The delivery of India's first Hindustan Aeronautics HJT-36 intermediate jet trainer (IJT) faces a further delay of up to two years, even though the manufacturer has finally taken delivery of the first Russian engine that will power the in-service type.

The first NPO Saturn AL-55I engine was delivered in June after a delay of almost a year, and will replace the Snecma Larzac 04H20 powerplant now being used by the HJT-36 Sitara. The engine is being fitted on to a prototype IJT, which must undergo modifications before it resumes flight activities around September, says HAL.

Under a $250 million deal signed with Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport in 2005, HAL agreed to buy at least 200 AL-55I engines. The first 100 will be manufactured in Russia, and the rest licence-produced at the company's facilities in India. HAL could eventually manufacture up to 1,000 units of the engine, which is a scaled-down version of the AL-31FP that powers the Sukhoi Su-30MKI that the company also licence-produces for the Indian air force.

 © Hindustan Aeronautics

Installing the AL-55I requires slight adjustments to the aircraft's engine bay doors and the installation of a standby generator. The work, however, has been hindered after one of HAL's two prototypes was badly damaged after a crash while attempting to take off during the Aero India air show in Bangalore last year.

The Indian air force and navy are expected to eventually order up to 225 HJT-36 trainers. The type has been in development since the mid-1990s and was originally scheduled to have been delivered in 2005, but that was first pushed back to 2008 and then 2010. Indian industry sources now say that the delivery of the first 12 limited series production aircraft for the air force's Surya Kiran aerobatics team is unlikely to take place before 2012.

HAL could not confirm a slippage in the HJT-36's delivery schedule, and would not say whether the prototype that crashed last year has been written off or is being repaired. But sources close to the company say that a delay is inevitable.

"The damage to the prototype that crashed was extensive. We believe that only one prototype is still flying and we don't know if HAL is developing a second prototype or repairing the one that crashed. Inevitably, that has led to delays," says an Indian source.

"And given that the new engine was almost a year late, more tests are needed and some modifications to the aircraft's design may be needed before HAL can proceed with the limited series production. Given these challenges, there is almost no chance that HAL can have the first aircraft ready for delivery within the next 18 months."

Source: Flight International