Crashes, engine failures ground IAF trainer aircraft

By Ritu Sharma, IANS,

New Delhi : The Indian Air Force (IAF) has grounded its entire fleet of HPT-32 initial trainer aircraft owing to a series of crashes and engine failures. This comes at a time when the force is facing an acute shortage of efficient pilots.

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Authoritative sources in the IAF told IANS that recurrent engine failure of the Hindustan Piston Trainer (HPT)-32 aircraft – stationed at the Air Force Academy (AFA) in Hyderabad – is the reason behind the grounding since last month.

“The entire fleet of the HPT-32 has not been flying,” a senior IAF official told IANS, requesting anonymity.

The engine failures raised concern as the aircraft are handled by rookies for initial flight training.

On July 31 this year, an HPT-32 aircraft crashed at Annaram village in Jinnaram Mandal of Medak district and both the instructors on board were killed in the accident. In May last year a woman cadet of the AFA died during a crash. In this case fuel had leaked into the engine, causing it to burst.

The basic propeller-driven trainer, with two side-by-side seats, suffered more than 70 incidents between 1988 and 1995.

A group was constituted to study the aircraft, which is manufactured by the defence public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and which has been in service for three decades.

According to the study, the Avco Lycoming AEIO-540-D4B5 engine in the aircraft has registered more than 100 failures in recent months.

Usually around 140-150 cadets of the flying branch are trained on the HPT-32 and then graduate to the intermediate flight and weapons training aircraft Surya Kiran.

However, with the initial trainer being grounded, cadets are now directly being trained on the Surya Kirans affecting the training schedule of the pilots.

“We have got Surya Kiran trainer aircraft from across the country and also from SKAT (the Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team) for training pilots,” the official added.

Last year, even the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India said the IAF is facing an acute shortage of efficient pilots after failing to impart quality training. It attributed the discontinuity in training to lack of adequate state-of-the-art training aircraft with the IAF.

“HPT-32 aircraft used for Stage-I training is technologically outdated and beset by flight safety hazards. In spite of the loss of 11 pilots and 15 aircraft, it continues to be used today. Further, HPT-32 does not aid in the smooth transition of trainees to the next stage of training,” the CAG had said.

(Ritu Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])