HAL-748s: Indian Budgies
AV Roe and Company (shortened to Avro) re-entered the civilian market during the late 1950s, given the uncertainty at the time surrounding the future of manned military aircraft. It decided to look into a replacement type for the still common fleets of DC-3s that were then approaching the end of their usefulness as front-line airliners. Avro was hardly alone in this enterprise and was competing against among others Fokker and Fairchild's F27/F-27 and the Handley Page Herald, as well as piston engined Convair CV-440s. To distinguish itself Avro focused on a rugged aircraft built for short field operations in remote regions with limited support capabilities. Thus the Avro (late Hawker Siddeley) 748 was born. Later it gained the nickname of the 'Budgie'.
The HS-748 sold well but in parallel with development of the primary short-haul regional aircraft India had also taken an interest in the type. This was largely down to Harjinder Singh who had managed to rise to the position of Air Vice Marshal with the Indian Air Force from the lowly rank of Hawai Sepoy (Air Soldier). Singh had been instrumental in the design of several aircraft which had nonetheless been beaten into operation by Hindustan designs. Frustrated he decided to think big and look for a license built aircraft which could be used to replace the DC-3 with the Air Force. The Avro 748 beat out the unfavoured Herald and the Fokker F27, the latter requiring air-conditioned hangars due to its construction.
Negotiations proceeded quickly and impressively the first Avro 748 assembled in India was ready only weeks after the 2nd prototype had flown in the UK. The first flight of the Indian 748 took place on November 1, 1961 and on November 26 the new type was christened by none other than the Indian Prime Minister Panditr Jawahar Lal Nehru. He wanted to fly in the new plane but given that it was only just being tested he was turned down. This was probably just as well as the early 748 suffered from pressurisation issues that saw this aircraft lose a door at 6,200 ft during testing!
Initially four aircraft were assembled from parts supplied by Avro at the IAF Aircraft Manufacturing Depot at Chakeri, Kanpur but following this license production was switched to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. All the aircraft made by Hindustan were known as HAL-748s and were of the improved Series 2 version with a higher MTOW and higher performance Rolls-Royce Dart Mk531 engines. Over a period of nearly 20 years from November 1965 61 aircraft were built for the Indian Air Force for use as light transports.
The HAL-748 was not only a military aircraft however. 25 further aircraft were built for civilian usage by Hindustan. Some of these went to Government operations like the Border Security Force, Civil Aviation Department and National Remote Agency but 14 would find themselves in operation with Indian Airlines (IAL).
IAL was apparently reluctant to use the HAL-748 as a feeder liner, partly because the cabin air-conditioning was 'somewhat deficient' making it a unpleasantly hot place to be during the summer. The seat pitch was also tight making it even less comfortable for passengers, but nonetheless the HAL-748 allowed operations into many rough and ready airstrips on the IAL network. The Indian Airlines aircraft were delivered from June 1967 and were registered VT-DUO, VT-DXF-G, DXI-R and VT-EAU.
Despite Indian Airlines seeming misgivings the HAL-748 equipped the airline well, though as you would expect operating in relatively primitive conditions six of the aircraft were written off by mid-1984. The first loss was in December 1971. VT-DXG was destroyed when its pilot unwisely decided to dive below cloud cover without using his instruments and hit a mountain, destroying the aircraft and killing 21 of the 31 aboard. Another, VT-EAU, was lost on March 15, 1973 on a training flight near Hyderabad. Apparently following this accident checks were put in place to make sure pilots weren't drunk! The third loss was of VT-DXJ which crashed on approach to Bombay at night killing all 45 aboard. Again this was due to pilot error. The losses of VT-DXF, DXI and DUO between 1981 and March 1984 were all non-fatal.
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23/1/2022 04:16:39 pm
Beutiful article giving valuable information.
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: