Grob targets Asian buyers for G120TP trainer

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Reborn light aircraft manufacturer Grob believes its yet-to-be-certificated G120TP can win over a quarter of the market for basic trainers as it focuses its marketing efforts on India and other potential Asian customers.

This month the German manufacturer will pit the all-composite turboprop - unveiled at June's ILA air show in Berlin - against five rivals in a flying evaluation at Jamnagar air base in India. It is the latest stage in the contest to choose a 75-aircraft part replacement for the air force's now grounded Indian-built Hindustan Aeronautics HPT-32 Deepaks.

The Indian competition is the biggest challenge yet for the new owners of Grob, who rescued the Bavarian firm from insolvency early last year and hung their hopes on a radically improved version of the decade-old G120 piston elementary trainer. This is rekitted with a Rolls-Royce 250-B17F turboprop, three-screen Elbit Systems cockpit and Martin-Baker ejection seats.

When tender bids follow Grob is confident the G120's basic price of around $3.5 million will give it the edge over faster but higher-priced competitors such as the Beechcraft T-6 Texan, Korea Aerospace Industries KT-1 and Pilatus PC-9.

Grob says the improvements give the G120 capabilities unlike other elementary trainers and allow several training stages to be carried out from basic instruction to missions such as target acquisition and low-altitude flying that would traditionally require higher-powered turboprops or even jets.

Budget constraints are forcing air forces to rethink how they train pilots, says co-chief executive Andre Hiebeler, one of the team of investors in the new Grob Aircraft. "One hour on a jet buys 30h on a turboprop like ours."

Hiebeler also hopes to sign in November a contract to supply eight G120TPs to an undisclosed central Asian country under a pay-by-the-hour lease scheme in partnership with a local company. He is in addition confident that Grob will be invited to respond to an Indonesian request for proposals after pilots from the country's air force flew the G120TP prototype in June.

The new owner - Hiebeler's Munich-based family-owned H3 - is also looking at reviving dormant parts of the 40-year-old composite specialist, which as Grob Aerospace foundered in 2008 after efforts to develop the SPn light business jet and partner Bombardier in the Learjet 85.

Hiebeler says he is in talks with two "global players" in the field of unmanned air vehicles about developing an optionally piloted version of the G520 Egrett, a single-engined, experimental high-altitude surveillance aircraft, five versions of which were built by Grob in the early 1990s.

They are also discussing resurrecting the twin-engined G850 Strato 2C ultra-high-altitude aircraft, a German-government-funded programme cancelled at the end of the Cold War after one prototype flew. It still sits outside Grob's offices in the village of Tussenhausen-Mattsies.