Bangalore: India on Friday joined an elite club of countries by test flying the naval variant of its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in this tech hub under a partially cloudy sky.
"With the successful maiden flight of the LCA's naval variant, India joins an elite club of countries capable of designing, developing, manufacturing and testing the fourth generation carrier borne fly-by-wire ski take off but arrested recovery (Stobar) aircraft," said VK Saraswat, scientific advisor to the defence minister.
The 20-minute test sortie of the advanced fighter's first naval prototype (NP-1) was piloted by chief test pilot of the Indian Air Force's (IAF) national flight test centre (NFTC) Commodore TA Maolankar and co-piloted by the centre's flight test engineer, Wing Commander Maltesh Prabhu.
"The flight performance was outstanding. The naval variant is the first attempt to provide a complete marine force multiplier that will give unique battle punch to the naval aviation arm of the 21st century to fulfill the national dream of blue waters," an elated Saraswat told reporters here.
Though the Indian naval variant is the second Stobar in the world after the Russian deck based aircraft, it will be the only carrier borne fighter in the light category.
The tandem two-seater aircraft flew within the designated flight envelope and carried out planned tests, including landing gear extension successfully.
"We have flown on the designated flight path up to 30 nautical miles from the base touching a top speed of 450 km from 50 km at take-off and touched an altitude of about 10,000 feet. We also did close formation and slowed down to land smoothly," Maolankar said after the test flight.
Designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) of the state-run Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and built by the defence behemoth Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the prototype is fitted with General Electric aero engine (F404-GE-IN20), as the indigenously built Kaveri engine of the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) still on the test bed.
Though the naval variant was sanctioned in 2003 with an upfront budget of Rs.1,900 crore towards its design and development cost, the maiden test flight got delayed by about five years due to various factors.
The naval variant is set to replace the ageing fleet of the British built Sea Harrier aircraft of the Indian Navy and complement its fleet of MiG-29 carrier aircraft.
"We are in urgent need of an indigenous aircraft for carrier battle ships as part of our modernisation programme. We were hoping that the first flight would take place in 2007 but is delayed by five years. All-out efforts should be made for the initial operational clearance (IOC) so that we can start flying the aircraft from 2014-15," Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Satish Soni said.
The Indian Navy has set an ambitious target of inducting about 40 light-weight fighters in its aircraft carrier fleet, including the much awaited Soviet-made Admiral Gorshkov, re-christend INS Vikramaditya.
In the run-up to seeking to certification over the next two-three years, the two-seat trainer (NP-1) and a single seat fighter (NP-2) will be test flown as technology demonstrations on board the Indian Navy's Centaur class aircraft carrier INS Viraat off the Goa coast.
As additional features, the naval version will have a leading edge vortex control surface (levcon) to reduce its forward speed for carrier landing, telescopic landing gear with high sink rate, arrester hook for deck recovery and fuel dump system for emergency deck recovery.
"The aircraft is specifically designed for take off from a 14 degree ramp on the aircraft carrier deck and use the arrester hook system to facilitate landing within the deck length of 90 meters," LCA Navy project director Commodore (retired) CD Balaji said.
Besides Saraswat and Soni, the maiden flight was witnessed by Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, IAF training command commandant Air Marshal Rajinder Singh, HAL chairman RK Tyagi and ADA director PS Subramanyan.