Vintage Beauty

Harvard Trainer HT-291 to make its maiden public appearance at Air Force Day Parade

Atul Chandra

This year’s Air Force Day Parade will witness the reappearance in Indian skies of Harvard trainer HT-291. The vintage trainer is part of the Indian Air Force (IAF) Vintage Flight, one of only a handful such units that fly vintage military aeroplanes, anywhere in the world. With two highly experienced IAF test pilots now having been checked out on the trainer, HT-291 is expected to make many more appearances at venues across India, delighting aviation enthusiasts with its immaculate appearance and well-choreographed flying display. The Harvard trainer completed its ‘Zero-Time’ restoration in the UK last year and was transported in the belly of the giant Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft to India. The aircraft was expected to take part at Aero India, earlier this year, but only Tiger Moth HU-512 made an appearance. This year’s Air Force Day Parade could see both the restored vintage trainer aircraft flying together, a welcome sight for sore eyes!

Harvard HT-291 is scheduled to take part in this year’s Air Force Day parade for the first time after its restoration in the UK

HT-291 will play an important role at the IAF VF as it will perform the role it was used to decades ago; training IAF pilots before they go on to fly the fully restored Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane or Tempest. Of course, the Spitfire, Hurricane and Tempest, could take years before joining the IAF VF, as they are yet to get underway with their restoration. There are also plans to restore the Westland Wapiti, though this is likely to be a complicated and time consuming endeavour. The drive to restore the IAF’s VF began in 2007, which has resulted in these priceless aircraft being restored. The Harvard was used by the IAF for advanced flying training, post-independence at the two Air Force academies based in Ambala and Jodhpur with trainee cadets flying the Prentice and Tiger Moth basic trainers. Trainee pilots at the time flew 100 hours on the Harvard, before being sent for conversion training on Tempests and Spitfires (42 hours). After Jodhpur was redesignated as Air Force Flying College, trainees continued to receive flying training on the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) built Hindustan Trainer-2 (HT-2) and Harvards.

After 1962, the Pilot Training Establishment was set up and now both AFFC and PTE trainees received training on Harvard and HT-2 respectively. The Harvard was phased out in the advanced trainer role by the IAF in 1973 and HT-291 last flew in 1989, two and a half decades ago. The Harvard made for the perfect advanced trainer, as it was an interesting aircraft to handle both in the air and on the ground as a result of the torque it produced. HT-291 was built in 1943 for the RAF and then joined the IAF in 1947 before being phased out in 1968. The last of the type were taken out of service in 1975 and replaced with the indigenously built jet trainer, HAL’s Hindustan Jet Trainer 16 (HJT-16) Kiran. The Harvard was the name given by the Royal Air Force (RAF) for the North American T-6 Texan advanced trainers used during World War II (WWII). More than 17,000 examples were produced and by the end of WWII, in excess of 5,000 trainers were supplied to British and Commonwealth Air Forces.

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