HÜRKUŞ: Is Ten Years Really a Long Time?
M. Emre YAZICI, analysed The Development Process of HÜRKUŞ, in the 29th issue of MSI Turkish Defence Review.
You can reach the full text of the article titled “HÜRKUŞ: Is Ten Years Really a Long Time?” below.
Receiving the Type Certificate from EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation at a ceremony held during the Farnborough International Airshow on July 11, HÜRKUŞ became the first ever Turkish aircraft designed in compliance with the international civil aviation regulations. Although this success made all the parties involved – and especially the Turkish Air Force (TurAF), the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries and TAI – proud, HÜRKUŞ continued to receive criticism claiming that the design and certification processes of the HÜRKUŞ were excessively long. In this article, we will try to answer the question: “Did the HÜRKUŞ Program really take too long?”
An Extraordinary Beginning
Something extraordinary took place in the Defence Industry Executive Committee’s (SSİK’s) meeting on January 19, 2005. Although it had never before taken decisions on any project that was not included in the Strategical Objectives Plans or Ten-Year Procurement Programmes of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), the SSİK decided on that day to initiate the Basic and Primary Trainer Aircraft (TBTEU) programme, despite no such requirement by the TAF. This was a very important decision for the Turkish defence and aerospace industry.
The project was officially initiated with the agreement signed between the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries and TAI on March 15, 2006. The Turkish Air Force joined the programme as an ‘observer’ in 2008, and as an official ‘party’ only in 2012. In such circumstances, the certificate received about 10 years later, on July 11, 2016, is as important as the SSI decision taken on January 19, 2005.
Perhaps due to its unusual beginnings HÜRKUŞ has been the center of many criticisms over the years, particularly at rough times for the programme. To this day, and probably for the sake of being politically correct, the response to such criticism often adressed the lack of experience, the scarcity of the financial resources or the difficult nature of the customer. Somehow accepting the validity of the criticism being raised.
At this point, before we begin to criticise or praise those who manufactured and flew the HÜRKUŞ, we should take a look at how well the others performed. So, we may offer our positive or negative critique about the project based on solid knowledge.
The consensus reached by the US Air Force and Navy in 1988 on operating a mutual platform for pilot training led to the JPATS (Joint Primary Aircraft Training System), a huge tender for 700 aircrafts. When the US Armed Forces preferred a turboprop aircraft for JPATS in 1995, it resulted in a trend across the globe towards selecting this type of aircraft for basic military pilot training.
Only two out of the seven aircraft competing in JPATS were turboprop: The PC-9 of the Swiss company Pilatus, which collaborated with Beechcraft, and the EMB-314 Super Tucano of the Brazilian company Embraer. The winner was the Beechcraft-Pilatus PC-9 Mk 2. The aircraft known as T-6 Texan II today is a heavily modified version of the PC-9. If the aircraft with the Pilatus gene are dominating the two thirds of the existing turboprop training aircraft market today, this is mostly due to the JPATS. Meanwhile, it is also worth noting that the aircraft with turboprop engines only make up 40 percent of the global basic training aircraft market.
HÜRKUŞ and Others
The majority of the programs which (roughly) constitute the second generation of the military turboprop training aircraft, started in the 1990s. The major ones included the T-6 Texan II -developed by Pilatus and Beechcraft (a part of Textron today); the KT-1 by KAI, with which the TurAF is quite familiar; the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano; and the Pilatus PC-21.
The development time spans and the important milestones of the subject programs are shown in Figure 1. The predecessors of these programs – the PC-7, PC-9 and EMB-312 – were also included to complete to family tree. As it will not escape the attention of careful readers, it is not a mistake that the PC-7 performed its first flight seven years before the contract. Pilatus flew a turboprop version of its piston powered PC3 model as early as 1966; but an accident caused the program to pause until 1973. Similarly, the 7.5 years between the beginning of the program for the EMB-312 and the contract is due to the fact that the design details, as well as some of the designers, of Caraja -a tandem (where the pilot and the student sit in a row) turboprop aircraft developed by Neiva Universal had actually reached Embraer in 1973.
Figure 1. The time spans and important milestones of the various aircraft in the same class with HÜRKUŞ.
Leaving these details aside, what is really interesting about Figure 1 is that the four development programs in question are not much different than the HÜRKUŞ Development Program (TBTEU Development Program, to be correct) in terms of their time spans.
Judging from Figure 1, we can also say that developing over legacy designs like PC-7 or EMB-312, does not necessarily shorten the development periods.
Figure 2 provides an analysis of the time spans between the contract and entry into service, and between the first flight and entry into service of the said programs. As serial production was not envisaged in the TBTEU program, the certification date was used as the date of the first acceptance, in lieu of entry into service. The most important point here is that the time it took for HÜRKUŞ to enter into service since its first flight is shorter that the average time it took for the similar programmes.
Figure 2. The time spans between the contract and entry into service, and between the first flight and entry into service of various aircraft in the same class with the HÜRKUŞ.
HÜRKUŞ-A in 30 Steps
The activities in the TBTEU programme which took place during the 11.5 years after the SSIK’s decision are in Figure 3. The activities are grouped as; contract negotiations, design, production, ground tests, flight tests and certification. It is a well-known fact that design, production and testing activities in such programmes continue until the programme’s final day. However, to better picture the relationships between the different processes, the completion of these activities were placed on appropriate milestones.
