SARAS modified prototype (PT-1N) taking wings during a test flight

National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) has started taxiing trials in Bangalore for its SARAS MK-2, a 19-seat light transport aircraft.

NAL spokesperson confirmed on the initiation of a series of taxi trials for the SARAS MK-2.

NAL successfully performed a low-speed taxi trial on 13 May to test the indigenously developed digital anti-skid braking system. The low-speed taxi trial was conducted at 30 knots, and NAL sources tell Smart Aviation Asia Pacific there will be 15 to 20 taxi trials to evaluate system performance. NAL will also use its SARAS PT-1N, an earlier test aircraft developed before the MK-2, to evaluate sub-system performances, says The Indian Express, without citing its sources.

Media reports also says the maiden test flight of the SARAS MK-2 is due to occur at the end of 2024.

The Light Transport Aircraft (LTA) program, SARAS a turboprop aircraft being developed indigenously by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) of Government of India, is the first civil aircraft program aimed at certification standard, FAR 25. The program is unique in that the propeller configuration of SARAS is pusher type and it is the first indigenously designed civil transport aircraft in India.

The SARAS MK-2 is a multirole commuter aircraft with a pressurised cabin, all-glass cockpit, short take-off and landing capabilities and autopilot with CAT-II landing capabilities. It is touted as the most-versatile aircraft of its class for connecting tier-two and tier-three towns in India under the UDAN scheme.

SARAS is powered by two Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6A-66 engines driving 2.16m diameter 5 bladed propellers at 2000 rpm in a pusher configuration. The engines are mounted on stub wings locate at aft fuselage resulting in quieter cabin and undisturbed flow on the wing.

Attention has been given right from the beginning for easy maintenance and thus to increase aircraft availability. Equipment needing inspection / maintenance are provided easy access. The PT6A-66 engine is of modular construction and thus easy to maintain. Furthermore, the cowling is designed in such a way that the front and rear ends are removable and centre section has swinging doors and panels to have full access to servicing points on engine and aircraft accessories. Hot section inspection which is usually carried at mid time between overhauls can be done in-situ by removing rear end of nacelle. The avionics equipment, hydraulic system and the air conditioning system bays, all have large doors for easy access.

NAL has indigenously built most advanced high performance integrated avionics and flight control computer embedded with multicore power PC, VPX bus architecture and ARINC 635 compliant real-time operating system with safety-critical partitioned virtual wall.

It has already been reported in India that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has committed to 15 SARAS MK-2 aircraft for coastal surveillance and training for cadets on transport flying. The SARAS program began in 1991, but the program has experienced setbacks. Its initial project partner Russia withdrew due Russia’s financial troubles in 1991. The program also suffered when the US imposed sanctions against India in 1998 because India had conducted nuclear tests.

The SARAS MK-2 will be ideal for a variety of applications -- like aerial search, survey, disaster management, border patrol, coast guard, ambulance and other community services. It would also be useful to establish commuter connectivity as air taxi and executive transport under the Udaan scheme, the minister added.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will be the production agency for the military version of SARAS, while the production of civil version will be given to a private player, officials of the NAL said. India needs 120-160 aircraft -- civil and military - over the next 10 years.

According to NAL, the aircraft available in the international market are of 1970s technology, such as Beechcraft 19000D, Dornier-228 and Embraer EMB 110. They have higher fuel consumption, lower speed, unpressurised cabin and high operating cost. They are also unsuitable for operations from hot and high-altitude airfields.

The final SARAS is planned to be able to cover 1,600 km at a maximum speed of 425 kmph, have a service ceiling of 9-10 km and fly continuously for five hours.

NAL has produced two other aircraft, Hansa, a trainer aircraft, and NM-5, a general aviation five-seater aircraft.

Development of SARAS MK-3 (70 Seat Version)

CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories that is developing a 70-seater indigenous light transport aircraft 'SARAS MK-3', though this was touted in 2019 nothing much has been heard off in the media with regard to the aircraft's development. The advanced aircraft when developed will be the cheapest in the market and would have tremendous potential for exports apart from serving the needs of the rapidly growing domestic civil aviation market under the UDAN scheme.