India Flies Business Turboprop Prototype

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It looks kind of like the results of an immoral mating between a Hawker and a Starship, but it didn't come from Beech/Raytheon. Further, it's apparently not the result of any U.S. aerospace jobs being exported to India. Instead, the latest project to come out of that country's fledgling aircraft manufacturing industry -- dubbed "Saras," for crane -- is billed as an all-original 14-seat executive transport with both military and civilian missions in mind. The design made its first flight on May 29, 2004, when an experimental version flew for 25 minutes. This week, what is apparently a production prototype aircraft first flew for 20 minutes, culminating an effort involving as many as 700 designers and engineers since 1990, according to published reports. The Saras, with two Pratt and Whitney of Canada PT6A-66 turboprop engines mounted on its tail in a pusher configuration, is a brainchild of the National Aeronautics Laboratory (NAL), a subsidiary of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in Bangalore. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is also participating in the project.

According to the NAL, the Saras is designed to top out at about 335 knots (620 kph) and cruise at around FL240. Other performance goals include a takeoff distance of 1870 feet (570 m), a landing distance of 1985 feet (605 m), maximum rate of climb of 2364 fpm, and a maximum range of about 1000 nm. Those numbers put the aircraft squarely in King Air territory. Its 14-year gestation period was slowed by external political developments: consequences from the Soviet breakup in the early 1990s and U.S.-imposed sanctions following India's nuclear testing in 1998. Despite these delays -- and barring new ones, political or otherwise -- the aircraft is planned to be in production and delivered for traditional uses by 2010. So far, the Indian air force has ordered six examples of the Saras, which the NAL says is the first aircraft designed completely within India. The NAL expects demand for the aircraft to reach as many as 150 copies over the next 10 to 15 years. So far, the NAL has built two prototypes; the Indian government has yet to decide whether to approve manufacturing.