Last month, the IAF flew India’s first military flight using biojet fuel blended with Aviation Turbine Fuel on a Russian-made AN-32 transport aircraft out of Chandigarh

NEW DELHI: The Indian Air Force is planning to expand the use of bio-jet fuel on its transport fleet and helicopters before coming to fighter aircraft, after assessing its impact on engines, cost saving and production capacity in India, a top officer said here on Wednesday.

Last month, the IAF flew India’s first military flight using biojet fuel blended with Aviation Turbine Fuel on a Russian-made AN-32 transport aircraft out of Chandigarh. Even the Republic Day flypast on January 26 will consist of the IAF flying a formation of three AN-32s with the lead aircraft using blended bio-jet fuel.

“India’s quest to seek alternate sources of fuel towards reducing its dependence on crude oil will now be showcased by the formation of An 32 aircraft flying in ‘vic’ formation. The lead aircraft of the formation, piloted by Squadron Leader Mehtab Sond of the Aircraft Systems Testing Establishment, will be flown using Aviation Turbine Fuel blended with 10 per cent Bio-Fuel,” said the official.

The fuel is extracted from Jatropha plant seeds using a technology patented by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun. The IAF believes that successful trials of the fuel will lead to significant reduction on India’s dependence on imported crude oil. “The IAF’s initiative is in line with the Prime Minister’s vision to reduce crude oil imports and dependency to the tune of 10 percent by 2021,” explained the IAF.

While the IAF has not formulated a long-term plan on the use of bio-jet fuel, it is testing it on its aircraft and observing how it works. “Presently, we are in the experimental phase, so these trials will continue for some time. There are two aspects. One is what is the impact of bio-jet fuel on the systems and engines of the aircraft. That we will assess. Second is who will productionise it. Where will it come from. What are the quantities required if we have to do a full scale conversion and then how will it work,” said Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, Assistant Chief of Air Staff Operations (Space).

“No nation has completely changed to bio-fuel. They are in various stages of testing, trials and impact study. It is a slow process. What we want to do is prove a concept. Once that is proved, then we know we can do it. Then, how to do it is not a big deal,” he said.

While the bio-fuel is only being used on one AN-32 for now, the IAF plans to use it on twin-engine aircraft until proving the concept. “We want to use it on twin engine, because the fuel system is made like that that in case there is a problem then the second engine will continue to work. Its independent systems. We will do it on twin engine aircraft initially till we prove the concept,” he said, adding that the IAF will use it on other transport aircraft and twin-engine helicopters.

Kapoor added that the IAF has already flown a few sorties using bio-fuel. “The fact is that the aircraft has taken off, it has done some flying and landed back. The aircraft has performed perfectly. There has been no problem on the aircraft so far. That is why we have the confidence to put it in the air and fly a little longer,” he said.

When asked what will be the cost saving of using bio-fuel, the officer added that this will happen after seeing what India’s farmers can do, the transportational cost and checking with companies on the production setup.

The IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa had spelt out the blueprint of the force’s fuelled plans, while addressing a Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers seminar last July, reads an August 2018 ‘issue brief’ of the IAF backed think tank, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS). Dhanoa has offered the IAF’s aircraft and in-house testing facilities with expertise from Centre for Military Airworthiness & Certification (CEMILAC) and Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA) for developing, testing and proving the indigenous product. He has also offered financial support to the project under the IAF’s indigenisation (R&D) fund.

After being proven, the technology can be commercialised across the country to augment farmers’ income. Farm waste and few more forest products may soon have to be re-classified as ‘cash crops’ in lieu of ‘non-edible waste’. “This would herald a new era in economics of Indian aviation industry, which aligns with the Prime Minister’s vision on bio-fuels,” reads the CAPS report.