not considering the indigenous Naval LCA as the aircraft for India’s new aircraft carriers, but would look overseas for a new ship-borne fighter type. In reality, Admiral Lanba said nothing new – a decision that the first variant of the Naval LCA would not be used operationally was made as early as December 2009. At that time six Mk1 aircraft, built for evaluation and pilot training, were ordered and development of the highly revised Mk2 began.
During Aero India 2017, Parrikar softened the Admiral’s statements, thanking the team of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) for its good work and emphasised that the Indian Government will still fund the Navy LCA programme. Nevertheless, the Mk2 Navy LCA will not be ready soon; the ADA is aiming for the Mk2’s first flight in the 2020-2021 timeframe. At Bangalore, single-seat NP-2 (Naval Prototype) 3002 (one of two existing Navy LCA aircraft) was on static display.
In January, the Indian Navy issued an RFI for 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters, dubbed MRCBF. The detailed document poses many questions, but does not specify a launch configuration; catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR), or ski-jump assisted short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR). Time is an important criterion: Admiral Lanba set a five to six-year timeline for the MRCBF’s introduction into service. This deadline limits candidates to two: Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault’s Rafale M; a naval Gripen M or Lockheed Martin’s F-35C Lightning II Carrier Variant are less probable, and Russia’s MiG-29K is not being considered. The fact that the Indian Navy is insisting on a new tender rather than further MiG-29K purchases may indicate the service is not satisfied with the type; complaints from the Indian Navy concern poor maintenance and limited payload and endurance.
Progress of the Tejas LCA programme is much slower than announced. Two years ago, the then chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, R.K Tyagi said the company would manufacture six Tejas aircraft in FY2015-2016 (ended in March 2016) and eight more in FY2016-2017. Only three were built.
On July 1, 2016, the initial two series production aircraft (c/n SP-1 and SP-2) were delivered to the first operational unit, No.45 Squadron ‘Flying Daggers’, temporarily based at Bangalore.
Aircraft LA-5001 (SP-1) was on static display at Aero India 2017, other aircraft made demonstration and customer flights during the show.
Two orders currently exist: the first from 2006 for 20 Mk1 aircraft compliant with the requirements of the initial operational clearance standard, and a second from 2010 for 20 aircraft compliant with the final operational clearance configuration. According to current plans, No.45 Squadron is to be fully equipped with 20 aircraft in 2018 and the other 20 will be completed in FY2019-2020, that is by March 2020.
A further four squadrons were to be equipped with the new LCA Mk2 version with the more powerful GE-F414-INS6 engine, slightly enlarged airframe and more advanced systems. However, the plan recently changed; the Mk2 configuration was shifted to the more distant future and instead a new, interim Mk1A configuration appeared, featuring the existing airframe and engine, but the new systems planned for the Mk2. The Mk1A will feature an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar; an electronic warfare suite with an internal radar warning receiver and podded self-protection jammer; an aerial refuelling capability; and carry beyond-visual range air-to-air missiles.
Maintenance improvements include easier access to equipment and interchangeable modules. In December 2016, RFIs were sent to equipment manufacturers. During Aero India 2017, all manufacturers from everywhere, including Sweden and Russia, declared a readiness to supply an AESA radar system for the Mk1A. There is also an indigenous radar option, called the Uttam made by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), part of DRDO.
In November 2016, the Defence Acquisition Council cleared procurement of 83 Mk1A aircraft, production of which, according to HAL Chairman and Managing Director T Suvarna Raju, will begin in 2019 and be complete by 2027-2028. To meet this plan, according to Raju, HAL is setting up a second Tejas assembly line, allowing for an increase in the production rate from eight to 16 per year with an increased level of outsourcing.
India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which builds the Tejas LCA, is also working on the fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). In the initial configuration, shown in pictures from more than ten years ago, the design featured a tailless configuration of the Tejas with two engines.
A model of the AMCA in a more traditional configuration featuring an empennage was displayed at Aero India 2009. This year’s exhibition included a model of the fourth AMCA variant featuring changed wing and empennage shapes. One model featured an open internal weapons bay.
The AMCA design includes characteristics typical of new generation fighters; low observability (including internal weapons carriage); supercruise capability; the latest sensors and weaponry and network-centric warfare capability and it’s classed as a mediumweight fighter with a 20,000kg (44,000lb) take-off weight.
The AMCA programme continues at a general research stage.
Reportedly the ADA is currently building a full-scale AMCA mock-up primarily intended for testing the stealth characteristics of the airframe. Once the problems of the Tejas programme have been corrected, the AMCA programme may be speeded up, although the type’s maiden flight cannot realistically be expected in less than ten years.
