Monday, September 13, 2010

'Indian' Dhruv Helicopter Gets Italian Makeover

The Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) has been widely regarded as a triumph of indigenous military rotorcraft design and manufacturing. Scores of Dhruvs already flying in army colours will be joined by another 159, which the military ordered last year from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). And, Ecuador’s air force chose the Dhruv ALH in an international tender in 2008 for seven helicopters. But now it emerges that the Dhruv is struggling with a serious problem. The army, which was to be supplied 20 Dhruvs last year, refused to accept any until HAL fixed a problem that was restricting the Dhruv’s cruising speed to 250 kilometers per hour, significantly short of the 270 kmph that HAL specifications promise. Unable to find a cure, HAL has brought in a consultant: Italian aerospace propulsion major, Avio.

India’s military sets high store by the Dhruv’s engine power; the helicopter must operate from tiny landing grounds at 6,500 meters (about 21,000 feet), which is the altitude of Sonam Post, India’s highest helipad on the Siachen Glacier. But even after paying French engine-maker, Turbomeca, Rs 1,000 crore to design the Shakti engine —- a superb performer at high altitudes —- the Dhruv’s Integrated Dynamic System, or IDS, which transfers power from the Shakti engines to the helicopter rotors, is not performing optimally. The Italian consultants will now scrutinise the Dhruv’s IDS to diagnose the problem.

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