M A I N   N E W S

Light combat copter’s maiden flight a success
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 3
India has entered the big boys’ league with the successful first flight of the prototype of its very own attack helicopter--Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).

The maiden test flight of the 5.5-tonne attack chopper, a derivative version of Banagalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) flagship product Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH)--Dhruv-- on March 29 was termed by pilots who flew it as “very good”.

Sources said the event was not much publicised as officials wanted the first flight to happen without any glitches. The first flight was to take place in October 2008, but there were delays. The “official” flight is expected to take place soon.

The HAL will now conduct more test flights to evaluate the LCH’s at various parameters. While the company is pushing for a 2012-13 deadline, realistically speaking it might take at least four to five years before the LCH is available in the market to pose a competition to other twin-engine attack helicopters in its league of AH-64 Apache by Mcdonell Douglas, Agusta A 129 Mangusta by Italy-based Agusta, AH-1G Huey Cobra from the Bell stable and the Russian-made Mi-35, which the IAF is already operating.

“The LCH needs several hours of in-flight testing before it receives the final operation certificate and may join fleet of Indian Defence Service only around 2014-15,” sources said.

Both Army and IAF have heavily invested in the project and the company has a firm order of 189.

At present the only attack helicopters available with the IAF are Russian-made Mi-25 and Mi-35, which are not optimised for operations at high altitude.

Aviation experts say if during Kargil war which was fought at very high altitude, the LCH was operational, the scenario would have been very different.

The Shakti engine being used in the LCH has been jointly developed by the HAL and Turbomeca of France with primary focus on high-altitude operations.

It is expected to meet operational requirements like air support, anti-infantry and anti-armour roles. The rotor system has also been developed indigenously.

The twin-engine LCH is a pure attack helicopter made by the design experience gained from the Dhruv.

Currently around 100 Dhruv helicopters are being used by the Indian armed forces and paramilitary forces like the Coast Guard and the BSF, civil operators like Pawan Hans and the ONGC, and state governments like Jharkhand. Dhruv is also being used by foreign countries like Ecuador, Nepal, Mauritius and Male.

Though LCH is derived from Dhruv, there are differences in design. While in Dhruv, pilots sit side-by-side, in the LCH they sit one behind the other. All flight controls, hydraulics and fuel system have been redesigned for the sleeker, heavily armoured LCH.





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