Former Raksha Mantri George Fernandes with Wing Commander Rajiv Kothiyal after first flight of LCA TD-1

4 January 2001. Team engineers and technicians had started arriving at HAL airport at 5.30 am, many of them had barely slept that night many came with a feeling that was a strange mixture of anticipation, confidence, and fear of the unknown. Technology Demonstrator-1 (TD-1) had completed its pre-flight tests by 6.30 am and by 8 am pilots of two chase Mirage-2000 aircraft had started arriving for preflight briefings and by 9.45 am, Wing Commander Rajiv Kothiyal test pilot was already in the TD-1 Cockpit waiting for ATC to give clearance for the first flight.

At 10.18 am, India made history when TD-1 finally took off the main runway while landing gears as precaution still sticking out and after 18 minutes of flying around TD-1 had landed back safely on ground by 10.36 am. thus start of a long process of developmental and flight testing flight trials had begin that had to be followed over 20 years since then.

After 8 Pre-Production, 6 Prototypes, 2 Naval TDs, and 2 Technology Demonstrator aircraft, the LCA-Tejas program has completed 5000 test accident-free flight tests successfully and has achieved Final Operation Clearance (FOC) for its Tejas Mk1 program and first Squadron already being inducted in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and second Squadron formation already taking place and to be established by end of 2021.

Phase-II upgrade of the Mk-1A already is in progress and soon deal for 83 jets is likely to be inked this year that will see a host of further improvements in the jets, so that it stays technologically relevant for the next two decades to come. HAL has promised a production rate of 20 jets per annum when it enters production in 2023-24 and most of the outsourcing of supply lines already been done to the private players in the aerospace companies, HAL is moving away from the role of as a manufacture to the lead integrator in the LCA-Tejas program.

It is expected that by 2028, the LCA-Tejas production line will come to an end,27 years after its first flight. unless it can bag some more orders from the airforce or gets an international client for the jet. HAL plans to develop Twin seater LCA-LIFT to be used as an advanced pilot training aircraft after BAe Hawk AJT Stage post-development of the Mk-1A jets and ADA also has been fiddling with ideas of Unmanned LCA-Tejas jet to be used as Technology demonstrator for the Unmanned Combat aircraft in near future but it won’t be new built instead it will be based on LSP aircraft that’s available with the company.

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