Training on Track
The IAF’s Pilatus PC-7 MK-II is quickly proving itself to be an excellent basic trainer


When one enters the main gate at Air Force Academy (AFA) Dundigal, there is little indication of the winds of change blowing through the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) premier training establishment. Only when one nears the flight hangars, does the constant drone of aircraft engines give an indication of the high level of flying activity at the base. At AFA the sight and sound of the IAF’s newest Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA), the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 MK-II taking off and landing at regular intervals, symbolises the end of a particularly trying period for basic training of rookie flight cadets within the IAF.

FORCE is the first defence magazine to visit AFA Dundigal for a closer look at the Pilatus PC-7 MK-II, which has been selected as the IAF’s Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA), replacing the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) built Hindustan Piston Trainer 32 (HPT-32) ‘Deepak’. This correspondent spent an entire day at AFA interacting with senior IAF officers, instructors and cadets, along with observing the day’s flying activities. Gauging by the quantum of flying being undertaken, the confidence of instructors and cadets alike in the aircraft and the very quick turnaround times between sorties, it quickly became obvious that the PC-7 MK-II is an excellent choice as a BTA and one that will serve the IAF in good stead over the next three to four decades. The cadets have already gone through their most difficult phase and the aircraft has emerged with flying colours through its initiation process at the hands of rookie pilots. In a refreshing change, the IAF’s newest basic trainer sports an attractive paint scheme when compared to the HAL-built trainers!

Flying begins early at AFA with the first sorties taking to the air around 5:30 am with the first shift of instructors and cadets. This is followed by the second shift that begins at 11 am and eventually, flying stops at around 6:10 pm. Even for the uninitiated, the buzzing flight line humming with activity is immediately apparent. For a brand new type that entered service merely a few months ago, the quantum of flying is very high with a trainer taking off or landing every 15 to 20 minutes. According to Air Vice Marshal V.R. Chaudhuri, deputy commandant AFA Dundigal, “The training syllabus has been increased to 55 hours per trainee from the earlier 25 hours. The solo content has also increased to 14 sorties from only one sortie earlier. This amounts to the task of approximately 1,200 hours per month, making it approximately 60-70 sorties per day on PC-7 MK-II aircraft.” The IAF is looking at an utilisation rate of 300 flying hours per year per aircraft. The PC-7 MK-II has a design life of 10,000 hours and 30,000 landings per aircraft. By the end of August, the fleet had already logged 3,000 flight hours with almost 5,600 landings, and serviceability for the PC-7 MK-II fleet was at 81 per cent. Chief Instructor (Flying) at AFA Dundigal, Air Commodore Nagesh Kapoor tells FORCE, “The rate of flying is very high and that speaks a lot about the maintainability of the aircraft. Earlier, we would need three to four people looking after one aircraft, presently one aircraft is looked after by one person, which is very good. It is very easy on fuel and has tremendous endurance.” He goes on to add, “We are really exploiting this machine and we are doing a whole lot of flying. By the end of this course we would have ended up flying twice as much as we would have done six months earlier.”

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