Thursday, April 22, 2010

Full LCH flight set for May but modifications needed

Neelam Mathews/New Delhi

The first full flight of India’s 5.5 ton Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) is expected in May after unspecified modifications are made following a hover and slow-speed cyclic maneuver in late March.

Developed by government defense manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), the two-seat variant of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) made a 20-min. flight Mar. 29 that allowed pilots to carry out low-speed and low-altitude systems checks using hover, clockwise and counter-clockwise maneuvers, and four circles of HAL’s home base at Bengaluru.

Presently, the 12-ton Mi-35 is the only attack helicopter in the Indian air force inventory. Machine guns and rocket launchers have been mounted on Mi-17s medium lift transport helicopters.

The LCH is powered by Turbomeca- Shakti (Ardiden 1H) engines, a collaboration between HAL and Turbomeca. They produce 1,200 shp, an upgrade from the 1,000 shp of the ALH’s Turbomeca TM 333-2B2.

The LCH has its weapons algorithms on but integration will not be completed for another 6-8 months, according to a HAL engineer.

Integration of weapons and sensors is expected to go smoothly because they have been tested on the ALH. Weapons firing, also planned in 6-8 months, will either take place in Sriharikota – India’s only satellite launch center -- or in Rajasthan.

The weapons suite includes an MBDA air-to-air missile, Nexter 20 mm turret-mounted cannon and an electronics warfare suite from SAAB. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization is developing an anti-tank missile.

LCH is about 1,100 lb. overweight but will be trimmed by nearly 400 lb. for the first full flight and another 200 lb. for the second, now planned for September. Program officials say they expect to be able to drive another 150 lb. out by the third test flight, but that will still leave it about 450 lb. above design weight.

Designed to fill a ground attack role against infantry and armor, the LCH is expected to function in India’s mountains, with takeoffs as high as 10,000 ft. Its operational weapons ceiling is to be 16,300 ft.

HAL expects to complete at least 500 hours of test flights before certification. Initial operations are planned by December 2011, HAL says.

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