Polish aircraft manufacturer PZL-Mielec has Ìnished construction of the Ìrst operational-standard M-96 upgraded Iryda jet trainer. Flight tests begin in August.

A test aircraft in the earlier M-93 aerodynamic conÌguration has been ßying with Sextant Avionique's Topßight avionics suite since late April, according to Iryda chief designer Marek Potapowicz.

This aircraft is being flown in parallel with an earlier modified Iryda, which has been used to test aerodynamic improvements. The aim is to produce better controllability at high angles of attack, and a lower approach speed. Modifications include the addition of leading-edge wing root extensions, an extended fin and new vortex generators on the wing.

The latest test aircraft is in the final air force configuration, combining the aerodynamic upgrade with the new avionics equipment.

Potapowicz says that flight testing has been completed on the aerodynamic test aircraft, which will now be used for further development of the Iryda's Instytut Lotnictwa K-15 turbojet engines.

Modifications to Polish air force Irydas are being carried out as the flight-test programme progresses. All ten aircraft to be retrofitted are now at the Mielec factory.

Once the upgrade has been certificated in 1998, the air force is expected to resume flying these and six new aircraft which are now under construction.

The first of the new build M-96 Irydas is expected to fly "in one or two months", says Potapowicz.

Talks are under way with the Polish Government on a possible follow-on order for seven more aircraft, although no contract will be signed before the current upgrade programme is satisfactorily completed. Potapowicz claims that the air force pilot-training school in Deblin needs at least 24 aircraft, with a possible further order for 12 maritime-reconnaissance and strike variants of the aircraft from the Polish navy.

Potapowicz confirms that studies of a radar-equipped, air-to-surface-missile-carrying naval Iryda are continuing, although ambitious plans for a family of combat variants, culminating in the proposed M-99 Orkan close-support aircraft, are on ice.

Despite the Orkan project being put on hold, Potapowicz still believes that there is a role for a single-seat dedicated combat variant of the I-22.

The development of such a variant, however, will be dependent on the requisite funding being forthcoming. There is little indication that this will be available in the near-to-medium term.

Source: Flight International