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Hindustan Ajeet

 
halajeet

 

The Indian Air Force issued a requirement for an improved Gnat in 1972 as an interceptor and also have a secondary ground-attack role. The aircraft was given the name "Ajeet", Sanskrit for "Invincible" or "Unconquered" and was to be manufactured by HAL. It was to have more hardpoints, wet wings and a Martin-Baker ejection seat. Hindustan Aeronau­tics developed the Ajeet lightweight jet fighter from the Folland/ Hawker Siddeley Gnat which HAL license-produced.
The prototype Ajeet first flew in March 1975 and the first production aircraft (E1956) followed in September 1976.
 
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Ajeets of No.22 Squadron with a Hunter T.66 two-seater
 
The Ajeet aircraft was comparable to the Gnat in handling, albeit on the heavier side. A clean Gnat (without drop tanks) was significantly more agile and manoeuvrable than a clean Ajeet. The trainer on the other hand was even heavier. In the few 1vs1 sorties against the fighter, it was noticed that the trainer lost out while manoeuvring in the vertical plane. Another issue that one had to be careful of was while opening throttle and seeking full power as the engine took a long time to achieve 100%.


The main changes from the Gnat are improved navigation and communications systems and the use of new wing fuel tanks which replace the previous underwing tanks. The last feature allows an increased warload to be carried, although drop-tanks can still be carried underwing on two of the four stations for longer range. Armament comprises two 30 mm Aden cannon and rockets or bombs. Maximum speed with the 4,500 lb thrust Rolls-Royce Orpheus 701-01 turbojet remains subsonic at Mach 0.96.

 

Deliveries began to the Indian Air Force in 1976. Of the total of 79 aircraft ordered for the Indian Air Force about one‑third had been delivered by early 1980and operated between 1977 and 1991.
 
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For nearly 30 years of its operational service in India the Gnat/ Ajeet did not have a type trainer. Pilots in India, after dual checks in the Hawker Hunter, were required to do the first solo on the Gnat directly. The dual checks were given on a Hunter trainer by simulating a Gnat approach (much shallower) by lowering flaps to only 15 degrees and not full flaps down. Once cleared after the mandatory dual checks, the pilots were shown the various attitudes of nose up and take off, strapped in the cockpit and two airmen sitting on the tail plane under the flight commander’s supervision. The cockpit was very cosy and seated at 20 degrees incline of the ejection seat. A taxi run with a full throttle roll on the runway got the pilot ready for his first solo in the Gnat.
 
The development of the HAL Ajeet trainer started in the late 70s. A proposal within a time frame of 54 months at an estimated cost of Rs.4.16 crores, put up by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in June 1975, was approved by the Government in February 1976. Government sanctioned in April 1980, procurement of 12 trainer aircraft from the HAL at a cost of Rs. 1 crore each. The aircraft were to be delivered at the rate of six each during 1982-83 and 1983-84.
Developed from the single-seat Ajeet lightweight fighter, the prototype trainer version flew on September 20, 1982. The Ajeet trainer, had a lengthened fuselage (1.4 meters longer than the Ajeet fighter) with two seats mounted in tandem and two internal fuel tanks on the spine removed to accommodate the extra seat. The 30 mm cannon and four stores pylons were retained, although the cannon could be removed and replaced with additional fuel tanks (increase capacity by 273 Litres). The engine remained the same Orpheus 701. However, the trainer had an inferior Power/ weight ratio as compared to the fighter version and handled sluggishly.
 
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first prototype Ajeet Trainer E2426
 
In December 1982 Sqn Ldr DK Powar was flying the first prototype of the Ajeet Trainer (E2426), the 14th sortie the aircraft had undertaken. The unfortunate accident was probably due to differences in pre-flight inspection procedures of HAL and IAF ground crew, leading to the oxygen not being switched on. At higher altitudes, hypoxia set in, leading to disorientation and complete loss of consciousness and fatal crash. A second prototype flew in September 1983.
The program was put in abeyance, but over the next two years, the IAF had a re-think and it was revived in late 1984. However, in 1986, when IAF agreed on the withdrawal of the Ajeet Aircraft, the order for the trainer was in limbo again.
 
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The first Ajeet Trainer induction at Sulur BRD. The aircraft was handed over to
Wg Cdr Ranjith Tathgur of No.18 Squadron "Flying Bullets"
 
The order for full production of Ajeet Trainers having been withdrawn, two prototypes with HAL were inducted into the IAF finally in late 1987 (and early 1988) and were handed over to 18 sqn then based at Bagdogra. Two aircraft bearing serial numbers E2427 and E2414 were handed over to the squadron. The first aircraft delivered was a production aircraft while the other a prototype modified to production standard. These two were the only aircraft built (other than the one that crashed). 
 

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Their usage fell far short of the initial projected hours. The utilisation rate achieved by these trainer aircraft was poor as it ranged from 0.15 to 5.30 hours per month during January 1988 to May 1990. One cause of the low utilization could have been the limited utility of the aircraft as laid out in the syllabus. The aircraft was supposed to provide three dual check sorties with each having a laid down profile. It did not have the required instrumentation and lights for night flying as the Ajeet itself was day operational only. Further, with the Ajeet in winding down mode, the squadron pilot and aircraft strength was depleted.
 
When the Ajeets were finally phased out in March 1991, apparently the Ajeet Trainers were still serviceable and were flown to the BRD in Sulur. In all, the two Ajeet Trainers served the IAF for only three and a half years across two squadrons.
 
In December 1988, right after 18 sqn had wound up, the two trainers were ferried from Bagdogra to Kalaikunda.
 
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Two Ajeet Trainers were the last aircraft in the 33-year successful legacy of the Gnat fighter and its variants that served the IAF until the early 90s. The Ajeet Trainers served the IAF for only three and a half years across two squadrons and flew little, remaining a footnote in the annals of Indian aviation history.

 

Engine: 4,500 lb thrust Rolls-Royce Orpheus 701-01 turbojet
Maximum speed: Mach 0.96 / 716 mph  / 1,152 km/h
Wing span: 22 ft 1 in (6.73 m).

 


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