The Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, flew a trainer version of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) over the city under a cloudy sky on Tuesday, an official said.
“Air Chief Marshal Raha flew in the twin-seater Tejas trainer (Pilot Version-6) for 30 minutes to check its capabilities and landed safely at the HAL airport along with IAF Group Captain M Rangachari,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.
Air Chief Marshal Raha became the first IAF chief to fly the home-grown fighter, designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) of the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and built by defence behemoth Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
“It’s a good aircraft to fly and fit to be inducted into our fleet,” Air Chief Marshal Raha told air warriors at the IAF’s Aircraft Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) at the defence airport.
HAL spokesman Gopal Sutar said Air Chief Marshal Raha piloted the aircraft during the 30-minute sortie and conducted aerial manoeuvres to check its versatility.
The deputy IAF chief, Air Marshal SBP Sinha flew Tejas in September 2014.
As an experienced fighter pilot, Air Chief Marshal Raha, 61, is a qualified flying instructor and a fighter combat leader.
He also took salute at the graduation ceremony of the 38th flight test course of ASTE, where the IAF conducts flight testing of aircraft and integrates weapons and systems into its fleet.
The test pilots school is one of the six of its kind in the world, where test pilots and flight test engineers are trained for the IAF.
Indigenous fighter aircraft like LCA and Advanced light Helicopter (ALH) of HAL and Airborne Early Warning and Communication (AEWC) aircraft of the DRDO’s Centre for Airborne Systems (CAS) are test flown by pilots trained at the ASTE school.
Air Chief Marshal Raha also opened the LCA paint hangar and visited the aircraft’s production facility in the state-run complex.
The IAF, which plans to induct 120 Tejas fighters, including 100 of modified versions in its frontline fleet, will initially receive four from HAL to raise its first LCA squadron this year.
A proposal for doubling production of Tejas - to 16 from eight per annum is being processed. The cost of its capacity expansion (Rs 1,259 crore) will be shared by HAL (50%) and 25 percent each by IAF and Indian Navy.
Though IAF gave the initial operational clearance (IOC) to fly Tejas by its pilots in December 2013, it is yet to give the final operation clearance (FOC) for induction as it is waiting for certification of its trials, including use of various weapons for target hits.
The IAF wants to induct Tejas into its fleet to replace its ageing Soviet-era MiG-21 fleet.
As a fourth generation aircraft, Tejas can fly at 1,350 km per hour and is comparable to the world’s best fighters, including French Mirage 2000, American F-16 and Swedish Gripen.
As a single engined, multi-role supersonic fighter, Tejas weighs 8.5 tonnes and can carry three tonnes of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, laser guided bombs, guns, conventional/retarded bombs and beyond visual range missiles.