Two IAF pilots killed in first Pilatus trainer aircraft crash in Hyderabad
India bought 75 trainers from Pilatus Aircraft for ₹2,900 crore under a 2012 contract. It is a turboprop, tandem seating, basic trainer aircraft of IAF
NEW DELHI: Two Indian Air Force pilots were on Monday killed in a Pilatus PC-7 Mk II trainer aircraft crash, the first accident involving the Swiss-origin aircraft in IAF service. The aircraft was on a routine training sortie from Air Force Academy, Hyderabad.
The aircraft met with an accident on Monday morning during a routine training sortie from AFA, Hyderabad, the IAF said in a statement.
“It is with deep regret that the IAF confirms both pilots onboard the aircraft sustained fatal injuries. No damage to any civil life or property has been reported. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident,” it added.
India bought 75 trainers from Pilatus Aircraft for ₹2,900 crore under a 2012 contract. It is a turboprop, tandem seating, basic trainer aircraft of IAF.
Initial training of all pilots is carried out on Pilatus PC-7 Mk II planes and Kiran Mk-1/1A trainers. Those training to become fighter pilots further train on the British-origin Hawk advanced jet trainers before they can fly supersonic fighter jets.
India is now building its own basic trainer aircraft.
In March, the defence ministry awarded a ₹6,838-crore contract to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 70 HTT-40 basic trainers. HAL will start rolling out the aircraft in 2025-26.
In July 2019, the defence ministry suspended business dealings with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd for one year for violation of a pre-contract integrity pact in the 2012 contract, while also factoring in Indian investigations against the plane maker for alleged corruption and irregularities. The contract with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd included a clause for the follow-on purchase of 38 more planes.
Monday’s crash comes six months after an ageing Kiran trainer aircraft, flown by one of India’s finest test pilots and with a woman flight test engineer onboard, crashed on the outskirts of Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar on June 1, putting the spotlight on the decades-old plane and the pressing need to replace it with a modern aircraft.
Both survived the crash.
The air force plans to retire the Kiran trainers by 2025.
The much-delayed Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT), being developed by HAL, was planned as a replacement for the IAF’s Kiran fleet to carry out stage-II training of fighter pilots. The IJT project is several years behind schedule and testing activity is still on.
Improper engine selection and faulty planning in the early development stage by HAL led to significant delays in the IJT project that was sanctioned almost 25 years ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said in a report tabled in Parliament in August.
The IJT project was sanctioned in July 1999 with a grant of ₹180 crore.
“Incorrect assessment of the required thrust and lack of clarity on availability of A Type Engine led to improper engine selection, which, in turn, had a cascading effect on the design and development of Project 2 (IJT),” the national auditor said in its report.
Lack of clarity on resolution of stall and spin issues and improper planning in the initial stages of development led to a delay in the project, the report said.
The IJT, first powered by a French engine and now a Russian one, was expected to get initial operational clearance by 2006 with deliveries to IAF planned a year later. However, there is no indication from the IAF about a possible order.
The IJT or the HJT-36 single-engine aircraft has completed a raft of crucial trials, but the testing process is still on.
In January 2022, HAL announced that the IJT had successfully demonstrated the capability to carry out six turn spins, a key requirement for trainers and the most crucial phase of flight testing. The capability to enter and recover from a spin is a necessity for a trainer aircraft to familiarise trainee pilots with departure from controlled flight and the actions required to recover from such situations.
To be sure, the IJT project is no longer backed by the IAF, and HAL had to dig into its internal funds to carry out key trials after the project suffered a critical setback during spin testing in 2016 and brought the programme to a temporary halt. The future of the IJT project looks uncertain and the IAF could lease trainer aircraft to meet its requirements after the Kirans retire.