Where fifth-generation fighters are concerned, the Indian-Russian Prospective Multirole Fighter (PMF) based on the Russian T-50 PAK FA programme continues to shift further and further back in time. Remarkably, HAL’s exhibition hall displayed nothing about the PMF. At the 2013 and 2015 editions, HAL displayed a model of the PMF in Indian Air Force markings. Both parties, India and Russia, conceded there are some problems and said talks are in progress. An Indian Government committee, established to thoroughly evaluate the PMF programme, is soon expected to deliver its results.
India purchased so many Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters that HAL eventually proposed an indigenous helicopter in this niche. If the Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) comes into being, it will be the heaviest indigenous helicopter ever developed. A full-scale mock-up of the IMRH debuted this year at show central in HAL’s exhibition hall; the type was ceremonially unveiled by Indian Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar on the first day of the show.
Powered by two engines, the type is yet to be unspecified, the IMRH mock-up featured a five-blade composite main rotor and fourblade tail rotor; a tall fuselage that allows passengers to stand upright inside the cabin; retractable landing gear; state-of-theart mission equipment and avionics with a glass cockpit. Although the IMRH mock-up was displayed in a leather-upholstered VVIP configuration, its design is primarily geared for the military market configured for a wide range of missions from transport of 24 troops, through combat search and rescue (CSAR), to anti-submarine warfare in carrierbased version with folding rotor blades. This latter version would replace Indian Navy Sea King helicopters.
Back in 2009, HAL displayed a poster of the IMRH project with the same specification but the design featured aft-mounted engines, driving the main gearbox mounted in front of them. Engines on the latest mock-up are mounted in front of the main gearbox. It is not known why this change has been made; a configuration featuring aft-mounted engines is generally considered better because it reduces aerodynamic drag and cabin noise, and is safer in the event of an emergency landing. All-in-all, the current design looks very old-fashioned.
Main rotor diameter: 18.0m (59ft 1in)
Tail rotor diameter: 3.7m (12ft 2in)
Fuselage length: 17.5m (57ft 5in)
Fuselage width: 2.6m (8ft 6in)
Height without rotor: 5.6m (18ft 4in)
Cabin length: 5.7m (18ft 8in)
Cabin width: 2.1m (6ft 11in)
Cabin height: 1.9m (6ft 3in)
Max take-off weight: 12,500kg (27,558lb)
Payload: 3,500kg (7,716lb)
Never-exceed speed: 148kts (275km/h)
Max speed: 124kts (230km/h)
Service ceiling: 21,325ft (6,500m)
Range: 500km (270nm)
Range with additional tanks: 800km (430nm)
Russian Helicopters announced at Bangalore they were expecting another order from India for 48 Mi-17V5s by the end of the year. To date, India has received 151 Mi-17V5s under two contracts placed in 2008 and 2012, not to mention about 400 examples of older Mi-8 versions.
Light Utility Helicopter
Making its flying debut at the show was the first Light Utility Helicopter prototype (PT-1) serial number ZG-4620. It lifted off for the first time on September 6, 2016 and made its first full-flight on October 28. The LUH programme is a priority for HAL faced with an urgent need to replace old Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. The company plans to achieve LUH certification by December 2017 and to start production at a new facility in Tumkur, 75km (45 miles) from Bangalore.
However, like the Russian Mi-17 being a rival to the IMRH, the Ka-226T (originally developed for an Indian programme for 197 reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters) is a rival to the LUH. Forty Ka-226Ts built in Russia are due to be delivered to India and a further 160 will be produced at Bangalore by an Indian- Russian joint venture. Since the Indian armed forces estimate a demand for about 485 light helicopters, there is a place for both the Ka-226 and LUH.
Light Combat Helicopter
During Aero India all four existing examples of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) appeared; the newest, technology demonstrator (c/n TD-4), serial number ZF-4604, completed its first flight on December 1, 2015. By February 2017 the four LCH helicopters had accumulated 850 flights since the maiden flight of TD-1 on March 29, 2010. Current testing involves weapons and the fire control system.
In 2016, the Defence Acquisition Council cleared procurement of ten limited series production helicopters. According to an earlier letter of intent, HAL expects an Indian Army order for 114 and one from the Indian Air Force for 65.
The Light Combat Helicopter uses the engine, transmission and rotors of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, but has a new, narrow fuselage with a crew of two seated in tandem. Armament and targeting systems were taken from the ALH MkIV, called the Rudra, in production and service since February 2013.
HAL’s helicopter complex in Bangalore currently builds 22 to 24 ALH Dhruv/Rudra helicopters per year. By February 2017, the production plant had delivered 136 of the 159 ALH helicopters ordered (105 by the Indian Army and 54 by the Indian Air Force) in various versions, and awaits orders for a further 73. After launch of full-scale series production of the LUH and LCH helicopters, India will produce a combined total of 85 to 90 ALH, LCH and LUH helicopters per year.
