Showcasing its long-range capabilities, the Indian Air Force (IAF) flew Tejas Mk-1 jets close to 1,400 kilometres in a single hop from India to Al-Maktoum International Airport to participate in the Dubai Air Show.
This impressive display of long-range capability, positions the Tejas favorably for potential export opportunities.
Group Captain Dinesh 'Danny' Dhankhar, the commanding officer of the No. 18 Squadron 'Flying Bullets,' of which the Tejas jets that participated in the airshow belong, shared insights into the capabilities of the Tejas jets during an interview.
Group Captain Dhankhar revealed that the Tejas, with three drop tanks, is able to fly a maximum distance of more than 900 miles or 1450 kilometres.
He said for this airshow, the squadron flew to Al Maktoum International airport, a distance of 850 miles (1,368 km) directly, without needing any air refueling.
This is significant since concerns were raised in various quarters about its maximum strike range owing to its small size. Notably, Tejas is the smallest single-engine jet in the world, in its class, measuring only 13.2 meters in length, with an 8.2-meter wingspan and 4.4 meters in height.
Asked about the Tejas flying capabilities, Dhankhar said that Tejas is by design a highly lethal aircraft and has very nimble flying characteristics and take-off performance.
Expanding on its take-off performance, he said that the Tejas is capable of taking off from runways of 1,400 to 1,500 feet (457 to 609 meters) in length, which is the shortest in its class.
Indigenously Developed Fly-By-Wire (FBW) System
He added, "We are here to showcase its high rate of turn capability, as well as its high rate of climb performance."
The Group Captain credits its relaxed static stability and the indigenously designed fly-by-wire (FBW) controls for making the aircraft highly maneuverable and agile.
It is worth noting that the indigenously developed FBW software system so advanced that when it was tested in the United States on the F-16 Variable In-Flight Stability Test Aircraft (VISTA) testbed, it actually performed better in some flight regimes than with the F-16's own FBW software.
India indigenously started the development of the FBW system in the early to mid-90s. In 1992, India set up a dedicated National Control Law (CLAW) team under the National Aeronautics Laboratories (NAL) to develop the FBW software.
Since this type of futuristic control system had never been developed in India, and there were no simulators in India, the project team approached the United States weapons major 'Lockheed Martin' for design consultancy and testing.
However, India was sanctioned by the US following the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998. This stopped the cooperation altogether. The Indian scientists, on the other hand, were able to develop the FBW system without any foreign help.
Finally, when the sanctions were lifted in 2001, and the FBW system was tested on the F-16 VISTA testbed, it was highly praised.
All the pilots who flew the F-16 testbed with Indian FBW praised the system, reportedly saying that the F-16 flew better than with its original control law in some flight regimes.
Tejas Jet Engines High Thrust
Dhankhar also states that the Tejas is capable of high rate of turn, as well as, its excess reserve of thrust makes it capable of undertaking high rate of climb.
The high thrust is provided by US-made General Electric (GE) F-404 IN20 jet engine, providing close to 85 kn of thurst.
Its aerodynamic design and compound delta platform with carefree handling provided by the engine make the aircraft capable of undertaking a high rate of roll even at lower speeds, he adds.
When asked about the man-machine interface of the aircraft, Group Captain Dhankhar states, "When it comes to man-machine interface, I think this is one of the best platforms."
"Initially when we inducted aircrew from Mig-21 background, we were thinking that they are going to take extra effort or extra time to settle down on the aircraft, but to our surprise, we realised that no extra effort was required. That was thanks to the man-machine interface" of the aircraft, the Group Captain states.
"We realised that the systems replicated as such on the multi-function display (MFD) in the cockpit, it's a fully glass cockpit, and it is very easy to decipher all the systems of the aircraft," he adds
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