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Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) HJT-36 Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT) program seems poised for a breakthrough. After years of delays, the aircraft is expected to receive final clearance later this year, paving the way for user trials and potential production.

The HJT-36, designed to replace the IAF’s ageing HJT-16 Kiran as a Stage-II trainer, faced a major hurdle when it initially failed spin tests in 2017. These tests, crucial for pilot safety, deemed the aircraft unsuitable for maneuvers rookie pilots might attempt, potentially leading to unrecoverable situations.

Determined to revive the program, HAL implemented modifications to the tail and rear fuselage sections of the HJT-36 to address the spin test issues. These changes, along with the inevitable passage of time, necessitated upgrades to the aircraft’s avionics suite. This, in turn, required a whole new round of certification.

According to sources at HAL to, the major roadblocks have been overcome. Only a handful of developmental tests remain, and officials are confident of completing them soon. This successful conclusion of the flight test program would then allow the HJT-36 to proceed to user trials with the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Assuming successful user trials, HAL anticipates clearance for production of the HJT-36. The IAF, which has been looking to replace its ageing Kiran fleet, has reportedly shown continued interest. Sources suggest that the IAF could place orders for up to 70 units once the aircraft is ready for production.

The potential induction of the HJT-36 would be a significant development for India’s indigenous defence program. Not only would it provide the IAF with a modern trainer aircraft, but it would also showcase HAL’s ability to overcome technical challenges and deliver on complex projects.

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