Cheetah helicopter crashes in Arunachal Pradesh: Why this ageing plane continues to be integral to India’s armed forces

The crash occurred round 9:15 am close to Mandala, west of Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, Defence PRO Lt Col Mahendra Rawat advised ANI. A search operation for the 2 pilots onboard is at present underway.

The HAL Cheetah is a licence-built model of the French Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama. While it’s identified for its functionality to function in scorching tropical climate in addition to excessive altitude circumstances, it’s an ageing plane – the SA315B Lama was first flown in 1969, over 60 years in the past. Over the years, together with HAL Chetak, the Cheetah has developed a repute of being unsafe, with the armed forces searching for upgrades for these rotorcraft.

A necessity for helicopter with “hot and high” efficiency

According to Vertical, an aviation journal, the Lama program was began within the late Sixties, following a request from the Indian and Nepalese militaries for a helicopter that would function within the Himalayas in addition to scorching tropical plains of India. Air density decreases with growing temperature and altitude, affecting plane efficiency. Ways to enhance an plane’s “hot and high” efficiency embrace decreasing weight in addition to growing engine energy – typically competing incentives as extra highly effective engines are sometimes heavier and vice versa.

For the Lama programme, the light-weight five-seat SA 313 Aérospatiale Alloutte II airframe was mated with the dynamic parts of the bigger and heavier seven-seat Aérospatiale SA 316 Allouette III (which might even be constructed beneath licence in India as HAL Chetak) in an try to get one of the best of each worlds. On March 17, 1969, the SA 315B Lama, lifted off for its maiden flight.

Exceptional excessive altitude helicopter

Right off the bat, the Lama was recommended for its distinctive excessive altitude efficiency with distinctive power-to-weight ratio, perfect to be used in mountainous areas. It quickly proved that it might raise slung a great deal of as much as 1,000 kg to locations a way more highly effective medium helicopter couldn’t enterprise – making it a helpful provide in addition to search and rescue helicopter in areas beforehand inaccessible.

The Lama’s most notable high-altitude achievement got here on June 21, 1972, when Aérospatiale check pilot Jean Boulet took the plane to 12,442 meters – an altitude report (for its class of helicopter) that stands until date.

Lama turns into Cheetah

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited signed a licence settlement for the Lama with Aérospatiale in 1970 and christened the India made plane “Cheetah”. The first Cheetah manufactured from uncooked supplies was delivered in 1976-77. According to HAL’s web site, until date, HAL has produced and bought 279 of those versatile helicopters in India and overseas.

The Cheetah has been the spine of Indian navy presence in excessive altitude areas within the Himalayas. Operated by each the Indian Air Force and the Army Aviation Corps, it has been used for transporting males and materials, search and rescue, and reconnaissance. Cheetahs have particularly been essential for operations in Siachen, the world’s highest battleground at over 6,000 m.

HAL additionally managed to arm the Cheetah with two 12.7 mm heavy machine weapons and 70mm rockets, advertising this modified Cheetah because the Lancer.

An ageing plane nonetheless integral to India

While the Cheetah was a nice helicopter in its time, 2023 is greater than 60 years faraway from its maiden flight. Of late, Cheetahs’ airworthiness has been repeatedly questioned within the context of quite a few incidents through the years. Apart from crashes, Cheetahs are additionally  high-maintenance, with spare elements more and more tougher to seek out as of late.

In reality, as far again in 2002, authorities had already recognised that Cheetahs had been quick getting out of date, underpowered and unreliable for the armed forces’ necessities. This prompted HAL to re-engineer the helicopter with a brand new, extra dependable and environment friendly engine, producing the HAL Cheetal. However, the rotor blades HAL had constructed for the platform had been discovered to be insufficient and by 2012, manufacturing had stopped with reportedly solely 12 Cheetals ever constructed.

The purpose why the Cheetah continues to be a mainstay for Indian armed forces working within the mountains is as a result of there is no such thing as a higher different accessible at this time. While there are undoubtedly higher “hot and high” efficiency helicopters such because the Airbus H125 accessible out there, India has focussed on indigenous growth and manufacturing.

Starting in 2008, HAL has been engaged on an indigenously developed Light Utility Helicopter (HAL LUH), to finally substitute the Cheetahs and Chetaks within the Army and Air Force’s fleet. However, growth has been sluggish, with preliminary operational clearance obtained solely in 2020. Currently, HAL has been given permission to fabricate 12 LUH, with deliveries set to happen in 2024.

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