Infrastructure building has started full throttle at Hindon air base on the fringes of the national capital for operation of the Indian Air Force’s largest aircraft—the Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III.
The beast will roughly have double the capacity of the present Russian heavy lifters in the IAF—the Ilyushin IL-76s—which they are set to replace. The 20-odd Il-76 presently operated by the IAF can air lift around 45 tonnes of load, whereas C-17 is capable of transporting 70 tonnes of load—military hardware and troops—at small airfields in harsh terrain anywhere in the world day or night.
“Infrastructure development has started at the Hindon airbase. The OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is building facilities like hangars and crew room for the aircraft and the unit operating it,” sources said. The infrastructure will be swanky and comparable to the US airbases.
C-17s will be the second unit of strategic airlifters to have been stationed in the National Capital Region. Earlier, a squadron of Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Js was stationed at Hindon—a decision taken in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks to facilitate quick movement of troops and weapons and to air drop them where they are needed.
The aircraft is wide enough to accommodate two trucks side by side and can carry two-three helicopters easily. The IAF was looking at a heavy lifter that can operate from short runways like Kargil. The C-17s impressed the IAF during field trials as it took off from the Kangra airport by using only 1500 feet of the runway just after touchdown. Just like its American cousin C-130 Js the C-17s can also taxi in reverse gear when required.
“As the first of the aircraft will be ready by January 2013, the training of the IAF pilots has also begun,” sources added. A total of 10 crews—including 20 pilots and 10 loadmasters will be trained by the Boeing.
India had signed $ 4.1 billion contract, one of the largest defence deals with the US, to purchase 10 C-17s and with the contract the IAF will became one of the biggest operator of the aircraft in the world after the US Air Force. As the aircraft is being manufactured in the US, the first flight is expected in Jan 2013 and the IAF will get its first C-17 by June 2013. The next nine will come home by 2014.
Notwithstanding its massive size—174 ft length, 55 ft height and about 170 ft wingspan—the aircraft can be operated by three-member crew. The two-decade old IL-76s require a minimum of six crew members and a gunner. Flown with the help of a joystick the four-engine aircraft can take off quickly at a short distance and steep angles.