EXCLUSIVE: India's Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA-70)

The photograph you see to the right is the first real glimpse of how India's National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) envisages its ambitious RTA-70, a national regional transport aircraft programme that's been strictly on paper for almost a decade now, but announced formally last year. In 1996, then Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda (in between yawns, no doubt) said in his speech during Aero India that his government had given the scientific establishment the task of developing a 50-seater turboprop airliner and a 100-seat jet airliner. These visions changed somewhat, and the current government, in its first stint in power sanctioned the development of a 70-110 seat civilian airliner for the Indian market. While the money has already begun to flow into the programme, so far only preliminary conceptual studies have been carried out on the RTA-70 pictured above. These studies, according to NAL, include "computational fluid dynamics, wind tunnel studies and multidisciplinary design optimisation (MDO) studies".

NAL is developing the RTA-70 as a platform "capable of reliable and safe operation from airports with minimal infrastructure and instrumentation facility under all-weather conditions." It is not yet clear if the RTA-70 will also be spun off into a military variant for transport and special operations. Remember, HAL (which is a development partner to NAL for the RTA-70) is also steeped in build studies for the Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) that it is developing in a joint venture with Ilyushin of Russia.

In May 2008, it was decided that technologies required the programme included a laminar flow wing, hydrophobic coatings, use of low cost composites, fly-by-wire controls, advanced avionics that will enable use of ill-equipped airfields and integrated vehicle health monitoring. Pratt & Whitney engines have almost been finalised for the platform.

On the airframe, structural technologies identified as crucial included use of piezo and SMA related smart materials for flutter and gust control, structural topology, structural health monitoring (SHM) and low cost materials. Architectures for avionics, active noise control systems flight control systems (fly by wire) and synthetic vision were additionally identified. Structural health monitoring, in fact, is being developed as a core technology of the RTA-70.

The RTA-70 will be developed and built using extensive private sector participation, and NAL is understood to also be hunting for a foreign collaborator. When ready, the RTA-70's makers envisage it as having about a 35% lower flyaway and ownership cost than aircraft it will ultimately be pitched against, those manufactured by Embraer, Bombardier and ATR.

The first prototype is expected to fly in 2013.

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