HAL’s HF-24 Marut: India’s fight indigenous fighter jet took its first flight today in 1961
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When we talk about the first indigenous Indian fighter aircraft, the first name which comes to our minds is the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, but there was an aircraft that entered into service with our armed forces much before Tejas, and the name of that fighter is HAL HF-27 Marut.
On 17th June 1961, the journey of HAL HF-24 Marut started as it took its first flight but it wasn’t until 1967 that the aircraft entered into operational service. The aircraft was nicknamed “Marut”, which means “Spirit of the tempest” in Sanskrit. The fighter-bomber aircraft was designed by the famous German aviation engineer Kurt Tank (creator of the classic World War 2-era Focke-Wulf Fw 190 piston-powered fighter) along with Indian engineering from Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL).
Conceptualization of the aircraft
In 1955, a lot of projects were underway that were tried for the first time under the national objective of creating India’s own manufacturing and design capabilities. Building India’s very own jet fighter was one such endeavor. At a time, when we had just started assembling diesel locomotives and had never built a major ship, it was the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision and the IAF (Indian Air Force) enthusiastically went along. At the time of the Marut’s conception, the domestic aviation industry’s only design experience amounted to designing and manufacturing the HT-2, a piston engine propeller-driven trainer. To have considered building a supersonic capable aircraft, given the limited resources was such a huge task that couldn’t have been possible without the prime aircraft manufacturing capability Hindustan Aircraft Ltd (HAL) set up by Walchand Hirachand in the 1930s and nationalized by the Government subsequently.
The building of Marut
In early 1959, a full-scale replica (wooden glider) of the fighter aircraft was made and tested for design. Further, a comprehensive test program was started with the glider on 1 April 1959. The new design was given the designation of Hindustan Fighter 24 (HF-24). After 78 test flights, the gliders were released between 12,000 and 15,000 feet altitude. The use of wooden gliders was an imperative part of Kurt Tank’s style of design testing.
In April 1960, assembly of the first HF-24 prototype (HF-001) started and after a comprehensive three month ground test programme, HF-001 ( which was re-named to BR 462 later), with the late Wing Commander (later Group Captain) Suranjan Das in the cockpit, flew for the first time on 17 June 1961. In just a span of 15 months, it was a commendable task to put together the prototype to first flight.
On 4 October 1962, a second prototype (BR 463) joined the flight development programme and the two prototypes were tested by Suranjan Das along with a team of three Indian Air Force test pilots. Following the remarkable achievement, India became only the 6th country to design and fly its own supersonic jet combat aircraft after the USA, Sweden, UK, USSR, and France.
Marut’s contribution in the 1971 Indo-Pak war
HAL’s Marut contributed majorly to the 1971 India-Pakistan war over the western theatre of the Bangladesh Liberation War. The aircraft saw first combat during the ‘Battle of Longewala’, along with Hawker Hunters of the 120 ad-hoc Squadron posted at the newly formed Jaisalmer Air Force Base.
The decommission of Marut
Despite being powered by 2x Bristol Siddeley Orpheus 703 engines, the HAL Marut could not attain a speed of Mach 0.93, which is a bit slower than the speed of sound. Eventually, in 1978, the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar was chosen as a replacement for the aircraft.
A total of 147 Maruts were produced during the lifetime of the aircraft. With this, Marut left a legacy of not just India’s first but Asia’s foremost indigenously designed jet fighter.