India’s 100th Hawk Mk132 built by HAL’s Aircraft Division in Bangalore, named Hawk-i and painted blue and white, was on display at Aero India 2017. The Hawk-i aircraft, which took part in the flying display, is an upgraded Indian version of the Hawk with an indigenous mission computer; a digital map generator to improve situational awareness; a new embedded virtual training system; data link and secured voice communication.
A more advanced Hawk upgrade was presented in the static display by BAE Systems using company demonstrator aircraft ZJ100. The Advanced Hawk has greater ordnance carrying capability on seven hard points for a total payload of 3,000kg (6,614lb) and can serve as a lead-in fighter trainer or light combat aircraft. The demonstrator was converted at HAL’s facility in Yelahanka. The aircraft was displayed with a Paveway IV precisionguide munition; a Brimstone air-to-surface missile; ASRAAM air-to-air missile; and an Israeli Litening targeting pod. The wing was retrofitted with combat flaps and adaptive leading-edge slats to improve turn rate and landing performance; the aircraft has reinforced landing gear and a refuelling probe. New Rolls-Royce Adour 951 engines provide 14% more thrust than the previous Adour 871. The cockpit has a large-area multifunction display and a new head-up display.
HAL previously made 99 Hawk aircraft for the Indian Ministry of Defence; the first contract in March 2004 for 42 and another contract in July 2010 for 57 aircraft (40 for the Indian Air Force and 17 for the Indian Navy). Prior to that, India purchased 24 aircraft built by BAE Systems in the UK. India’s fleet of Hawks has accumulated more than 100,000 flight hours. During Aero India 2017, the Surya Kiran aerobatic team gave its first performance with Hawks.
The HTT-40 turboprop basic trainer (Hindustan Turboprop Trainer) made by HAL from its own funding without an order also debuted at Bangalore this year. The first aircraft (c/n PT-1), serial number TSR001 (flying since May 31, 2016) took part in the flight display, while the yet-to-fly TSR002 (c/n PT-2), stood on static display. HAL’s HTT-40 has a strong rival in India: the Pilatus PC-7 MkII, 75 of which were ordered by the Indian Air Force, and one – P-143 – took part in the flying display.
LIGHT UTILITY HELICOPTER CHARACTERISTICS
Main rotor diameter: 11.6m (38ft 1in)
Tail rotor diameter: 1.8m (5ft 11in)
Fuselage length: 11.5m (37ft 9in)
Fuselage width: 1.6m (5ft 3in)
Height without rotor: 3.4m (11ft 2in)
Max take-off weight: 3,117kg (6,872lb)
Empty weight: 1,910kg (4,211lb)
Payload: 500kg (1,102lb)
Cruise speed: 127kts (235km/h)
Service ceiling: 21,325ft (6,500m)
Range: 350km (190nm)
Range with additional tanks: 800km (430nm)
Supersonic X-Plane Tests
Lockheed Martin’s Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) X-plane preliminary design is undergoing high-speed wind tunnel tests at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio as work continues to research new supersonic passenger airliners.
Two months of tests using a 9% scale model of the design began in February in the 8 x 6ft (2.4 x 1.8m) Supersonic Wind Tunnel at the facility. The model is being exposed to wind speeds ranging from 150mph (241km/h) all the way up to Mach 1.6 to understand the lift, drag and side forces on the model at different angles of attack, and to ensure air flows smoothly into the engine under all operating conditions.
Dave Richwine, NASA’s QueSST preliminary design project manager, said: “This test is an important step along the path to the development of an X-plane that will be a key capability for the collection of community response data required to change the rules for supersonic overland flight.”
Lockheed Martin says its research indicates it’s possible for a supersonic aircraft to be shaped in such a way that the shock waves formed when flying faster than the speed of sound can be reduced to a quieter ‘heartbeat’ sound rather than the traditional sonic boom.
Wind tunnel testing and analysis is expected to continue until mid-2017. NASA awarded Lockheed Martin a contract in February 2016 for the preliminary design of a supersonic X-plane flight demonstrator. The agency’s plan is for a low-boom flight demonstration aircraft to start flight testing in 2020. The QueSST design is part of NASA’s New Aviation Horizons initiative, which aims to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise through researching innovations in aircraft design that depart from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape.
Air Canada Goes Retro
Air Canada has unveiled its first major rebrand for more than a decade by introducing a fresh identity that includes several touches from previous liveries carried by the Canadian flag carrier.
The new scheme was simultaneously unveiled in three separate cities (Toronto, on a Boeing 787-8, and Vancouver and Montreal on Airbus A321s). The livery restores the airline’s red maple leaf ‘rondelle’ logo to the tail and revives the black tail that featured on the carrier’s aircraft from 1993 until the most recent rebrand in 2004. The new look was created by design firm Winkreative, previously responsible for rebrands at Porter Airlines and Swiss.
