Propelling Indian Aerospace Industry

By Editor 14-Jun-2018

National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) is India’s premier R&D establishment in the civilian sector and a constituent of the autonomous Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR). CSIR-NAL is the leading institution in the country for aircraft development programmes like two-seater ab-initio trainer aircraft Hansa, fourteen seat multi role transport aircraft SARAS, and five seat general civil aviation aircraft CNM-5 the country’s first public private partnership with Mahindra Aerospace Pvt. Ltd. (MAPL). These aircraft programmes are aimed to meet the civil aviation requirements of the country and to synergize the multi-disciplinary expertise of the laboratory into visible and marketable products.

Jitendra J Jadhav, who served the ADA for 17 years in various position including Outstanding Scientists – Project Director (LCA-AF) is currently the Director, CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories, Bengaluru, India.  In an interview with Aeromag, he speaks about CSIR-NAL road map for civil and military aircraft development programmes. Excerpts from the interview:

Making NAL proud, the upgraded version of Multirole Light Transport Aircraft Saras has completed two successful test-flights recently. How do you see this achievement? Also, could you share the latest updates on Saras?

As you may be aware that after the unfortunate accident during test flight in 2009, complete stoppage of manufacturing activities pertaining to SARAS aircraft till completion of accident investigation of the PT2, and migration of CSIR-NAL to the new CAR-21 Regulation under Subpart-G to proceed with aircraft manufacturing activity. Other reasons were, realigning of CSIR-NAL to regulatory process and procedures of Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) and Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA). Further, the modifications towards conversion of PT1 aircraft to PT1N far exceeded the originally anticipated effort.

Saras was successfully test flown for the second time on 21st February 2018.  Dr. Harsh Vardhan Union Minister for S&T, and VP CSIR along with DG, CSIR witnessed the second flight and highly appreciative of effort put in by the entire team of NAL, ASTE, DGAQA, CEMILAC and HAL in reviving the project after nearly nine years. The team was instrumental in analysing and studying the failures and incorporate nine major modifications in Saras PT1N aircraft. Changes like installing new engines, an improved flight control system, increased rudder area, indigenously developed stall warning system and more such changes were made over the years. These efforts have resulted in two successful flights and we have received positive feedback on performance of the aircraft. I must be thankful to Dr Girish Sahni, DG-CSIR for overwhelming support to this programme.

Around 18 more flights will take place in the next 3-4 months before the design for improved version of Saras (Mk2) is finalized.

Could you talk about how Saras will be an ideal alternative for the imported aircrafts in the category? What are the major features of the improved version of Saras.

With more than 70 percent indigenous content in the SARAS aircraft the cost will be 20-25% cheaper than any imported aircraft in the same category as indigenous systems and spares will be serviced, within the country. In any imported aircraft these costs are very high. Further, the aircraft currently available in the international market are of 1970’s technology, such as Beechcraft 19000D, Dornier-228, Embraer EMB 110, they have higher operating cost, and a few are unsuitable for operations from hot and high-altitude airfields. 

NAL is also working on the Mk 2 version of the light transport aircraft, suitable for both military and civilian version. Could you shed more light onto the project?

The improved version SARAS Mk2 has considerable drag/weight reduction with unique features like high cruise speed, lower fuel consumption, short landing and take-off distance, low cabin noise, operable from high & hot airfield, with pressurized cabin, operable from semi prepared airfield and low acquisition and maintenance cost.

Subject to approval of 19-seater aircraft development project from the government, we can expect that the test flight may happen in 3 years from sanction. The production version of the SARAS will be certified initially for military use and subsequently for civilian usage. Indian Air Force will induct the first 15 aircrafts.  HAL has been identified as the production agency for the military version of Saras,

What are the latest updates on the mini-UAV Suchan? Are there any upgradation plans?

NAL mini UAV SUCHAN has been further modified and the new version comes with rectangular fuselage and increased wingspan. Endurance of the UAV is improved and now it can fly up to 90 minutes. NAL autopilot software is upgraded to include safety modes like Return to launch in the event of either Battery malfunction or communication link loss. Currently, SUCHAN is configured for two applications (1) Surveillance and (2) Geospatial mapping. The Surveillance variant has gimballed interchangeable payload (EO or Thermal) with stabilization. NAL has also developed algorithms to track objects on ground from the UAV. The mapping variant is equipped with geotagging hardware module in addition to high resolution camera. The geo tagged pictures taken by the camera are further processed to build orthomosaic and DEM models of the test flown area.

As part of user interactions, SUCHAN flight demonstrations (Surveillance variant) were shown to Air Force officials of Western Command in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Recently, we have carried out aerial mapping of one opencast coal mining area of Eastern Coal Fields Limited near Sonepur Bazari area in West Bengal along with our CSIR laboratory CIMFR. We have received very positive feedback on the performance of the vehicle and the final customer version of the aircraft will be ready by June 2018. We have also received enquiries from Ministry of Earth Sciences and a few other private companies.

Could you give an overview of the latest products and services of NAL in aerospace sector?