If we summarise the activities carried out during the development of the HÜRKUŞ, we come across 30 critical steps (which are shown on a timeline in Figure 3):
- January 2005 SSİK’s Decision
- March 2006 Signing of the Contract
- July 2006 System Requirements Review
- December 2006 Conceptual Design Review
- February 2007 Application for EASA Design Organisation’s Approval
- July 2007 Preliminary Design Review
- August 2008 Wind Tunnel Tests
- December 2008 Application for the Type Certificate
- March 2009 Critical Design Review
- July 2009 Fabrication Start
- April 2010 Elevator Assembly Start
- October 2010 Pressurisation System Tests
- November 2010 Wing Assembly Start
- December 2010 Airframe Assembly Start
- May 2011 Canopy Bird Strike Tests
- September 2011 Landing Gear Dropping Tests
- December 2011 Ejection Seat Tests
- December 2011 Air Conditioning System Rig Tests
- January 2012 Hydraulic System Rig Tests
- May 2012 Wing-Airframe Mating
- June 2012 HUR01 Roll-out
- July 2012 Approval of EASA Design Organisation
- June 2013 Vertical Wind Tunnel Tests
- June 2013 Ground Vibration Tests
- August 2013 HUR01’s First Flight
- December 2013 HUR02 Roll-out
- September 2014 HUR02’s First Flight
- October 2014 Vertical Wind Tunnel Tests
- January 2015 Structural Static Tests Finish
- July 2016 Type Certification
Figure 3. The critical activities carried out in the TBTEU program over 11.5 years.
The Star of the Show: HÜRKUŞ-B
The extraordinary TBTEU programme that helped create the HÜRKUŞ-A served as a ‘training’ programme for the SSM, as well as the TurAF and TAI. In reality, nearly one third of the 30 activity steps above were executed for the first time by the relevant parties within the framework of this program.
What really matters now is to transfer these experiences to the New Generation Primary Trainer Aircraft (YNTEU) programme, in which the TurAF has ordered 15 HÜRKUŞ-B.
The important milestones in the calendar of the YNTEU are also shown in Figure 3, and include the following:
- September 2013 SSİK’s Decision
- December 2013 Signing of the Contract
- June 2018 First Delivery
- December 2019 Final Delivery
Here, we need to explain the following concerning the date of June 2018: based on the statements made during the signing of the contact that the first delivery is to be carried out within the year 2018, and as there is no clear information in public sources regarding the delivery dates of the aircraft, it was assumed that the firstly delivery will take place in June 2018. It is safe to expect that the deliveries will continue at the traditional pace of one aircraft a month, till the end of 2019.
The difference between the A and B models of HÜRKUŞ consists of a series of changes in the devices inside the cockpit. TAI has already carried out similar integration activities independently or with ASELSAN in at least four other programmes. From this point of view, YNTEU’s calendar is very conservative. Therefore, the statements made by Muharrem Dörtkaşlı, President and CEO of TAI, following the certification ceremony in Farnborough that moved the first delivery date to an earlier time in 2017 are certainly good news.
TAI’s performance in the YNTEU program will be critical for the future of the Turkish aerospace industry.
Ten years after the beginning of the TBTEU program, the features which would set the HÜRKUŞ apart from its competitors – such as the advanced integrated avionics, cabin pressurisation, seat ejection system and onboard oxygen generation system – are no longer ‘innovations’ today.
On the other hand, ‘civil certification’ is much more valuable today than it was in 2005. HÜRKUŞ’s main competitor, the PC-21, was certified by the Swiss Civil Aviation Authority to allow for applying more cost-effective civil maintenance procedures, as well as the possibility to export through non-military channels.
The maximum speed and service ceiling data of HÜRKUŞ, and its immediate competitors, are shown in Figure 4. It gives us hope that HÜRKUŞ is still in the competition and has its place within the ‘main group’ following the leader (or ‘peloton,’ in cycling terminology) as a strong competitor. This is an indicator that HÜRKUŞ will have a good chance in future international tenders it will partake – should the TurAF frequently expresses their satisfaction with the aircraft. However, we must also note here that, according to market forecast, there will not be a great demand for turboprop training aircraft during the next 8-10 years.
Figure 4. The maximum speed and service ceiling data for HÜRKUŞ and its competitors.
If the current conjecture is analysed properly, it can be seen that the concept of training levels such as; basic, primary, advanced, tactical, and weapons training are being abandoned, and embedded simulation systems are being employed more and more to provide trainings such as electronic warfare, radar and weapon system that were previously possible only on fighter aircraft, be executed on cost-effective, easy-to-use but powerful platforms.
For this reason, in its PC-21 package, Pilatus markets synthetic training tools, computer-aided trainings and classroom trainings alongside the aircraft itself. Owing to this package; electronic warfare, radar and weapon systems, tactical attitude indicators and data links trainings can all be performed on the same aircraft. Furthermore, just as in ground simulators, it is also possible for the teacher to inject, from his own cockpit, warning and caution data into the student’s indicators during the flight.
From this point of view, TAI will need to address this subject in its marketing agenda in order to adequately respond to the flight training needs of the TurAF, and to become preferable in international biddings.
We can sum up what has been discussed above in two points:
- It is obvious that the development process of the HÜRKUŞ-A was not much different than that of other similar aircraft in the market. It would hence be unfair to say that the development of HÜRKUŞ took too long!
- If TAI wants to sell HÜRKUŞ to the rest of the world, and not just to the TurAF, it should market it not as an aircraft, but as a training system. TAI should not hesitate or avoid engaging in cooperations with other Turkish industry active in this area.
We hope that HÜRKUŞ, the first Turkish aircraft with an international civil certification, will prove most beneficial and auspicious for Turkey.
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