| TNIE Online Exclusive |
BENGALURU: Close to one-and-a-half-years after the first Light Combat Aircraft Tejas joined the Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet officially, the No 45 Sqn Flying Daggers that flies the desi bird is now ready for bigger operational challenges.
Raised in Bengaluru on July 1, 2016, the Flying Daggers are a now formidable combat air unit with a bunch of young pilots who sleeps, eats and breathes Tejas.
During an interaction granted to this Correspondent, it was evident that the boys are confident of the machine that they operate, its abilities and the possibilities it offers in future. In fact, they call Tejas an ‘intelligent talking plane’.
The Flying Daggers are now under the operational control of Southern Air Command (SAC), headquartered at Thiruvananthapuram through the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) located at Bengaluru.
The Intelligent, Talking Plane
A lot has been talked and written about Tejas. A lot has been written off about the platform as well. But when the user, who is locked on to the goals of flying a swift, sure and safe machine, speaks about the qualities of the fighter, it might be music to the ears to those who reposed faith on Tejas.
Wg Cdr Chandra Sekhar Hiremath (Hire), Senior Engineering Officer with the Flying Daggers says that Indian software brains have ensured that the best have gone into Tejas.
“All the systems in this aircraft run on software. This has ensured that the aircraft speaks to you. It tells you what all it is capable of and what it cannot do. The aircraft also tells you what is wrong with it. As an engineer, you need not break your head to diagnose technical issues,” says Wg Cdr Hiremath.
Wg Cdr Samarth Dhankar (Danny), Flight Commander and Flight Combat Leader is the first non-Test Pilot to have flown the Tejas. Now the No 2 man in the squadron, he terms Tejas as a compact lethal package.
“In spite of being so light, it is so agile and so responsive to your control inputs. It is fully loaded with sensors and state-of-the-art avionics. It is a wonderful feeling to display what you do. Flying over Rajpath has always been special as the nationalistic feelings peak during Republic Day,” says Danny.
Wg Cdr Manish Tolani, a Squadron pilot and Qualified Flying Instructor, who has flown the MiG variants and the Hawks, says Tejas combines the best of the Russian and western philosophies of military aviation.
“Tejas is a designer’s marvel. The Test Pilots and the designers have brought in the best of all fleets across the world and put in a small platform and that makes it unique. It is an intelligent combination of the best systems in the world,” says Wg Cdr Tolani.
For Gp Capt Madhav Rangachari (Ranga), the first Commanding Officer of Flying Daggers, it has been a very demanding task to set up a new squadron.
Right from sourcing chairs, tables to forming SOPs, broad guidelines and maintenance procedures, to ensuring the availability of planes for his boys to fly, Ranga has probably lost some hair in the last one year.
In addition, he had a huge task to prove that Tejas is an operational platform and no more an ‘air show bird,’ with smoke winders on.
“Tough task I must say, but then we have been trained to be tougher,” says Ranga, who was flying the Mirage 2000s, before moving to Flying Daggers.
His crew has grown to eight pilots, four engineering officers and one logistics man now, in addition to set of ground crew, who play a significant role like the pilots.
“It is planned that the Flying Daggers will be eventually based at Sulur which is near Coimbatore and we hope to move to the new base in the later part of this year. Full-fledged base upgradation activities are on in Sulur and we have to ensure that all facilities are set, before we move out,” he says.
Flying Daggers hope to have a dozen of Tejas Series Production versions in their fleet before they move out of Bengaluru. With six in their kitty, the IAF hopes that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will deliver the remaining birds on priority.
“Every new pilot who joins the squadron first goes through a grueling ground training session for several weeks. He then flies on the Tejas simulator followed by sorties on the trainer or two-seater version (PV5 & PV 6) and later they get to fly the Tejas solo. After its developmental flight tests by the National Flight Test Center, the Flying Daggers have started operational training and flying on this aircraft. Our flying and maintenance related inputs as users, are being collated for further design improvements on this aircraft,” says Ranga, who has so far flown over 300 sorties, clocking 200-plus hours.
SAC to become hub for fighters
With the Tejas scheduled to move to Sulur and the Sukhois already flying in Thanjavur, the Southern Air Command will soon become an active hub for the fighters.
Air Vice Marshal Sandeep Singh, a top-rated Sukhoi pilot in IAF, and now the Commandant of ASTE, hopes that with increased rate of production by HAL, more squadrons of this indigenously designed and manufactured aircraft, would soon form part of the IAF.
“Almost there and with more planes joining the fleet, the squadron boys will have more opportunities to employ the Tejas in several operational exercises that the IAF conducts. A talking fighter is what the Squadron Engineering officers call the LCA. And, the pilots are convinced that they are flying an intelligent machine that listens to them, talks to them. That’s Tejas for you. An intelligent flying machine -- as my boys call it,” says AVM Sandeep.
Flying Daggers just completed another mission enthralling the crowd at Rajpath during the 69th Republic Day flypast for the second consecutive year. Flying in low visibility over Delhi in ‘Vic’ formation had its own challenges.
IAF insiders say there has been a huge excitement for various fighter pilots to get posted to the Flying Daggers and be a part of ‘The Invincibles.’ After all, guts and glory go together, for air warriors!
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist and tweets @writetake).