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LCA at Mach 1

On August 1, history was made at an altitude of 11 kilometres over Bangalore when the world's smallest combat aircraft broke the sound barrier. Flying at a speed of Mach 1.1, the Light Combat Aircraft -- christened Tejas -- propelled India into the select club of nations to possess an indigenous fourth generation fighter jet [Mach, the speed of sound = approximately 330 metres per second or 740 mph or 1,180 kmph].

The LCA project was conceived in 1983. Before plans for the LCA were drawn up, India had tried to enter the technology intensive field in the 1950s. That effort resulted in the development of the HF-24 Marut ground attack fighter, which was built in limited numbers by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

The first prototype of the LCA rolled out on November 17, 1995. Currently, all LCA prototypes are powered by a single GE F404/F2J3 engine imported from the US.

Eventually, the Tejas will be powered by the indigenous Kaveri engine, which has already undergone successful trials. The Tejas is expected to enter service in 2005.

Wing Commander Vikram Singh, who powered the Tejas beyond the sound barrier was ecstatic. "It was an absolute beauty. It flew flawlessly and without a hitch throughout the 30-minute test flight," he had told "The flight was so smooth that there was nothing to indicate that the aircraft had crossed the speed of sound. It was only the data on the display panels that indicated the milestone."

The Aeronautical Development Agency and nearly 80-odd defence and related organisations under the Defence Research and Development Organisation managed and monitored the project.

Text: R Swaminathan

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