Tu-142ME experience with IN
Q: You have mentioned India. Was Kuznetsov involved in the maintenance of NK-12 engines used on the Indian Tu-142ME anti-submarine planes?
A: That was our company’s first delivery abroad, and we went about it very carefully. We weren’t completely familiar with the operational environment in India (high air temperature and humidity). At high air temperature and lower air density, the engine delivers lower thrust than at sub-zero temperatures. The Indians – pilot crews as well as technicians – spent long time training at our country. We kept in close touch, and set up a working team that maintained the planes. We understood each other quite well. My first trip to India lasted 12 months because that’s how long the engine warranty lasted, and we had to resolve all the emerging issues very quickly. It was in 1988.
The location was Goa, which is a dream destination these days, but back at the time it was in the middle of nowhere. To get in touch with the head office, one had to relay the call through Delhi, then London, then Moscow and on to Kuibyshev. There were three of us there: a designer from the Special Design Bureau, a test engineer, and myself. During those 12 months, we managed to resolve many issues, and there wasn’t a single major incident with the engines. There was very strict selection of the personnel sent to India: the first selection round was at the company itself, and then the candidates were approved by the local Communist Party committee and then by the Communist Party Central Committee in Moscow.
Q: What do you think about the Indian Tu-142ME pilots and technicians in terms of their skills and training?
A: The pilots were very well trained – at least those we worked with. But they did have some quirks. They tended to be less diligent in some areas. Take, for example, the take-off run. As I already mentioned, the engine produces less thrust at increased ambient temperature. So they would start messing with the engine fuel system – what is worse, they would start doing it when we were away. Then we would say to them, “Why r did you try to change the fuel system settings? What for?” And they would reply, “Two weeks ago I reached sufficient speed for take-off near that light over there, but today it was near that other light farther away. I do not seem to get enough thrust”. So we had to convince them that the runway length would be sufficient for them to take off.
There were also other problems, for example, with rapid descent. When they hunted a submarine, they would dive to it – and then complained that the propellers started to feather. Nevertheless, they were very experienced and skillful pilots. They have a large selection of planes of different manufacturers to choose from. For example, when we were at the airfield, we saw British Harrier vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft. So, the Indians would always compare different hardware – but they did like our plane at the time.
Also, they have an interesting quirk in how their personnel are deployed. They have adopted the British approach, with constant personnel rotation: today you are assigned to the Air Force, tomorrow to the Navy, and the day after to the tank troops. We asked them why, and they would say that when a specialist works at the same unit all the time, he becomes less diligent in following all the requirements and instructions. So when we used to come there, we had to train a new group of technicians each time.
Q: Did you learn any lessons in India in terms of design and engineering?
A: We had to adapt to a new operational environment – namely, increased air temperature and humidity. We once had an incident when the crew reported an engine fire in mid-flight. But as the plane approached the airfield, we saw no sign of any fire from the ground. We inspected the plane after it landed, and again, no signs of fire. It turned out that the fire detectors in the engine nacelle had their electrical contacts damaged by corrosion, setting off a fire alarm. The first stage of the fire extinguishing system was automatically initiated (the second and third stages required manual input) and fed quenching fluid into the engine.
We kept struggling with corrosion. We also had to manually rinse the icing detector because it kept getting clogged with mosquitos.
Besides, the Indians used their own locally made fuel and engine oils, although that had of course been agreed with the supplier back home and approved by the chief designer. Nevertheless, it also effected the engine operation and maintenance.
Q: Am I right that the final NK-12 production run in the mid-2000s was made under an Indian contract?
A: That is correct. It was in 2008. When Indian delegations came here, and I always tried to meet them to discuss whether there had been any issues with the engines.