NEW DELHI --- The first flight of an indigenously developed light utility helicopter is to take place within a week - a major milestone for the project - with developers overcoming a final software-related hurdle that had held up tests.
Authoritative sources told ET that the first flight of the 3.1 tonne prototype LUH, developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleets of the armed forces, will take place in Bengaluru within a few days, depending on the weather.
"We are now ready to take the chopper in the air. All hurdles have been crossed and now it is only a matter of the right day when all conditions are good for a first flight," a senior official involved in the project told ET.
While ground tests for the LUH were concluded in 2015, the first flight had been held up due to certification issues in the software used in the chopper. As the LUH is classified as a military project, special encrypted software was needed. The developer had initially shared codes that did not meet specifications.
The LUH program has been in the works since 2008, when the armed forces projected a requirement for a light chopper that could carry troops and supplies to border areas. More than 200 choppers are needed by the three armed forces.
There has been renewed energy on accelerating the project in the past year, with a parallel process being driven by the armed forces to procure a light chopper for urgent needs.
HAL plans to start manufacturing the choppers from 2018, after certifications and operational clearances are obtained. The chopper is powered by a Shakti engine made in collaboration with French company Turbomeca. A new production facility is to be built for the LUH project.
Besides troop transport, the choppers can be used for aerial reconnaissance and civilian purposes to meet domestic and export demand.
HAL is working on a project with Russian Helicopters to build 200 of the KA 226 light choppers in India as part of a government-to-government deal. A detailed agreement on the KA 226 is expected to be finalised shortly.