The PT-2 has almost completed the equipping process and will be on static display area during Aero India 2017. Nobody believed in our abilities, but we did & proved: Team HTT-40.
BENGALURU: The conference hall at Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC) was packed to its capacity. In conversation with DefenceNews were some of the bright aerospace engineers and designers of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) sharing their story of struggle, sacrifice and success building their dream flying machine — the Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 (HTT-40).
Amidst readying the HTT-40 PT-1 for its maiden sky party at the upcoming Aero India-17 and PT-2 for the static display, the team was enthusiastic in sharing some of the untold stories building the BTA (Basic Trainer Aircraft). Interestingly, the average age of HTT-40 team is only 35 years.
Leading from the front was the passionate plane-maker in Prashant Singh Bhadoria, Deputy Project Manager of HTT-40. The promising youngster hailing from Nanded, was humble enough to take-off by saying but for the commitment shown by his team, HTT-40 wouldn’t have reached a stage it has jettisoned now.
“The going was tough. Really tough. We had to motivate ourselves all the time. But, we had the full backing of our seniors and the top management. I think in military aviation the challenges are multitude. We have buried the past and believed in the future. The rest is history now,” says Prashant, whose aggression and passion were one notch up than Virat Kholi!
The second prototype (PT-2) of Basic Trainer Aircraft HTT-40 from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is expected to have its maiden flight next month. During a visit to the facilities of Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC), this Correspondent witnessed hectic activities as a prelude to its maiden flight.
The PT-2 has almost completed the equipping process. It will be on static display area during Aero India 2017 with a fully functional cockpit and powered-on LRUs.
“From removal of the fuselage to entire process of equipping is completed in one-and-a-half-months, which is a great achievement compared to any aerospace standards. We achieved it due to the modular technology being adopted for the project,” Prashant Singh Bhadoria, Deputy Project Manager, HTT-40, told.
Started with HAL’s internal funding of Rs 500 crore, the HTT-40 project got the ahead for detailed design in August 2013. The detailed design was completed in 21 months (May 2015) and the BTA had its maiden flight in May 2016.
Many improvisations on PT-1 already
Suresh Kumar, Head of Aerodynamics Group and Project Manager of HTT-40 said the platform completed 32 flights, logging a cumulative of 25 hours, so far.
“We did many gradual improvisations on PT-1 since its first flight. The fuel system has been converted into a fully pressurised one. Also the rudder was modified to address sensitivity issues. The ECS system was adapted to reduce the cockpit noise to optimum,” says Suresh, who has served HAL for over 30 years now.
On PT-1 the ailerons have been fitted with balance tabs to give a more comfortable feel while doing lateral maneuvers like the 360 degree roll. The flap angles have been optimised for better take off and landing characteristics.
On a specific query on the feedback the young HTT-40 team got from the pilots, Sanjiv Shukla, General Manager (ARDC) said the response has been positive.
“The aircraft handling is very easy and the pilot-vehicle interface has been simplified for the trainer. The glass cockpit gives them a fighter-class effect and the display symbology is user-friendly,” says Shukla.
Based on the pilot inputs, the rudder sensitivity and control harmony has been improvised.
“The glide ratio has already been achieved. The climb rates and the landing and take-off performances also have exceeded expectations,” says Shukla.
The ARDC team is excited as PT-1 will be debuting at Aero India 2017, displaying some of its acrobatic maneuvers. The SOPs for both PT-1 and PT-2 are the same.
Production team had a say from beginning
On the new design and manufacturing philosophies adopted, D K Venkatesh, Director, (Engineering, R&D) said the entire project is based on digital mock up.
“Our focus has been on rigorous simulation and ground testing in order to reduce the development time. The design for manufacturability theme has been the central focus. The production jigs have been set up using laser trackers with 50 microns accuracy. Metal tooling has been adapted for all sheet metal parts. The aircraft looming has been done on bench completely,” says Venkatesh.
He said every drawing was production-vetted. “Any design and development has issues. We have to experience it. We have to overcome it. This young team has made all of us proud,” says Venkatesh.
The project witnessed a mid-programme engine change issue, due to procurement challenges. The non participation of various suppliers due to the doubts surrounding HTT-40, had forced ARDC to absorb LRUs from existing projects.
