India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), vilified for more than 20 years for not fructifying, will finally fly over Bangalore’s skies on January 10 with the tag of being certified for initial operations. In aerospace language, this means LCA will get its Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) on January 10, a milestone. Defence ministry officials said that defence minister A K Antony will be in Bangalore to officially sanction the clearance for the LCA. Demonstration flights of the aircraft have been planned. There has been scepticism over LCA taking off because it was just not approaching even initial clearance decades after the project was first conceived. But 27 years after it was first conceived (1983), 11 years after the first test flight (Jan. 4, 2001) and 1,452 spotless flight tests later, the light combat aircraft is a reality.
The Initial Operational Clearance referred to an agreement and consensus between the manufacturer of the aircraft (HAL) and the customer (IAF) that the aircraft has met certain basic parameters, that it is ready for a set of basic roles, that it has agreed-upon basic capabilities that a combat aircraft should have, etc. The official said that IOC for the LCA means that it can now be flown by a squadron pilot. “Typically squadron pilots fly only certified aircraft, while test pilots fly aircraft on way to certification and help achieve the certification.’’ IOC also means that the aircraft is safe to fly and is ready for series production as against limited series production. While the former refers to production of aircraft with limited parameters, the latter refers to production of aircraft approaching final parameters.