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The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of India received initial operational clearance (IOC) on Feb. 7, 2020, during the DefExpo at Lucknow, India. This paves the way for the integration of mission equipment and series production of the helicopter.
And while the single-engine LUH is getting set for its military debut, highly-placed sources at HAL indicate the company plans to position the LUH for civil applications, too.
The LUH is HAL’s latest rotary product after the light twin Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). The three-ton helicopter incorporates a glass cockpit, dual controls and a single Safran Ardiden 1U1 turboshaft engine. As of January 2020, three LUH prototypes have logged over 550 flights under various environmental conditions.
The Indian forces’ requirement to operate from sea level to helipads at over 20,000 feet imposes unique challenges on rotorcraft. Successive models of light helicopters from HAL’s stable have targeted such requirements through collaboration and in-house development.
The LUH forms part of the Indian army and air force’s long-standing need for 394 light helicopters to replace ageing Cheetahs (Lama) and Chetaks (Alouette III). Of these, 187 would be the LUH (126 for the army & 61 for the air force). The remainder of the aircraft are expected to arrive through an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for 197 Ka-226T helicopters, to be manufactured by Indo-Russian Helicopters Limited (IRHL) – a HAL-Russian Helicopters joint venture company.
But the military market may just be the beginning of the LUH’s penetration in India. A video shared on Twitter quotes Unni Pillai, HAL’s chief test pilot, as saying “it (LUH) is a military aircraft right now, but it’ll be in the civil variant soon.”
The statement, made during the Defexpo, has been corroborated by senior HAL officials. Coming soon after IOC, it indicates HAL’s willingness to engage with civil customers, possibly eyeing a market outside the armed forces.
A senior member of the LUH design team, who asked for their name to be withheld, said HAL is expecting to deliver over 600 LUHs within the civil sector. The customers would be Indian “to start with,” and the target sectors are tourism, air ambulance, and utility, while the six to seven-seater aircraft can also be configured as a four-seater VIP helicopter.
“Civil certification is being progressed concurrently,” the source said, adding that the Indian regulator, DGCA, has been looped in throughout the military certification process.
“HAL aims to meet all civil certification requirements within next 4-5 years,” they added. “EASA [European Aviation Safety Agency] certification is expected to take another eight months from receipt of civil certification from DGCA.”