Hyderabad: The Indian Air Force losing two test pilots, Squadron Leaders Samir Abrol and Siddhartha Negi, in a Mirage 2000 crash at the HAL (Hindustran Aeronautics Ltd) airfield in Bengaluru last week is equivalent to losing a strategic asset, say defence experts, as a test pilot has in-depth insight into the engineering and functioning of the aircraft. During the last three years, 35 defence aircraft, including 11 helicopters, have crashed resulting in the death of 14 pilots. The crashes have been due to technical defect, maintenance failure or pilot error.
The Indian Air Force has a sizable number of test pilots being trained at the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment in Bengaluru.
A retired Group Captain, explaining the critical role played by test pilots, said, “A highly skilled fighter pilot who has large experience in flying and operations undergoes a year-long course to become a test pilot. The training is intensive, it involves flying, theory and one needs to invest hours to become a test pilot.”
He said that until 1977, pilots were sent to the US and France for the course. Towards the end of 1977, India started its own course.
“The course involves 3-4 streams from engineering, mechanical to flying who support the entire process of re-constructing or upgrading an aircraft to its acceptance in the IAF,” he said.
A test pilot works closely with aircraft designers and pilots. “He or she takes responsibility of informing the makers of what safety measures the pilots require. Losing a test pilot is as good as losing a strategic asset,” the retired Group Captain said.
The Mirage was inducted into the IAF about 30 years ago. Any aircraft that is refurbished or reconstructed must be tested before its acceptance into the IAF.
A test pilot has a risky job. “A test pilot evaluates or checks the operation of aircraft in the air. They are first to handle a critical emergency. He/she is the expert; there is nobody beyond a test pilot,” he said.
Squadron Leaders Abrol and Negi were said to be checking the radar performance of the aircraft when it crashed. It is said pilots from HAL flew the aircraft six times earlier before handing it over to the IAF....