Mirage 2000 air crash
Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft after it crashed in Bengaluru | PTI
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Flight testing crew are a national resource and trying to exact mileage out of the accident, replaying the Modi-RaGa-Rafale scam-mongering, will be a disservice to the pilots who died in the crash.

What we know

An Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage 2000 crashed during takeoff on 1st Feb 2019 at about 1030 AM IST. The aircraft was under acceptance test flight after an upgrade program. Sources indicate that state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was involved in deliverance of the upgrade. This was the second or third acceptance sortie.

Test pilots manning the ill-fated flight, Sqn Ldr Samir Abrol and Sqn Ldr Siddhartha Negi, both alumni of the 40th Flight Test Course (FTC) from Air Force Test Pilots School, Aircraft & Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE), IAF, Bengaluru perished in the crash. They leave behind families (and testers like me) who are still coming to terms with the terrible tragedy. The IAF and ASTE are doing their best to assist the bereaved while an investigation is underway.


Also read: For the record, Rahul Gandhi, HAL did not make Mirage 2000


What sources reveal

The aircraft was on a test flight in ‘heavy’ configuration with drop tanks. Soon after unstick (high speed, when the aircraft lifts off from the runway), there has been some event which forced the aircraft back onto the runway. There is no such thing as a safe ‘Reject Takeoff’ after unstick. So the TPs must have had to make split-second decisions – something crew of that Mirage were well trained to do. The main landing gear (MLG) reportedly collapsed on impact and the aircraft careened on the runway till it tore through the arrester barrier at other end of the runway.

As per reports, the aircraft skidded on its belly/drop-tanks, maintaining almost centreline alignment till barrier engagement at the opposite dumbell. This is not surprising. Test pilots don’t earn their graduation badges easy. They are top-of-the-game aviators. Samir and Siddharth were just seven months into their TP career. Freshly-minted but with more than adequate experience and apex skills that differentiate boys from men.

What can be inferred

News reports and official press releases indicate that both pilots ejected. They seem to have ejected after going through the arrester barrier. That’s a significant detail. Arrester barriers are terrible speed breakers; there for a reason.

At least one of them (Sqn Ldr Siddharth Negi, as per sources) landed on the flaming debris with his parachute. Sqn Ldr Samir Abrol also touched down within the explosion zone of the aircraft that went up in flames. This indicates ejection at slow speed, possibly after barrier engagement when momentum of the ill-fated aircraft was dissipated to a large extent. It is not clear whether any SGA (Soft Ground Arrester) or clearway helped break the aircraft momentum.

Any premature inferences pointing towards “pilots ejected but landed on the flaming debris and died” must be treated with circumspection. Pilots ejecting out of a Mirage 2000 careening at over 200 kmph with a ‘zero-zero’ ejection seat cannot accurately rendezvous the flaming debris unless certain conditions, not in their control, are met. This the Court of Inquiry already underway will hopefully unearth.

As per accepted protocol, any aircraft out of upgrade/modernisation has to be first test flown by OEM/HAL test pilots. Only after they are completely satisfied is the aircraft offered for ASTE acceptance. Standing watch between these processes are many watch dogs who must answer for the crash that claimed national resources (CRE/CRI/RCMA/CEMILAC). There is no room for complacency. Remember, there have been precedences (Saras, ”idly Avro’, IJT, etc.)


Also read: Mirage jet crash after upgrade raises serious questions on HAL ability


What next

An investigation is underway. ASTE functions under protocols widely different from frontline squadrons. Flight testing is inherently risky, made no easier by agencies who have scant regard for safety and human lives. We must await the results turned out by the CoI.

Meanwhile, please do not get misled by tweets and trolls who try to exact mileage out of this unfortunate accident, replaying the Modi-RaGa-Rafale scam-mongering. That will be the biggest disservice to Samir and Siddharth – two young test pilots who laid down their lives struggling with legacy equipment, and a recalcitrant establishment who have their eyes on votes and tweets more than the real stuff that ails our armed forces today.

Test crew are a national resource. Don’t reduce them or the organizations they represent to the denomination of your petty political squabbles and Twitter wars. As a nation, we need to move on from scam-mongering to a more inspirational & scientifically-informed dialogue in aerospace.

We are just two weeks away from Aero India 2019. Walk the talk. Let science, analyses and thorough investigation prevail. That’s the best tribute you can pay these fallen air warriors.

Blue skies, Sam & Sid. We will never forget your sacrifice.

Cdr KP Sanjeev Kumar is a former navy test pilot and alumnus of Air Force Test Pilots School, ASTE. He has flown over 4000h on 24 types of aircraft and helicopters. He calls himself ‘full-time aviator, part-time writer’ and blogs at www.kaypius.com

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10 Comments Share Your Views

10 COMMENTS

  1. Rahul Gandhi is being blamed because he was, in order to oppose good deal just to oppose Modi, wanted Dasult to choose HAL so that IAF never gets fighter plane or get such kind of product. Just to oppose Modi he has no respect for life of pilots or for that matter our country India.

    • This is a tragic accident and RIP for the crew.
      The sad part is trying to draw political mileage out of this accident and worst is idiots including press drawing conclusions without ioata of knowledge on fighter aircraft or procedures. The Airfore has initiated board of enquiry as per established and proven procedure and let them come out with the report. Merely blaming the HAL for political reasons is not correct. Refurbishing a 30 year old aircraft us not a joke. When seven other aircraft have been successfully refurbished and handed back to Air Force this is odd incident. Let the BOE come out with report and take stringent action on anyone found to be accountable.

  2. Which are these ‘agencies who have scant regard for safety and human lives’? The ppl incharge of safety protocols are invariably ex military aviators. It’s sad to see this unfortunate accident taking the colour of politics like everything these days. No matter how deeply disturbed we may be by the loss of our colleagues. continuing to do what we do constitutes the best tribute to our friends and colleagues who led the way.

  3. As an Ex- Jwo, my heart bleeds for the brave Sid and Sam who laid their lives in duty to meet requirement for testing the Aircraft. May their souls rest in peace.
    My heart felt condolences to the grieving families of Side Sam. I salute them from my heart.

  4. Pathetic Cdr Sanjeev. He is a pseudo. Not a Officer. Have a heart you moron. They were murdered in a 30 yr old craft upgraded by HAL.

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