The rebrand coincides with Air Canada completing the reconfiguration of the cabins in its 25 Boeing 777s to provide commonality with those in its 787s, and a network expansion which includes new services from Toronto and Montreal to destinations including Mumbai, Berlin, Reykjavik, Algiers, Taipei and London Gatwick. The airline has also confirmed it expects to receive its first 737 MAX 8 at the end of this year.
Boeing’s UK Factory
Boeing will manufacture parts for 737NGs, 737 MAXs and 777s in the UK after it unveiled plans to open a factory in Sheffield – its first in Europe. Boeing Sheffield will produce actuation systems for wing trailing edges as part of a broader plan to increase in-house manufacturing of key components and systems, which the company says will improve efficiency and reduce costs. Subject to planning permission being granted, the proposed 25,000ft2 (2,300m2) Boeing Sheffield building will be located next to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), in which Boeing has been involved since its opening in 2001. Boeing Sheffield will work closely with Boeing Portland, which produces complex machining, gear systems and flight controls and has also been awarded new work on the 737 and 777. The company said Boeing Sheffield will open new opportunities for UK suppliers to bid for work.
The AMRC is part of the Advanced Manufacturing Park, a hightech research, development and manufacturing cluster outside Sheffield, located on the site of the former Orgreave colliery. In addition to the AMRC and the new Boeing factory, the AMP also includes a Rolls- Royce factory that produces fan blade castings.
Emirates is assessing three options for its next fleet requirements, says its President Sir Tim Clark. The Gulf airline is studying whether to continue buying more twin-aisle widebody aircraft, acquire single-aisle narrowbody types such as the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, or order both smaller twin-aisles and single-aisles. A decision on new aircraft will be made over the next 18 months. Clark said: “When the time is right we will decide. We are just biding our time to see which way it all pans out.”
Clark’s comments, made in a CNN interview, appear to again delay a decision from Emirates about whether it will buy A350s or 787s, or both. Reports in some media outlets in mid- 2016 that Emirates was close to a decision on these types proved unfounded, as no announcements have been made. The carrier cancelled an order for 70 A350s in 2014 and more recently deferred the deliveries of six A380s by a year to 2019.
Any purchase of single-aisles would mark a major strategic shift for the airline. Emirates exclusively operates twin-aisles, which feed passengers through its Dubai hub from its extensive global network. It has been the leading airline advocate of the A380 – it is the largest single operator of the type (93 as of early March) and Clark has been vocal in recent years in urging Airbus to re-engine the type. Emirates is also the largest single Boeing 777 operator, with 150. The airline has not operated narrowbodies since flying Boeing 727s in its earliest years of operation in the 1980s.
Bryza for the Civil Market
The PZL Mielec M28 Bryza short take-off and landing light twin turboprop is being marketed internationally by Lockheed Martin for civil applications. It is being offered as a 19-seat airliner and cargo aircraft with a maximum load of 2,300kg (5,000lb). The aircraft’s capability for airlift and special operations missions has been demonstrated by its use by the US Air Force. It can operate from unimproved airfields as short as 1,500ft (548m). Its highlift wing and thrust-reversing propellers on two 1,100shp (820kW) Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-65B turboprop engines provide hot-and-high capabilities. Lockheed Martin obtained marketing rights to the M28 through its acquisition of PZL’s US parent, Sikorsky, in November 2015.
An M28 left Poland in February for a sales tour of South and Central America that will run through to May. It crossed the Atlantic by the northern route and started its tour in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, on March 17. The aircraft will attend the biennial LAAD Defence and Security Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro in April. Its military use by countries in the region including Colombia and Venezuela is considered a selling point. Lockheed Martin is aiming to achieve annual sales of 10-15 M28s in what it sees as a world market for some 150 aircraft in its class.
The M28 has been certified for commercial operations by the US Federal Aviation Administration, European Aviation Safety Agency and the Brazilian ANAC (National Civil Aviation Agency).
David C Isby
Aurora and the A350
Kung Fu Panda 787
MRJ Icing Tests
The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) recently conducted icing tests at Chicago-Rockford International Airport, Illinois. Flight test aircraft 4 (FTA4, JA24MJ) collected data on the MRJ’s performance in natural icing conditions. This was the first test on the MRJ undertaken away from the Moses Lake Flight Test Centre at Grant County International Airport in Washington. The MRJ will now undergo extreme hot and cold weather testing at the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin AFB in Florida.
LEAP with the A321neo
The Airbus A321neo powered by the CFM International LEAP-1A engine has received joint Type Certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency and US Federal Aviation Administration. The approval followed a certification programme involving over 400 flight hours amassed in more than 160 flights. This is the fourth A320neo Family member to be certified. The A320neo has been certified with both the Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1100G and the LEAP-1A, the two engine options, and the PW1100G-powered A321neo was certified in December 2016.