By PM Velankar .”velu”
As Anandeep Pannu says it was excellent recap on Ajeet development by Wg Cdr J Thomas . Being a first hand account it is of immense value ! Even if it is , as he says ” involved only on the periphery. ”
I was lucky to have flown Gnat as well as Ajeet . Unfortunately all the 31 odd hours I flew on the Ajeet were Flight Test sorties . These 31 odd hours were spread over a period of almost 7 years between 1977 and 1984 . 19 odd hours in 1977 – 78 on post production aircraft at HAL and the remaining 12 odd hours between 1979 – 84 on storage aircraft at Sulur . The flying was very thinly spread out , about 4 odd hours in a year . As all sorties were Flight Test sorties , never did any tactical , formation , armament work, High or Low Level navs or any “squadron flying ” , I am therefore not in a position to comment on steinemenns remark that “the Ajeet range performance was disappointing” .
My first sortie on Ajeet was a post production Flight Test sortie in HAL . I will not go in to the details of changes in various test parameters , between the Gnat & the Ajeet . I will rather give couple of things which made lasting impression on me during that first sortie .
After start up and switching ON of the R/T , what took me by surprise was the total SILENCE . Even the hum of running engine was not audible ! I blew in the mike but did not hear any thing . Called up “testing 123 ” etc , same silence ! Pressed the PTT and again said ” testing 123 ” , this time I heard myself and so did every one else listening on that R/T channel because the next thing I hear was Bangalore ATC saying ” aircraft giving test call we read you strength 5 , please give your call sign .” Thus I made my first discovery which left a lasting impression . It was that ” The feed from the mike to the ear phones was completed only when the PTT was pressed ” . In Ajeet one could not hear himself speak unless PTT was pressed . That being my first sortie on Ajeet , I was briefed on air test , but this particular aspect did not figure in the briefing .
In all the aircraft I had flown till then , the moment R/T was switched on all the sound inputs of the mike were fed to the earphones and the pilot could hear himself talk .Every pilot , particularly a fighter pilot speaks to the aircraft and himself to get that extra bit from the aircraft or from himself . I do not think there is even a single fighter pilot who has not cursed , shouted or egged himself on and on in a combat sortie . These verbal urgings and hearing yourself cursing loud and clear , almost always extracted that additional couple of “g”s or tightened the turn by that little bit more . Cajoling and coaxing the aircraft in low speed scissoring or in a dicey situation always worked and the aircraft did respond at speeds 05 Kts 10 Kts lower than to what you had operated in the earlier sortie ! I consider this a most desirable characteristic in an aircraft . Even the engine humming and the noise of rush of the air around the aircraft has always been good auditory input for a pilot .In fact I felt that in case of engine flame out , the loss of engine sound was the first indication the pilot got , even before he could confirm , albeit almost at the same time , the same from the engine instruments . Alas in Ajeet this important input was missing . According to me this was an undesirable trait , While at Sulur I had taken up this aspect with Maintenance Command and Air Hq. I am not aware if any action was taken .
Would like to know what seasoned Ajeet pilots felt about this particular aspect .
Another thing to leave lasting impression happened on the landing run . Ajeet had totally different brake system than the Gnat , except that both were toe operated there was nothing common . When the brakes are applied , toe pressure on both the brakes is more or less equal . In the Gnat , this more or less did not make much of a difference , the pilot by varying the toe pressures could manage to keep the aircraft straight and under control . . This more or less equal business did not work in Ajeet . If the toe pressure was more on one side , the wing on that side went down . So one tried to vary the toe pressure by reducing it on that side and increasing it on the other side , this would make the other wing go down !! I called it “wing rocking ” on the landing run . The amplitude would keep on increasing UNLESS the toes were totally removed from the brakes and the the brakes were reapplied . This obviously would result in increased landing run !!! Not a happy state if you were operating from 1700 yards runway and doing one odd sortie in a blue moon . May be with experience one avoided this “wing rocking” but with my limited experience and very widely spaced sorties I could not manage to eliminate it completely .
Ajeet was developed from the Gnat and though the outward appearance was same with lots and lots of commonality , with my experience I felt that Ajeet and Gnat aircraft were as different as chalk and cheese . They were two different aircraft altogether .
I do not think I would have fallen in love with Ajeet the way I did with Gnat even if I had managed to pile up as many hours on Ajeet as I had on The Gnat (750 +)