The test pilot who made the Navy’s first LCA landing on an aircraft carrier talks about the fighter program

Commodore Jaideep Maolankar, who made the first landing of the naval version of the light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas (referred to as LCA Navy) on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya in January 2020, discussed in detail his experience at course of the program in a multi-part conversation on the Blue Skies podcast.

Maolankar, who served as chief test pilot of the National Flight Test Center, was commissioned into the Navy in 1985, selected and trained as a naval aviator in 1987, and became a test pilot, graduating from the Indian Air Force Test Pilot School in Bangalore in 1994.

Commodore Maolankar’s first contact with the Navy LCA program began when a “big massive document” related to the project landed on his table.

“I was made to write the Navy’s comments on [the project]. It was my first interaction with the LCA Navy,” Maolankar said in a chat with PR Ganapathy, the host of the Blue Skies podcast.

“So around 2005 I was pretty much done with my mandatory QRs as a commander in the navy…So that’s about the time they start taking you out for surrendering to the navy and making you do So all the fun work is over, and now the hard work begins… And I kind of kept in touch with the trail of the evolution of ACV and the little news that came out once in a while but it was pretty much scared to death of being stuck behind a desk that’s when that’s about when we got asked the NFTC to begin providing input and feedback for the LCA Navy program,” he says.

“Ambitious, but a recipe for failure”

Speaking of the Navy LCA, Maolankar says the plan was to piggyback on the work done for the Air Force version of the LCA.

“So the basic concept of the LCA Navy program was that, building on the efforts and investments that were made in Air Force Tejas, they would attempt to build a carrier-based aircraft. Now when I say it like that now it sounds, you can see everyone rolling their eyes straight away,” Maolankar says, adding, “The LCA program itself was an extremely ambitious program. in the package of a final finished product…So as is, very ambitious.Now on top of that you add carrier shipping to it and actually that’s a recipe for failure.

Maolankar says the LCA Navy program has been disadvantaged by the need to limit changes when converting the fighter designed for the Air Force to one for transport operations.

“Because it was defined as a piggyback program, there was a need to minimize the magnitude of the changes. So generally, even when you take a land plane and you do it carrier-based, you usually end up with bigger wings because you’re trying to reduce the approach speed Now here the wing itself was a very big investment in the design and all the wind tunnel work and all the data that was created, et cetera, the layup work of the carbon fiber, the structural work that is associated with the wing, so you couldn’t touch the wing, for example,” he says.

“So you can see how very quickly we pile on the constraints and still maintain an expectation of the lightest fighter in the world, multi-role, carrier-based. Ambitious, clearly, clearly, very ambitious,” he adds.

“First Derby Live”

Maolankar participated in the integration of the Derby missile on the LCA.

When we did the first live Derby, I was a safety pilot. I planned the outing and I monitored and controlled the outing. The Derby, I knew it best because I had done the Derby on the Sea Harrier. So I was more familiar with the Derby systems, et cetera. So I had put a lot of effort into integrating the Derby on the ACL as well. It was actually a low hanging fruit for the ACL program because Derby was already familiar to us from LUSH,” he says.

“Derby had already been specified for LCA Navy by the Navy, because they wanted to have a slightly lighter BVR compared to, say, Astra. LCA Navy reports loads on the carrier, et cetera. So they said , why not Derby “So Derby had been specified for LCA Navy. So ADA had already committed to doing a Derby integration on an ACL, which kind of makes sense. Why not for the Air Force as well. And you will get a fast, very fast and easy in the same original plan cost, you also have BVR capability for Air Force plane. That’s how the Derby of the Thing happened,” adds Maolankar.

“A Chance to Fight”

When asked if the Tejas would give a reasonably trained pilot a fair fighting chance in combat, Maolankar said the platform was better than many currently in service, including frontline duty.

“You have a fighting chance. You are certainly better than many of the many current rigs that are in service, that we are putting in place, that are still in front line service. There is no doubt that this “A big step forward from there. Does it give you enough capability to make tactics and training the deciding factors? Definitely,” Maolankar said.

“That there should be no doubt that the best part of it all is that if you identify a weakness, you have all the tools and resources at your fingertips to be able to overcome it, maybe even in a few days, if need be, during a conflict itself. You have the potential to be able to overcome a deficiency if you feel the need to, which is not true with,” he added.

Ganapathy’s two-part hour-long conversation with Maolankar is available on the Blue Skies Podcast website and on their YouTube channel.

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