The Indian Air Force’s workhorse and oldest helicopter, the Chetak, will celebrate its diamond jubilee at Hakimpet Air Force Station near Secunderabad on April 2 and 3, according to authorities familiar with the subject.
In 1962, the IAF received the Aloutte III helicopters from France. The first license-produced Chetak (Aloutte III) was delivered to the IAF in 1965 by state-run aircraft manufacturer HAL.
According to a second official, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari will attend the Hakimpet celebration. According to a third official, HAL delivered the last Chetak helicopter to the air force in March 2021.
The Chetak is a two-tonne helicopter with a range of 500 kilometres and a top speed of 185 kilometres per hour. Seven people, including two pilots, can be transported in the single-engine helicopter.
The Chetak is used by all three services, as well as the coast guard, and has been the military’s workhorse for decades, but its safety record has come under investigation following a series of recent crashes.
It, along with the army’s and air force’s Cheetah helicopter fleets, is now due for replacement. In the last 10 to 12 years, some 15 Chetak and Cheetah helicopters have crashed, killing numerous pilots.
In India’s aviation history, the Chetak holds a significant place. According to Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), former additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies, it has been used for training pilots at HTS and has been the backbone of the services’ rotary wing fleets as well as civil aviation.
“The Chetak has flown VIPs, military operations, casualty evacuations, and relief flights.” It’s simple to fly and maintain, and it’s a pilot’s favourite because of its versatility. It’s time to retire it gracefully after 60 years and replace it with a more modern vehicle like the light utility helicopter (LUH),” Bahadur remarked.
According to the first official, the Chetak’s design and compactness have made it the platform of choice for landing in confined regions in various terrains and on warships. The official added, “It has also proven a reliable basic trainer for inexperienced helicopter pilots of the services.”
The indigenous LUH will be used to replace the Chetaks and Cheetahs in India. HAL has set August 2022 as the timeframe for the maiden test flight of the first chopper in the LUH limited series manufacturing after completing rigorous flight testing of prototype helicopters under demanding conditions.
The Defence Acquisition Council of India approved a $7,965 crore purchase of locally built military gear, including 12 LUH for the army and air force, in November. In the next years, HAL anticipates the army and the IAF to place joint orders for at least 187 light helicopters — 126 for the army and 61 for the IAF.
Chetak and Cheetah helicopters are currently a vital lifeline for troops in high-altitude places, such as the Siachen glacier. HAL has produced 625 Chetak and Cheetah choppers under licence.