Revived Saras likely to complete first flight in June

The re-engined and modified version of India’s ambitious 14-seater Saras aircraft is gearing up for its first flight in June first week. Having received a thrust from the government under the regional connectivity policy, Bengaluru-based National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) has handed over the aircraft to Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) for test flights First conceived as a civil aircraft, NAL has been pushing Saras for military certification in the past two years, hoping to sell it to the Indian Air Force (IAF). Saras will now boast of multi-role capabilities like feeder line aircraft, air ambulance, executive aircraft, troop transport, reconnaissance, aerial survey and light cargo transport. The original design included a maximum takeoff weight of 6,100kg and a maximum payload of 1,232kg. The first prototype which completed its maiden flight on May 29, 2004, was overweight at 5,118kg compared to the 4,125kg design specifications. Even as modifications to make the aircraft airworthy were taken up, the June 6, 2009 crash forced the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to ground the aircraft. The prototype crashed after catching fire in Sheshagiri Halli, near Bidadi, about 30km from Bengaluru. It claimed the lives of three ASTE pilots. NAL Director Dr Jitendra J Jadhav told TOI: “The engine tests have already begun. The low-speed taxi and high-speed taxi trials are expected to be completed by the end of this month. After that, the ASTE will do the first flight most probably in the first week of June.” Sources in ASTE, while stating that the completion of the ground tests is followed by a flight, however, said: “We will need to get the go-ahead from the safety review board and the first flight review board.” According to NAL, manufacturing of two Limited Series Prototypes of Saras will require Rs 400 crore to Rs 500 crore. “The final product will be taken care of by the IAF, but we will need this amount for the prototypes,” Dr Jadhav said. 19-seater plane In February, Union science and technology minister Mr Harsh Vardhan and Dr Jadhav made a joint announcement that a new version of Saras would be converted into a 19-seater aircraft. Harsh Vardhan promised NAL complete support, including any financial requirement. Dr Jadhav said: “A proposal has been sent to our (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) headquarters and a feasibility study is complete.” The new proposal will see Saras with a configurable configuration. While the design is for a 14-seater plane, it can be configured to accommodate 19 persons.

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