It was a dream day, with the weather God playing benevolent and sun in full blazing glory, as the countrys prestigious Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) kept its tryst with destiny soaring into the skies at around 10.15 am today. The historic, flawless maiden flight of LCA prototype, built through the Rs 3,000 crore indigenous national mission project, and saw in the fruitful culmination of a 15-year saga, flagged and chased for support by two Mirage 2000 fighters, was in air for around 20 minutes before hitting ground for a perfect landing.
The flight of white-and-red painted sleek, lightest and tacticle combat aircraft with green-tipped nose, that saw several dreams were realised, was witnessed by Union Defence Minister, George Fernandes, Scientific Advisor to Union government, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, and other top scientists, defence and airforce personnel, who were roused into a spontaneous jubilation and celebration following the copybook flight and landing.
The aircraft was flagged in tandem by Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal A Y Tipnis and Wg Cdr T Banerjee, in one Mirage with two other wing commanders in the other Mirage, giving it company. With the aircontrol tower, and other defence buildings located in the area as also the roads teeming with the persons lined up at vantage points along the long length of the airstrip outside the airport were witness to a major milestone as Indian aeronautical community created history.
The army helicopter went on a recee around the airport, with the two mirages also taking off positioning themselves in the skies in formation as the LCA took off without hitch or hiccups and the three fighter aircraft made a sortie in single formation as they vanished from naked eyes in no moment.
After a span of 20 anxious minutes as people sourged the skies the three aircraft made for the runway in the formation of three with Mirages in low flying formation escorting the LCA as it touched down effortlessly. It was indeed successful end to an arduous sojourn as the maiden flight of the fly by wire first technology demonstrator rolled out of the hangars of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in November 1995 in the presence of the then Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao. As many as seven technology demonstrators are planned before LCA is productionised and finally inducted into the Indian Air Force.
The fully computer controlled aircraft is designed for deep strike capability and the largest ever research and development programme undertaken by the country involving 40 disciplines, 100 major work centres, besides 200 smaller industries. Virtually every state except Jammu and Kashmir contributed to the programme.
The fighter integrates the most modern design concepts and state of the art technologies such as relaxed static stability, fly-by-wire flight control system, advanced digital cockpit, multimode radar, integrated digital avoinics system, advanced composite materials.
With a wing span of 8.2 metres and a length of 13.2 metres, the LCA stands 4.4 metres high and its weight at take off was 8.5 tonnes and had a weapon carrying capacity of four tonnes. Its parallel aircraft in the world was said to be the JAS-39 grippen built by SAAB military of Sweden.
The Rs 3,000 crore LCA project entered 'the phase of definition' in 1986 and received Centres nod in 1993, overcoming the 1992 forex crunch and the US sanctions following series of nuclear explosions in Pokhran. The LCA was originally expected to replace the MiG 21s which form backbone of IAF, by late 1990s.
A dream come true, says Wg Cdr Kothiyal
For 45-year-old Wing Commander Rajiv Kothiyal, who also etched his name into the annals of Indias aviation history, making the maiden flight of LCA it was a dream come true. A beaming and visibly excited Kothiyal, who has flown over 20-odd different class of fighting machines, and has put in six years in Bangalore both at ASTS (Aircraft System Testing and Service) and NFTC (National Flight Test Centre) told Deccan Herald that LCA which took to skies and had a copybook, flawless flight.
Wg Cdr Kothiyal, who was the cynosure of all eyes, and commended by one and all, told this reporter that the fly-by-wire LCA had behaved beautifully throughout its short sortie in the sky. Wg Cdr Kothiyal, who was earlier with the MiG-29 squadron in Pune, before moving to Bangalore to be associated with the prestigious national mission project, later facing a volley of questions from mobbing reporters, said at first he was a little bit apprehensive. But once I got strapped on, and was through with the pre-flight checks it was like piloting any another aircraft. "Once in the cockpit it was all normal'', he said, adding that the aircraft was flown at the speed was around 450 kmph and put through various parameters such as idling to see its handling capability as also landing.
Wg Cdr Kothiyal piloted the LCA through its flawless flight and equally perfect landing, was airborne for nearly 20 minutes, followed by the two Mirages, and watched by host of top defence officials and scientists. Incidentally, he was insured for Rs 8 lakhs, as is every test pilot, it is learnt.
This article was published in Friday, January 5, 2001 issues of Deccan Herald, The Hindu.