Saturday, June 16, 2007

A flicker of 'Radiance'

President Abdul Kalam in a lecture in 2005 had spoken about his fond desire to see the LCA 'Tejas' ("Radiance") achieve greater heights and international recognition.

And what better way to do this than display our very own bird at the biggest aviation fair in the world- The Paris Air Show, a biennial show held on odd years at Le Bourget Airport in Paris.

It was this desire that Kalam articulated in the following verse, entitled "Soaring Dream", which he wrote in 1990.

Fabulous air show of Paris in motion

My thought too in flight and yearns for my Nation

When will the planes designed in my land

Pierce the sky as lightening in action

And gracefully land as angels in full boom

All to the envy of spellbound spectators

Yes we can !!

When we are united in action and addicted to deeds

Sky can't be limit for my nation in action !!

An ambitious dream it would have been when he wrote it. And impossible it would have seemed in 1999, when the LCA was on the verge of being shut down. Now, those difficulties are far away; the LCA is a reality, and a beautiful and powerful aircraft as well. Seeing it fly on foreign shores wouldn't be a surprise.

A lot of people were hopeful that this would happen this year, especially after the amazing displays at Aero India. Mutterings of the LCA flying were all around. Airshowtrips had a tentative list of aircraft being displayed at Le Bourget this year, and, guess what, the LCA was on it- both Static and Flying display as well. That wasn't confirmation enough, since they themselves stated that it was a tentative list. Even then, the prospects of an LCA flying over foreign shores was mouth watering. India-Defence and Bharat-Rakshak both latched onto this news with gusto and came out with these reports ([1] [2]). Then, the Paris Air Show Official Website released an 'Official' list (download the Excel sheet here...) of aircraft taking part, and I was overjoyed to see the LCA on it- both on static and flying display.

Alongside the LCA would have been our very our very own ALH Dhruv, which made a splash at Farnborough last year, along with the HJT-36 'Sitara' and the Lancer upgrade for the IAF Cheetah helicopters. Unfortunately, this years accident at Aero India ruled out the Sitara, after only one more aircraft was left.

Of Course, considering that the LCA has not yet made a night flight, nor been equipped with drop tanks as yet, there was a tingling sensation in the back of my neck that suggested that this was too good to be true. Mails to both HAL and ADA didn't bring any replies. Apparently, others felt the same tingling. Shiv Aroor spoke to the HAL guys, who denied that the LCA was taking part. If that wasn't enough, the Show organisers released an updated list of aircraft (excel sheet) taking part, which removed the Tejas from the list. Even the site shows the LCA as cancelled. Well, the bubble did finally burst. One wonders why the LCA was cancelled from the show. Well, I'm pretty sure it was cancelled, for the Le Bourget guys could scarcely have made any mistakes in their list.

For those who want to share the dream, heres the screenshot of the previous version, showing the LCA. It shows 2 aircraft taking part- Static Display, and flying Display. =>

When I check out books about the latest aircraft, its painful to see even the chinese aircraft discussed, but not a word about the LCA. Thats probably because its till now been a quiet, local project that has not garnered much attention. Most of the talk has only started after the Aero India showing this year. As for the Chinese aircraft, we have to admit, they do have a larger base than ours. Hell, they have exported their aircraft to other nations (third world or not), and that does earn them some attention.

The Tejas, with its excellent performance and handling characteristics, as well as small size and cost is something that should catch some eyeballs. And, as the flagship venture of our aerospace industry, it must be shown to the world. The best way to do that is at the Air Shows. Lets hope that the LCA does fly next year, at Farnborough. That would certainly be a fitting end to Kalam's dream, and the collective wishes of the nation.

Side note:
The news about the LCA is not all bad or disappointing. Apparently, the reason the LCAs were pulled from the show was because PV-2 and PV-3 are undergoing rigorous sea-level trials at INS Rajali in Arakkonam (Bharat-Rakshak report, India-Defence report). Arakkonam has the country's longest runway (4100 m) and is the second largest naval base in Asia. It is also home to the Navy's Tu-142 'Bear' aircraft.

Apparently, these two aircraft are being put through a gruelling series of tests that would hasten the Initial Operating Clearance for the LCA. Its heartening to see the program steaming ahead as planned. The tests will not only test reliability of the LCA systems under the hot and humid conditions, but will also test low level flight characteristics, as well as maritime navigation.

This is probably the first time that the Tejas is flying outside Bangalore, and given the Maritime security role that the IAF envisages for it initially, these test flights are vital. Given the Navy's commitment to the LCA-N program, that too makes these flights important, since they would help give the mariners an idea of the Tejas capabilities. the IAF had formed a core of pilots and engineers into an "LCA Induction Team", which has really helped the LCA induction along, as well as creation of tactics and maintenance plans for the aircraft engineers.

Side note 2:
Lots of pictures from Paris-2007 can be found at these sites:,, and many many more places. I'll try to add as many links as I can.

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