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Glitch grounds HAL star at Aero India

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited suffered a major embarrassment when it withdrew Sitara, its intermediate jet trainer, from Aero India 2009, due to technical snags in the aircraft, reports Rahul Singh.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2009 23:59 IST
Rahul Singh

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) suffered a major embarrassment on Tuesday when it withdrew Sitara, its intermediate jet trainer (IJT), from Aero India 2009, due to technical snags in the aircraft.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony is scheduled to declare the prestigious air show open on Wednesday.

Conceived about 10 years ago, the HJT-36, as the IJT is called, is expected to replace the ageing Kiran aircraft that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been using for over 45 years.

The embarrassing decision to withdraw the IJT comes after a trainer belly-landed at the Yelahanka Air Force Station on February 5 while rehearsing for the air show.

This is not the first time that the IJT has let HAL down. At the previous edition of the air show in 2007, the subsonic trainer veered off the runway after its canopy unlocked during the take-off run.

Pradeep Kumar, secretary, defence production, said on Tuesday: “HAL had indicated that the IJT would be flying. But the flight has been called off. They want to be sure of the trainer being able to fly.”

The single engine HJT-36, which made its maiden flight in 2003, is intended to replace over 200 HJT-16 Kiran aircraft for training fighter pilots. The project was sanctioned in July 1999 with a grant of Rs 180 crore. But progress has been rather tardy.

Interestingly, the trainer, first powered by a French engine and now a Russian one, was expected to get initial operational clearance by 2006 and deliveries to the air force were scheduled for the following year.

But there have been a series of mishaps arising from human error and mechanical failures in recent years.

The decision to pull the IJT out of the air show means HAL has lost out on the opportunity of showcasing the trainer before an international audience from 25 countries and about 600 defence firms.