India's project to develop an indigenous airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft has been dealt a severe blow with the crash on 11 January of a British Aerospace 748 Airborne Surveillance Platform, about 50km (27nm) from Chennai (Madras), which killed all four crew and four scientists on board.

The loss of the aircraft and scientists "-is a bad blow" dmits Hindustan Aeronautics, which had hoped soon to start a new phase of the project, set up in the early 1990s to develop local technology, partly to overcome failures to obtain either Western or Russian airborne early warning technology.

The aircraft crashed while approaching the Indian naval air stationat Arakonam, Tamil Nadu, from where it was being used for experimental work in support of the AEW demonstrator programme.

After leaving Arakonam for Tambaram air base, the aircraft encountered a problem and made a distress call. According to an Indian navy official, "-the undercarriage was lowered and it was in the final stages of the approach" when it crashed in countryside, 2km from the base.

Although there is no immediate explanation for the crash, fire or engine failure are possible causes. The drag from the large dorsal radome would have meant that maintaining height after an engine failure would be difficult.

The dead scientists, from the Centre for Airborne Systems and the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment, had been carrying out trials work on the aircraft, which was a demonstrator for systems that India hopes to install in an operational Ilyushin Il-76 airframe.

Source: Flight International