Team had tough time keeping the morale high
“This, however, was a blessing in disguise as system commonality was helpful in cutting the development and procurement time lines. The project time lines were very challenging. The air surrounding the project during the launch phase too was not inspiring. It was difficult to keep the moral high but at the end of the day the company leadership ensured that the project stayed on track and achieved its milestones,” says Prashant, who recently bagged the Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Award instituted by AeSI national chapter.
HAL now says that the next prototype (PT-3) will be design optimised with reduced weight. Also the PT-3 will be in line with the final SOP made along with the production agency. Plans are also afoot for weaponised variant (PT-4) in future, especially keeping the likely need of Indian Army. The target set for achieving certification is December 2018.
HAL Chief Raju pats the young team
On the tricky stall and spin tests for HTT-40, HAL says lessons from Intermediate Jet Trainer would come handy.
With HTT-40 boasting of far advanced systems than those on Pilatus, currently being inducted in Indian Air Force, HAL says the indigenous content and design rights will go a long way in maintaining the aircraft for over the next three decades.
HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju refuses to take any credit for the success of HTT-40 project so far.
“The boys slogged day in and out. They muted themselves from what the world thought about the project. This is again another management lesson we all can keep in mind. Always focus on your tasks. If you are sure you will achieve it. And, nothing else matters. HTT-40 tells you that story,” says Raju, who has been playing the role of a mentor for the team.
Prashant-Suresh combo inspired the team
Prashant represents the new face of HAL, who believes in their strengths rather than brooding over what a DPSU is not all about. Most importantly, it was evident that Team HTT-40 owned HAL. Rather, they said they are HAL.
“Through this project we got challenges and opportunities in equal measure. The learning was phenomenal. The team work was outstanding. The sacrifices were innumerable. And the result, was priceless,” says Prashant, who hands over the baton to the rest of the team members.
Prashant’s boss and HTT-40 Project Manager Suresh Kumar, who is also the Head of Aerodynamics Group, was another face of HAL that was refreshing. Suresh, the senior-most member, who was part of Kiran, IJT, Saras and Tejas projects, says his team emerged successfully from the jaws of defeat.
“I will see HTT-40 in IAF Squadron before retirement. I too learned a lot being part of this young team. It not only knocked off some 10-15 years from my life, but gave a new perspective to missions. The team’s enthusiasm is infectious,” says Suresh.
HTT-40 team members say the Suresh-Prashant combo set many benchmarks in project management.
Sumesh, A S, Senior Manager with Structural Assembly while sharing the challenges of fuel tank assembly and engine installation, said the project demolished the disconnect between the designers and shop floor. “We bridged the gap and there was better synergy at all levels,” he adds.
Pawan Gowra, Manager, Sheet Metal Shop, says concurrent manufacturing was the key to the mission.
“It helped reducing time and we could assess the actual requirement at a faster pace,” says Pawan. “And, getting home-cooked food and sharing with all too helped to increase the bonding,” he adds.
Only mission mattered to the team: Sanjiv Shukla
Sanjiv Shukla, General Manager, ARDC, felt the young lot had no fear in taking on the challenges head on.
“The HTT-40 team has set many new working philosophies that will be difficult to be broken now. They have showed all of us, mission mattered all the time,” says Shukla.
Ajith K, Deputy Manager, Electrical Design, said he couldn’t believe when HTT-40 flew for the first time.
“There was joy, satisfaction, relief and belief when our baby was flying,” he said. Ajith also narrated how the team members worked for 20 hours some days even dispelling fear of being hit by dengue, which is prevalent in Bengaluru.
“Some of the team members were worried about mosquito bites. And, we told them mosquitoes that bite in the night won’t spread dengue,” Ajith said, with team bursting into laughter.
The team played a rare video of HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju addressing them from with the HTT-40 cockpit late night. “It was truly inspiring,” adds Ajith.
If your aircraft is talking, then you don’t have to talk: Prashant
Prashant chips in again saying aggression was the key while taking tough decisions.
“You have to be ready to take risks. We had to prove our detractors wrong. If your aircraft is talking, then you don’t have to talk. We are now very focused on the spin and stall trials as well,” says Prashant.
Chandrashekar V, Senior Manager, Aerodynamics, says they could predict the thrust and drag characteristics of the aircraft perfectly before the first flight.
“We had detailed CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) studies. We were able accurately assess many results in advance,” he says.
Jeevan says unique procurement methods sticking to the rules helped the project, while Gopalakrishnan terms the HTT-40 experience as one of the most inspiring lessons in his life.