Russian experts summoned as IAF’s Sukhoi fleet still grounded

May 5th, 2009 - 8:05 pm ICT by IANS  

F-16 By Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, May 5 (IANS) The Indian Air Force (IAF) has summoned Russian experts to inspect its fleet of frontline Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat jets following the crash of one of the aircraft after a 12-year accident-free record. The fleet will remain grounded till the experts sound the all-clear, an official said Tuesday.

“Russian experts have been summoned to inspect the aircraft’s airframe and systems. Until then, the fleet will remain grounded,” an IAF officer told IANS, requesting anonymity.

The IAF grounded its fleet of approximately 55 Russian-origin Su-30s after one of the aircraft crashed last week. Generally, an entire fleet is not grounded if an aircraft of a particular type crashes. In the case of the Su-30, however, there have been “recurring complaints” by pilots about problems with the jet.

The grounding of the Su-30 fleet has given rise to the alarming possibility of “structural faults” with the aircraft.

In a blot on its otherwise unblemished record, a Su-30MKI crashed in Jaisalmer April 30, killing the co-pilot. The pilot, Wing Commander S.V. Munje, and the co-pilot, Wing Commander P.S. Narah, managed to bail out in time but Narah was killed after he was apparently hit by the falling debris of the aircraft.

“Contrary to reports that Narah died as his parachute failed to open, he was able to stream the parachute,” another official said, without elaborating.

Ironically, Narah belonged to the IAF’s Directorate General of Inspections and Safety and was putting the aircraft through its annual safety checks.

The aircraft had taken off from the Lohegaon air base in Pune on a routine sortie and crashed at 10.30 a.m. while returning to its base.

The IAF operates three squadrons of the jet, some of which were bought in a fly-away condition from its Russian manufacturer while the others were manufactured under license by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

It was not immediately clear to which of these categories the crashed jet belonged.

The Su-30 has won universal acclaim from the air forces of the US, Britain and France whenever it has been fielded against them in war games. Eight Su-30s had participated in the prestigious Red Flag exercise with the US Air Force at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, last year and had more than held their own against their counterparts’ F/A-18 and F-16 combat jets.

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