Design and development
The project began in 1991 as a collaboration with Russia (Myasishchev had a similar project called the Duet), but financial trouble led the Russians to drop out early in the project. The project almost came to a halt when it was hit by US-imposed sanctions in 1998, after India's nuclear tests in Pokhran.
While the designed empty weight of the aircraft is around 4,125 kg, the first prototype weighed in around 5,118 kg. This issue is sought to be addressed by including composite wings and tail by the third prototype. This also resulted in the originally chosen 850 hp PT6A-66 Pratt and Whitney engine being replaced by a 1,200 hp engine of the same PT6A family in the second prototype.
According to NAL, besides providing a higher lift, the new engine will also meet the more stringent FAR-25 climb gradient requirements under conditions of one engine failure. Apparently, the basic structure and the landing gear have enough margins to handle this increased all-up weight.
The second prototype (PT2) first flew on 20 April 2007. The third prototype is expected to fly by June 2009, with the modifications for weight reduction. The first prototype aircraft was on flying display at the 2005 Aero India airshow.
Saras is one of the few aircraft to make use of a pusher propeller configuration. The basic configuration resembles very closely the platform of the Embraer/FMA CBA 123 Vector which never went into production.
The initial certification plan will include the two prototypes ( to be flown by the Airborne Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) for a total period of 500 hours before certification from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Currently, work is progressing in all aspects towards building the weight optimized Production Standard Aircraft (PSA), with a targeted weight reduction of 500 kg. PSA is expected to have its first flight in the year 2009.
Saras-PT1 of the aircraft will be modified and converted to a Saras-PT3 by fitting the higher thrust Pratt and Whitney engines.
An extended version of Saras is planned. Commercial production of the aircraft is now expected by 2010.
The manufacturer has stated that the Indian Air Force intends to place an order for up to 45 aircraft.
Incidents and accidents
Air Crash of Saras-PT2
On March 6, 2009, 2 Indian Air Force test pilots, Wing Commander Praveen and Wing Commander Dipesh Shah along with a Flight Test Engineer Squadron Leader Ilayaraja, were killed when the second prototype Saras aircraft crashed and caught fire in an open field near Bidadi, about 30 km from Bangalore.The airframe of Saras-PT2 was built with lighter composites to reduce its overall weight by about 400 kg from its first prototype, which was overweight by about 900 kg. The aircraft is powered by two Canadian Pratt & Whitney turbo-prop engines.
Published in July 2009.
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