The Indian air force will buy 15 National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) Saras 14-seat multi-role transport aircraft for use as trainers.

The twin-engine, push-prop aircraft will be produced by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) in Bengaluru, an industry source said. Three will be delivered in 2014, with another four to be delivered yearly over the next three years.

The air force will use the aircraft to train flight crews for its large and medium-sized transport aircraft, such as the Boeing C-17, Ilyushin Il-76 and Antonov An-32. It may ultimately acquire 50 Saras aircraft, the source said. These will be used for a range of roles.

© National Aerospace Laboratories

In addition, the Indian navy may get about 25 Saras aircraft for use as land-based coastal patrol aircraft. A working naval example of the navalised Saras will be rolled out in 2014.

"The maritime version is still in the preliminary design stage," the source said. "It will have modifications to help it perform in the maritime environment."

Three Saras prototypes have been produced so far. The second was lost in a 2009 crash that killed all three of its crew members. Investigators attributed the accident to pilot error, noting that the military test pilots had been trying to relight an engine with insufficient recovery altitude moments before the incident.

The third prototype, which features a new glass cockpit, was a replacement for this aircraft.

The Saras made its first flight in 2004, 18 years after the programme's inception. However, in the following years the NAL struggled to reduce the aircraft's weight, making progress by introducing composite tails and wings, and reducing the number of bulkheads in the aircraft's third prototype.

Source: Flight International