Damning New Light On What Caused 2 HAL Dhruv Crashes, Nasty IAF-HAL Spat Detailed

A disturbing spat between the IAF and HAL has been detailed in a new public document, possibly for the first time shedding light on the true quality of the relationship that the two share. Let's start with the crux. A new report by India's national audit watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) has thrown fresh and damning light on how HAL dealt with a flight control phenomenon that has given its chopper division real nightmares over the last few years -- cyclic saturation. The phenomenon caused two crashes of the Dhruv -- the first, in February 2007 at Yelahanka and the second in October 2009 in Ecuador. Troublingly, the report reveals, it was this "limitation of control saturation" that caused Chile to pull out of a near final contract in July 2007.

Now, the really damning stuff. Revealed in the report, for the first time, is how the Indian Air Force reacted to the February 2007 crash, in which it lost two helicopter display pilots. According to the report, the IAF observed that (i) HAL has referred to this problem in the flight manual which is brief and lacks clarity; (ii) HAL has been reluctant to address this problem in totality as it feared disruption of ALH production process; (iii) This approach of HAL to safeguard its business even at the cost of a professional approach to solving the problem has serious flight safety and operational implications for the Indian Air Force (v) HAL, as an industry, has rarely looked to exploiting its aircraft. It has always focused on the captive Indian Air Force for its assured market."

That's the stuff you only hear about over beer with pilots. But here it is, utterly like it is. Well, HAL had its own input of course. It told the auditor "Control saturation is not a design deficiency but is a phenomenon that can occur during extreme manoeuvres. The precautionary notes and adequate cautions are part of the flight manual. [We are] in the process of incorporating control saturation warning system."

The auditor concludes, "HAL's reply leaves a doubt about the effective measures it has taken on the control saturation issue and the reaction of the customers will be known only on the field experience of the ALH to be supplied from the pending orders."

Of course, the CAG had to reiterate the fact that the Dhruv is 90% foreign in value terms. And add to all of this, HAL's helicopter complex chief has pushed off on leave -- rumour has it, he's being shunted out.

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