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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Naval aviation to hit new high with LCA NP-1 maiden flight | Taxi trials currently underway | Tech challenges almost iorned out


Naval LCA undergoes various tests at HAL airport ahead of its much-awaited first flight.
By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore:  The naval prototype (NP-1) of India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is slowly and steadily crossing every hurdle that has come up its way in the last 18 months. With a roll out rivaling even blockbuster movie releases in July 2010 -- the NP-1  -- believed to be the only naval aircraft in the light weight category in the world with aircraft carrier operational capabilities, will be airborne soon.
While its designers at Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and its makers at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) are not speaking officially and off the record, sources at the shop-floor who tweak technology for NP-1 daily, inform Express that ‘it is a matter of time before NP-1 hits the skies.’  Initially, it was envisaged that the naval aircraft will be a derivative of the Indian Air Force version of the LCA (Tejas). But the peculiar requirements of naval operations coupled with safety norms led to substantial differences in the aircraft structure, resulting in delays.
“The overwhelming challenge of large structural loads, better over the nose vision has lead to heavier undercarriage and re-design of the front fuselage. Commonality was achieved in only few mechanical systems and avionics. The stringent naval requirements and rigorous ground testing of various systems is nearing completion,” say sources.
The modification of flight control laws, cabin pressurization including environment control checks, laser precision alignments and host of associated naval flight critical systems are in its final stages.  “The landing gear with its high sink rate of 7.1 m/sec arising from ship deck requirement has imposed serious challenge to the designers, which has now been successfully circumvented. The NP-1 has completed its ground vibration test (GVT), structural coupling test (SCT) and extensive system integration tests with power plant using state-of-the-art facilities,” sources said.
Fuel management with dump facility for emergency recovery on board is a special feature of this aircraft.  The heart of the flight control system (FCS), which is a quadruplex redundant digital flight control computer supplemented by LEVCON (leading edge vortex controller) air data computer, is being integrated with auto throttle and arrester hook. “The LEVCON functionalities for conventional and ramp take-off is under regression checks for final assessment on various simulators prior to its implementation on the aircraft. The arrester hook design for ship-borne operations is yet another unique carrier borne feature,” sources said.
The aircraft so far has completed four engine ground runs (EGRs), including three with after burner for entire operational envelope.  “The platform is underway for low and high-speed ground handling and flying quality checks to assess the aircraft characteristics prior to its maiden flight,” sources said.
When specifically asked about a possible date by which NP-1 will finally do what it is meant to be – flying – sources said: “It is scheduled to fly this month. Many challenges are new and we are taking them head on.”
Copyright@The New Indian Express

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