Related to aerospace sector in the civilian sector, I am happy to share that DRISHTI an airport runway visibility assessor system developed by CSIR-NAL has completed installation in ten international airports in India. For the defence sector, supply of 54 systems to eighteen Indian Air Force airfields, through Tata Power SED, was executed successfully. Towards furthering the indigenous development for strategic sector NAL’s significant contributions to major national programmes have enabled the strategic sector to achieve self-reliance. Advanced Composite Division of NAL continued to make contributions in the area of design, fabrication and R&D of composite structures.

 The National Control law team led by CSIR-NAL completed the control law design modifications for FOC of LCA-Mk1 aircraft and trainer variant. The laboratory has also contributed to AMCA programme in the areas of structural airframe design & analysis and design of forward traction main landing gear. A great achievement was the handing over of full-scale air intake duct of AMCA to ADA.  CSIR-NAL has significantly contributed to Mirage aircraft upgrade programme of IAF. The significant S&T inputs were in the areas of weapon integration studies using CFD codes, static stress and dynamic analysis of the aircraft with different store configuration, and aeromechanical studies of new stores.

 The development of 65 HP Wankel Rotary Combustion Engine for DRDO’s PANCHI is progressing well and it will be completed shortly. Apart from aerospace sector, CSIR-NAL’s recent major contributions to defence sector was carrying out wind tunnel tests for DRDL for generating aerodynamic data for missile configuration and aerodynamic grid data for a typical missile configuration for a fighter aircraft. I am happy to share that two marksmanship training systems DHVANI and ABHIAS designed & developed for Indian Army have achieved their maturity stage and the technology transfer agreement with BEL is in finalization stage.

CSIR has accorded 'in-principle' approval for design, development & certification of HANSA-NG. Please talk more about the project?

CSIR-NAL has built totally 14 production version aircraft from 2001 to 2010. The cumulative hours logged by all Hansa-3 aircraft is about 4000 hours. All the pilots who have flown Hansa-3 aircraft have similar opinions that it has excellent flying characteristics. The aerodynamics, power and controls harmony make flying very comfortable. However, the flying community would like to have significant modifications on Hansa-3 aircraft to make it more useful as a trainer aircraft. Now CSIR-NAL will modify Hansa-3 aircraft by incorporating these modifications and to bring out Hansa-NG (New Generation), which will satisfy the requirements of flying clubs for obtaining PPL (Personal Pilot License) & CPL (Commercial Pilot License) by young generation.

Modifications that are planned on Hansa-3 aircraft are : changing the instrument panel from analogue instruments to digital state-of-the-art display system, increasing the fuel capacity to achieve higher range and endurance, reducing the pilot load by changing the mechanically operated flaps to electrical operation, aircraft steering operation to be made simple by introducing steerable nose wheel, providing heated pitot and LED lights, baggage compartment with 10 kg capacity, ergonomically designed doors for better ingress and egress and improvement in interior aesthetics.

We aim at reducing the weight of present Hansa-3 aircraft to provide the above said improvements. Total duration for the development of Hansa-NG is about two years including completion of flight testing towards certification from the regulatory authorities. Along with the development & certification of Hansa-NG, two more tasks towards indigenization of LRUs like development and certification of indigenous glass cockpit and steerable nose wheel for general aviation aircraft which run concurrently form a part of the proposal.

Could you share your vision and priorities for NAL for aircraft programmes of the country?

NAL’s immediate priority is to complete 18 more flights of Saras in the next 3-4 months before the design for improved version of Saras (Mk2) is finalized. The outcome of the ongoing flight testing is aimed at assessment of the efficacy of modifications such as new nacelle, large metallic rudder, ECS, linear flap track, SWS etc. incorporated in the aircraft. Assessment through flight testing could extend depending on feedback from first block of flights. Generation of flight test data would help to prove acceptability of PT1N for safe flying before its adaptation into requirement of the user. Immediately, after the completion of flight tests, the proposal for 19-seater aircraft will be put up to the government for consideration. Subject to approval, we can expect that the test flight may happen in three years from sanction.

NAL’s next priority would be taking-up preliminary design phase (PDP) of Regional Transport Aircraft. At CSIR-NAL, studies have been carried out regarding developing a Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA). The feasibility study indicated a need of about 250-300 aircraft for India (20-year demand forecast) and over 4000 RTA class of aircraft for international market. An international partner is important for branding, certification, product support, infrastructure. Identification of international partner should be done while carrying out project definition work. I envisage CSIR-NAL along with public/private partnership can come together to take this initiative forward with the government.

CSIR-NAL is the lead institution in design and development of two critical technologies namely fly-by-wire control systems and composite parts for LCA –Tejas. CSIR-NAL has developed many other technologies like auto clave, co-cured /co-bonded composite structures, fight dynamics simulator, flight control laws, Fatigue test, special coatings & materials for Tejas LCA program. With the IAF plans to acquire 123 Tejas aircraft, CSIR-NAL will play a significant role in the coming years. CSIR-NAL will continue to provide critical technologies to the country’s upcoming programmes like LCA-Mk2, LCA Navy, AMCA, GHATAK and FGFA.

CSIR-NAL has contributed to AMCA programme of ADA in the areas of structural airframe design and analysis, developing a low RCS full scale 8.3m serpentine CFRP air intake duct, preliminary design of main landing gear (MLG) and a basic flight simulator for AMCA with flight controller, subsystems and sensor models. The expertise of the laboratory will be fully provided for future requirement of the Programme.