The Indian air force has been forced to commence intermediate stage II pilot training with the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II basic trainer aircraft (BTA), which also serves as its basic stage I trainer.
“We understand that in the last couple of months, the IAF has thoroughly tested the aircraft with regard to their Stage II training syllabus requirements and determined that the PC-7 Mk II is very capable for deployment in an intermediate flying training role,” says Pilatus Aircraft executive Jim Roche in an email to Flightglobal.
The PC-7 Mk II’s service entry in early 2013 ended the crisis stemming from the grounding of Hindustan Aeronautics’ HPT-32 ‘Deepak’ basic trainer on safety grounds.
Prior to the induction of the PC-7, the air force undertook stage I and stage II training on Kiran jet trainers. In a reversal of roles, the PC-7 Mk II will now take-over the Kiran’s Stage II training role, as the service looks to keep the 1960s type in service till 2018.
A number of challenges remain for the air force. Only 38 additional PC-7 Mk IIs are planned to be acquired from Pilatus, for a total of 113, instead of the 181 originally planned.
Despite the delay in finalising the contract, the Swiss airframer’s now proven ability to deliver aircraft in short order, once a contract is inked, could be a source of comfort for the air force.
At the beginning of the year, then HAL Chairman RK Tyagi told Flightglobal that its developmental basic trainer, the HTT40, would undertake its maiden flight before the end of the year. It would provide an indigenous solution to India’s basic trainer needs and include a weaponised variant. Developmental work on the type is now expected to be completed by 2018.
Nonetheless, Pilatus remains confident of a firm order for 38 more PC-7 Mk IIs.
“As has been reported by various IAF sources, discussions are continuing between Pilatus and the Indian air force regarding implementation of the option clause within the current contract,” says Roche.
One advantage Pilatus has is a hot production line, which is producing five PC-7 Mk IIs for Malaysia and will produce nine PC-9Ms for Jordon. Deliveries for both run out to 2017.
HAL, meanwhile, continues to have issues with its HJT-36 Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT).
Fifteen years of development have resulted in an aircraft that is overweight, has yet to clear spin trials and is powered by an NPO Saturn AL-55I engine with a Total Technical Life (TTL) of only 300 hours.
The IAF has orders for 12 limited series production (LSP) aircraft, of which six have been produced so far, and orders for 73 series production aircraft. Nonetheless, the air force issued a request for information to global OEMs in February 2014 seeking an IJT. With the PC-7 Mk II fulfilling the stage II training role of the IJT, it is not clear if this RFI will lead to an RFP.