A design flaw may have led to the July 25 crash of an India-made air force helicopter that left its seven-man crew dead, initial findings of a probe have revealed.
The advanced light helicopter, also called Dhruv, went down near Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh barely an hour after it had taken off from Bareilly, in one of the worst crashes involving the chopper built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
“Preliminary findings point to structural problems in the ill-fated chopper. These flaws seriously compromised its airworthiness and led to complete loss of control,” an IAF source familiar with the investigation said. It had logged only two hours of flying after being serviced at Bareilly.
A helicopter’s airframe is its primary structural element that holds all other components together. Structural failure is mainly due to a design flaw or metal
fatigue. Stress on a particular section of the airframe could lead to metal giving way.
“There are several moving parts in a chopper. Their design dictates reliability. If there’s a structural failure, the poor bloke simply goes down with the chopper,” said former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, a veteran helicopter pilot.
The Dhruv has faced tail rotor problems in the past — the entire fleet was grounded in 2006 — but those issues were ironed out.
The source said extensive checks were being carried out on the IAF’s Dhruv fleet of 40 choppers and the ones found airworthy were now flying. The IAF, army, navy and coast guard together operate more than 100 Dhruv helicopters. HAL will be producing another 60, each worth `35 crore.
An HAL source said 12 specialist teams had carried out detailed inspections at helicopter bases across the country but no design or manufacturing flaws were detected in the fleet, which clocked one lakh flying hours last October.