Bengaluru:  The second prototype (PT-2) of Basic Trainer Aircraft HTT-40 from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is expected to have its maiden flight next month. During a visit to the facilities of Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC), this Correspondent witnessed hectic activities as a prelude to its maiden flight.

The PT-2 has almost completed the equipping process. It will be on static display area during Aero India 2017 with a fully functional cockpit and powered-on LRUs.

“From removal of the fuselage to entire process of equipping is completed in one-and-a-half-months, which is a great achievement compared to any aerospace standards. We achieved it due to the modular technology being adopted for the project,” Prashant Singh Bhadoria, Deputy Project Manager, HTT-40, told Mathrubhumi.

Started with HAL’s internal funding of Rs 500 crore, the HTT-40 project got the ahead for detailed design in August 2013. The detailed design was completed in 21 months (May 2015) and the BTA had its maiden flight in May 2016.


Many improvisations on PT-1 already

Suresh Kumar, Head of Aerodynamics Group and Project Manager of HTT-40 said the platform completed 32 flights, logging a cumulative of 25 hours, so far.

“We did many gradual improvisations on PT-1 since its first flight. The fuel system has been converted into a fully pressurised one. Also the rudder was modified to address sensitivity issues. The ECS system was adapted to reduce the cockpit noise to optimum,” says Suresh, who has served HAL for over 30 years now.

On PT-1 the ailerons have been fitted with balance tabs to give a more comfortable feel while doing lateral maneuvers like the 360 degree roll. The flap angles have been optimised for better take off and landing characteristics.

On a specific query on the feedback the young HTT-40 team got from the pilots, Sanjiv Shukla, General Manager (ARDC) said the response has been positive.

“The aircraft handling is very easy and the pilot-vehicle interface has been simplified for the trainer. The glass cockpit gives them a fighter-class effect and the display symbology is user-friendly,” says Shukla.

Based on the pilot inputs, the rudder sensitivity and control harmony has been improvised.

“The glide ratio has already been achieved. The climb rates and the landing and take-off performances also have exceeded expectations,” says Shukla.

The ARDC team is excited as PT-1 will be debuting at Aero India 2017, displaying some of its acrobatic maneuvers. The SOPs for both PT-1 and PT-2 are the same.


Production team had a say from beginning

On the new design and manufacturing philosophies adopted, D K Venkatesh, Director, (Engineering, R&D) said the entire project is based on digital mock up.

“Our focus has been on rigorous simulation and ground testing in order to reduce the development time. The design for manufacturability theme has been the central focus. The production jigs have been set up using laser trackers with 50 microns accuracy. Metal tooling has been adapted for all sheet metal parts. The aircraft looming has been done on bench completely,” says Venkatesh.

He said every drawing was production-vetted. “Any design and development has issues. We have to experience it. We have to overcome it. This young team has made all of us proud,” says Venkatesh.

The project witnessed a mid-programme engine change issue, due to procurement challenges.  The non participation of various suppliers due to the doubts surrounding HTT-40, had forced ARDC to absorb LRUs from existing projects.


Team had tough time keeping the morale high

“This, however, was a blessing in disguise as system commonality was helpful in cutting the development and procurement time lines. The project time lines were very challenging. The air surrounding the project during the launch phase too was not inspiring. It was difficult to keep the moral high but at the end of the day the company leadership ensured that the project stayed on track and achieved its milestones,” says Prashant, who recently bagged the Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Award instituted by AeSI national chapter.

HAL now says that the next prototype (PT-3) will be design optimised with reduced weight. Also the PT-3 will be in line with the final SOP made along with the production agency. Plans are also afoot for weaponised variant (PT-4) in future, especially keeping the likely need of Indian Army. The target set for achieving certification is December 2018.


HAL Chief Raju pats the young team

On the tricky stall and spin tests for HTT-40, HAL says lessons from Intermediate Jet Trainer would come handy.

With HTT-40 boasting of far advanced systems than those on Pilatus, currently being inducted in Indian Air Force, HAL says the indigenous content and design rights will go a long way in maintaining the aircraft for over the next three decades.

HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju refuses to take any credit for the success of HTT-40 project so far.

“The boys slogged day in and out. They muted themselves from what the world thought about the project. This is again another management lesson we all can keep in mind. Always focus on your tasks. If you are sure you will achieve it. And, nothing else matters. HTT-40 tells you that story,” says Raju, who has been playing the role of a mentor for the team.

(The writer is the Content Consultant with Mathrubhumi (English Online) and tweets @writetake.)