National Aerospace Laboratories Saras
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Saras
In mid 1980s, Research Council recommended that National Aerospace Laboratories should study the civil aviation requirements of India and recommended ways and means of establishing a viable civil aviation industry. It further recommended that NAL should carryout a formal techno economical feasibility study of a multi role Light Transport Aircraft (LTA – renamed SARAS in October 1993). The feasibility study (November 1989) showed that there was a significant demand for a 9–14 seat multi-role LTA in the country and estimated a market potential of about 250–350 aircraft in the next 10 years. NAL submitted the feasibility study report to RC in November 1990 and started its search for an industrial partner.
The project began in 1991 as a collaboration with Russia (Myasishchev had a similar project called the Duet), but financial trouble led the Russians to drop out early in the project, in 1997. The project almost came to a halt when it was hit by US-imposed sanctions in 1998, after India's nuclear tests in Pokhran. It was recommenced in September 1999 upon receiving development approval from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in June 1999.
The project of 'Saras' was sanctioned on 24 September 1999 with initial schedule of its maiden flight by March 2001.
The original design target parameters included a maximum take-off weight of 6,100 kg and a maximum payload of 1,232 kg, a high cruise speed of over 600 km/h, an endurance of six hours, a maximum flight altitude of 12 km (cruise altitude 10.5 km), short take-off and landing distances of about 600 m, a maximum rate of climb of 12 m/s, a low cabin noise of 78 dB, a range of 600 km with 19 passengers, 1,200 km with 14 passengers and 2,000 km with eight passengers, a high 'specific range' of 2.5 km/kg and a low cost of operation of Rs. 5/km.
The Saras was designed to fly both day and night from semi-prepared airfields and grass runways. It was designed adhering to the FAR-25/23 standard regulations and can offer air taxi and commuter services.
The first Saras (PT1) completed its maiden flight at the HAL airport in Bangalore on 29 May 2004 powered by two 850hp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-66 turboprop.
While the designed empty weight of the aircraft is around 4,125 kg, the first prototype weighed in around 5,118 kg. This was to be addressed by including composite wings and tail by the third prototype. It is being upgraded with 1,200hp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67A engines to accommodate the overweight, new propellers and modern flight control and electrical systems.
The airframe of Saras-PT2 was built with lighter composites to reduce its overall weight by about 400 kg from its first prototype, which was overweight by about 900 kg. The PT2 was powered by Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67A engine and completed maiden flight on 18 April 2007. A 2.65m diameter Hartzell five-bladed propeller will be fitted to each engine. The propellers can make 1,700rpm in pusher configuration.
The IAF has signed up with National Aerospace Laboratories, Bangalore for the purchase of 15 Saras aircraft.“NAL signed a memorandum of understanding with IAF to sell 15 Saras aircraft. The Kanpur unit of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd will manufacture these planes,” The 14-seater twin-engine aircraft would be used for coastal surveillance as well as training young cadets on transport flying.
On 6 March 2009, 2 Indian Air Force test pilots, Wing Commander Praveen Kotekoppa and Wing Commander Dipesh Shah along with a Flight Test Engineer Squadron Leader Ilayaraja, were killed when the second prototype Saras aircraft crashed and caught fire in an open field near Bidadi, about 30 km from Bangalore. A court of inquiry found that wrong engine relight drills given to the pilots caused the crash.