Indian naval fighter could have first flight by November

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A two-seat prototype of a naval version of the Aeronautical Development Agency's (ADA) Tejas Mk I aircraft could have its first flight within the next three months.

The General Electric F404-IN20-powered aircraft is undergoing ground integration tests at Hindustan Aeronautics' facility on the outskirts of Bengaluru, said a senior official involved in the programme. This will be followed by engine runs and ground runs in the coming weeks.

"We expect the first flight within three months, but this is a bit optimistic because this is the first build of the airplane," said the official. "After the ground integration and engine runs we should discover if the aircraft is stable. After this we will conduct ground runs, followed by a first flight."

The official added that the ADA has asked the US Navy to help it define carrier suitability plans. He said the USA has been forthcoming with information.

The Indian government has approved two prototypes of the naval Tejas the first a two-seat trainer and the second a single-seat fighter. The official added that the Indian navy is likely to rename its version of the Tejas, which is also known as the light combat aircraft.

"Our focus is demonstrating the aircraft's carrier suitability," said the official. "We want to show the aircraft can take off from a ski-jump and perform an arrested landing."

In the first six to eight months after the aircraft's first flight it will undergo flight tests at Bengaluru. Then it will move to Hans naval air station near Goa, where a special facility with a ski-jump and arresting gear is being constructed with equipment from Russia.

Before a full arrested landing takes place, taxi-engagement and carrier-style approaches with the hook extended will take place.

If developed as a production aircraft, the naval Tejas would serve aboard the two Vikrant-class indigenous carriers being developed that should enter service at the end of the decade. It is not likely to serve aboard the INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which could enter service at the end of 2012, or the INS Viraat, a former UK Royal Navy carrier expected to serve until 2020.

"This is the first time India is developing a naval aircraft, so it will be challenging," the official said.

The naval version of the Tejas has a number of modifications from the baseline aircraft. It has longer and strengthened landing gear, an arrester hook to enable landing on an aircraft carrier and additional control surfaces, and a leading edge vortex controller to reduce the fighter's required speed on approach to the vessel. Its front fuselage has also been changed to provide the pilot with better visibility over the nose.