Why India's Hansa-NG trainer aircraft loses out to global competition

Despite its shortcomings, Hansa-NG is important because it marks India's entry into trainer aircraft manufacture

Why India's Hansa-NG trainer aircraft loses out to global competition
The Hansa-NG trainer aircraft. Image courtesy: NAL

India has rolled out the much-awaited single-engine basic trainer aircraft to meet the requirements of training pilots who would graduate to become airline pilots. Hansa-NG (Next Generation) is India’s first all-composite light aircraft designed and developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Aerospace Laboratories (CSIR-NAL) -- a government organisation -- in partnership with Mesco Aerospace, ideally suited for ab-initio flying training, sport and hobby flying. 

With this aim, the new generation Hansa-3 is equipped with a glass cockpit, capable of instruments-only flying, an electrically-operated flap system and an imported ROTAX 912iSc engine which develops a continuous power of 98 bhp.

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The aircraft structure uses the Just-in-time prepregs (JIPREGS) composite, a NAL technology. This Computer Controlled Fabric Impregnation Machine (CCFIM) replaces the cumbersome manual resin impregnation processes ridden with drawbacks like non-uniform wetting of fabrics, weave distortions and poor quality of impregnation due to their dependence on human skills. It further protects the workers from occupational hazards, also rendering the composite product development both eco-friendly and cost-effective.

Tardy aircraft performance

While India rolled out Hansa-NG, a Belgium-based aircraft manufacturer Sonaca rolled out Sonaca-200 about the same time. There is a remarkable similarity in the looks of the two aircraft but the performance of the two is what separates the men from the boys. The table below provides the differences in aircraft performance:

The verdict

Hansa-NG is a good platform aircraft model to build a world-class trainer aircraft. The comparison with Sonaca makes it clear that a lot of ground still needs to be covered before Hansa's performance matches those of the competitors. Hansa is clearly not a revolutionary piece in itself but a ray of hope that someday India, with private partnership, could produce aircraft to fulfil her need for a modern, fuel-efficient civil passenger aircraft.

The simple comparison raises a few issues. Sonaca boasts of a rigid aluminium body that can take up to 6g load. Hansa uses a composite structure which should make the aircraft lighter. On the contrary, Hansa is 60kg heavier than Sonaca and carries 60kg lesser payload.

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To ensure the safety and longevity of the aircraft, Sonaca has chosen to use proven technologies. The all-metal riveted structure provides a strong frame that is easy to repair in case of damage, a popular feature among flying schools and flying clubs.

All the dimensioning is based on advanced digital simulations that the Sonaca group has used for many years to calculate and dimension the components of aircraft structures such as those of Airbus, Embraer, Boeing, Dassault commercial aircraft.

The Hansa glass cockpit (left) and the Sonaca-200 GARMIN glass cockpit.

Hansa is bigger in terms of dimensions, almost a metre in wingspan and 0.6m in length. The fuel-carrying capacity in the wings despite the bigger wingspan is lesser by 45 litres and it has a reduced range of 289km. 

The Sonaca is rugged and capable of landing on unpaved surfaces, can pull higher G-force and fly for almost seven hours. The GARMIN glass cockpit, which is a world-class piece of equipment, gives it the edge.

All in all, the NAL-Mesco joint venture has addressed India's failure so far to produce a trainer aircraft despite the nation's advances in space technology and aeronautics. However, the design and performance of the aircraft leave much to be desired.

(This article first appeared in avobanter.com)