Today, more than a century after the first flight, aviation and airplanes are advanced enough to fly to the far reaches of space and travel from one end of the globe to the other in a matter of hours. However, one technology hasn’t changed much since the Wright brothers first flew.
There were two propellers or fan blades at the rear of the Wright Flyer and these blades would become standard in the aircraft industry over the next few decades. Even though the jet engine arrived in the 1940s, the propellers haven’t exactly been replaced. They continue to hold their own even in 2022.
Image source: Wright Brothers
The propellers have evolved in terms of shape, some propellers have different pitches, etc. However, the basic principle remains the same. The Indian Air Force also continues to use propeller or turboprop aircraft. In fact, these propeller planes form the backbone of the IAF.
The Indian Air Force is one of the largest air forces in the world and currently ranks fourth in number of aircraft. It turns out that the majority of the Indian Air Force’s more than 1,200 fixed-wing aircraft are powered by propellers or turbofans. This is a list of propeller-driven aircraft still in use by the Indian Air Force.
Lockheed Martin C130J Super Hercules
The Super Hercules is simply the most iconic propeller plane not only in the Indian Air Force but also in the skies of most countries in the world. The air forces of several developed nations depend on the C-130J for its heavy lifting capabilities. More than 500 of these devices have already been delivered to 22 countries.
It is one of the best cargo planes in the world and is known for its rugged reliability and special ability to land on makeshift runways, even in hostile territory. The C-130J is powered by four Rolls-Royce AE 2100 D3 turboprop engines and has a payload of 20.2 tonnes. The aircraft is capable of flying at 590 km/h. The IAF uses 12 C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.
Rustic and old, but extremely reliable is a statement that perfectly describes the Antonov AN-32. It is one of the smallest cargo aircraft produced by Antonov and yet it is one of the most useful aircraft in the Indian Air Force. Besides cargo transport duties, the AN-32 is also used to train pilots to handle the IAF’s larger cargo aircraft.
The Antonov AN-32 is powered by two Ivchenko AI-20 turboprop engines of 5,100 hp each. It has a top speed of 540 km/h and can carry a payload of 6.7 tons. The engine is placed high to allow the aircraft to land on unprepared airstrips. The IAF uses 103 of these aircraft.
The Dornier 228 is a STOL (Short Takeoff & Landing) aircraft developed and produced by the German manufacturer Dornier. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) then purchased the production rights for the aircraft and manufactured 125 of these aircraft at its factory in Kanpur. It can accommodate up to 19 passengers or can carry small loads.
The aircraft is extremely reliable and can be prepared for shipment at extremely short notice. It is also unique in that it has a rectangular fuselage, thus increasing the space inside. The Dornier 228 has a top speed of 433 km/h.
Hawker Sideley HS 748
The Hawker Siddeley is the oldest aircraft on this list and one of the oldest aircraft still in service with the Indian Air Force. It was originally designed by the famous aircraft manufacturer Avro and was developed in the late 1950s with its first flight in 1960. HAL had even purchased the production rights for the aircraft and 89 of these aircraft were built at its factory in Bangalore.
Image source: Ken Fielding/Wiki Commons
It was powered by two Rolls-Royce SNECMA M45H engines and the aircraft could accommodate up to 64 people. The seats could be removed to make room for the cargo area. Some units of HS 748 were also used as airborne surveillance platforms.
Image source: YSSYguy/Wiki Commons
Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II
All Indian Air Force pilots must start with basic training before they can fly larger and more advanced aircraft. This is where the Pilatus PC-7 comes into play. It is the main basic training aircraft of the Indian Air Force.
The IAF purchased an initial batch of 75 aircraft in 2011, making the PC-7 one of the Indian Air Force’s most modern aircraft.
Pipistrel virus SW 80
The Pipistrel Virus SW80 is the smallest aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force. It is an ultralight aircraft and is used as a base trainer. The Pipistrel is usually the aircraft a pilot flies for the first time in the Indian Air Force. It is powered by an 80 hp Rotax 912 engine.
IAI Researcher II
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are the future of aviation, or so they say. The IAI Searcher II is one of the most advanced drones in the world and was developed in Israel in the 1980s. It is powered by a 47hp piston engine. With a maximum speed of 201 km/h, the IAI Searcher II has a range of 350 km.
The Heron is classified as a medium altitude, long endurance UAV. Developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), it is capable of operating for up to 52 hours at an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet. It is one of the most advanced drones in the world and is capable of handling a variety of missions.
Thoughts on Propeller Aircraft Still in Service with the Indian Air Force
Some technologies survive generations and propellers or turboprops are a perfect example. Considering its use and versatility, we see propellers being used for another century. We certainly won’t live to see it, but the next generation surely will, and then they will remember the Wright brothers’ first flight.
As for the Indian Air Force, we don’t see any propeller driven planes being taken out of service any time soon. The C-130J and the Pilatus PC-7 are prime examples of propeller-driven aircraft that will be in service for at least a few decades. However, planes like the Hawker Siddeley HS 748 will soon need to be replaced. The Airbus A400M could be a perfect replacement, and it’s also propeller-driven.