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India commissions its first Pilatus aircraft

  |   June 7, 2013 at 2:06 AM
BANGALORE, India, June 7 (UPI) -- The Indian air force inducted the first 12 of 75 Swiss-manufactured Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II basic training aircraft at a ceremony at the Dundigal Air Force Academy near Hyderabad.

Minister of State for Defense Jitendra Singh unveiled the tandem-seat turboprop aircraft that is capable of aerobatics as well as tactical and night flying, The Hindu reported.

"The induction of PC Mk-II is a very important landmark in our nation's quest for modernizing its armed forces," Singh said.

"The need to train pilots on modern trainers is crucial to prepare them for the requirements of combat flying."

India ordered the low-wing Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II aircraft for ab initio trainee pilots including those in the navy and coast guard, The Hindu report said.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said the Pilatus will prove to be "the ideal platform" to expose initial trainees to basic flying, modern avionics and navigation aids.

"PC-7 would provide a solid foundation and facilitate a seamless transition from the ab initio stage through intermediate and advanced stages into full-fledged operational flying for all streams," Browne said.

India ordered the Pilatus in a $520 million deal as a direct replacement for the aging turbo-prop Deepak HPT-32 trainer made by the Indian firm Hindustan Aeronautics.

Getting the Pilatus aircraft commissioned has been critical for the air force, NDTV reported last year.

Until 2009, every pilot -- fighter, transport and helicopter -- started training in the HPT-23 but the aircraft was grounded in 2009 after a series of crashes.

Cadets now start straight into operating the Kiran Mk-1, the intermediate jet trainer that is the mainstay Stage 2 pilot training aircraft.

The shift into the two-seat Kiran, which was inducted into the air force in 1968, is putting more hours on the aircraft, which reaches its lifespan by 2015 and will have to be decommissioned, NDTV reported.

All 75 of the Pilatus are expected to be delivered by August 2015 and India has an option for 37 more that the Defense Ministry said it is considering, The Hindu reported.

Arrival of the Swiss-made aircraft will reduce flying hours on the Kirans.

But another problem could be ahead for air force training if the Sitara, HAL's new Intermediate Jet Trainer replacing the Kiran, isn't ready soon, The Business Standard reported in February.

Initial prototypes used a SNECMA Turbomeca Larzac 04-H-20 turbofan engine. Production versions will use an NPO Saturn AL-55I turbofan engine.

General technical problems have delayed production several times.

An initial 12 Sitara aircraft were ordered but delivery is at least three years away, The Business Standard reported.

"The Intermediate Jet Trainer has been a very poorly planned program by HAL and a decade-long delay is unacceptable in a trainer aircraft," The Business Standard quoted an unnamed senior air force official as saying.

"Given how much time and money the Indian air force has already committed, we have to stick with the IJT program and induct it into service as a Stage-2 trainer," the official said.

A senior air marshal told The Business Standard if the IJT isn't delivered within three years, the air force would consider using the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II as a Stage-2 trainer, in addition to its primary job as a Stage-1 trainer.

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