SLAF History : Technical Excellence
The years 1981/82 yielded some milestones in the history of aircraft engineering in the SLAF. Five Bell Jet Ranger helicopters were converted from their C18A versions to C20B models. The enterprising CO of the AEW, Jim Gunaratnam personally headed this project. The conversion process involved the modification of the frame, mainly the engine compartment and tail rotor area to accommodate the installation of an Allison 250-C20B engine, which significantly enhanced the range of the aircraft. Fuel tank capacity was also enhanced from 76 US gallons to 96 US gallons.
In 1982, the AEW also undertook Bottom Shell replacement on the Bell Jet Ranger (206), which consisted of replacing the existing bottom shells with new ones turned out with the aid of locally fabricated fuselage jigs; an exercise that saved the SLAF some millions in Sri Lanka rupees, which they would have spent if these had to be imported. Also in the 80s, the AEW carried out Tail Boom/Gear Box modification on the Bell JR 206 helicopters, using locally made tail boom jigs. This modification was required to enable the installation of stainless steel tail rotor blades, after the aircraft s conversion to C20B version.

Fleet Enhancements and Other Developments

Bell-212Acquisitions to the fleet of the Air Force began to show the ominous blip on the horizon growing larger with the passing years.From the period 1983 to 1985, the Air Force acquired 11 Bell 212 helicopters, 4 Bell 412 helicopters, 3 Siai Marchetti SF 260s, 2 Cessna 337s, 1 AVRO HS748 and 1 Beech King. The new aircraft assisted the younger pilots to acquire their flying experience in a much shorter period than their predecessors.
Prior to 1985 the SLAF possessed a rapidly ageing fleet. The DC3 (built in WWII era), the Riley Herons and the Doves were the oldest. Several jets viz. the Jet Provosts and the MIG15 and MIG17 were in storage. In 1984, 2 Bell Jet Rangers and 2 Bell 212 helicopters were acquired. The 212s came in response to the need of the Air Force, for a helicopter with a greater payload capability. The 212 with its twin- engines filled the need, to some extent

By 1985, 9 more Bell 212s were added to the fleet, along with 4 Bell 412s. The 412s along with 3 Siai Marchetti SF 260 fixed-wing turbo prop aircraft advanced the attack capabilities of SLAF. Incidentally the Siai Marchetti was ordered in 2 models, viz. the SF260W a piston engined, single seater trainer and the SF260 TP a turbo propeller driven, light ground attack aircraft, also capable of armed reconnaissance. The SF260W being a pure trainer joined No.1 FTS whilst the SF260TP joined No. 2 Squadron.

Due to the urgency of making pilots proficient on these machines and their requirement in service to fulfil roles in the North/Eastern theatre of conflict, the SLAF obtained two of these aircraft types on lease. The No. 2 Squadron was given the task of completing 300 hours of pilot conversions and weapons training flying within a period of 3 months, in order that the pilots would be ready to operate when the acquired aircraft reached Sri Lanka. This project added a new capability to the role of the Air Force that of Close Air Support. Incidentally, the SLAF's brilliant work horse trainer aircraft, the Chipmunk T10 was finally phased out of service, in 1985. The Chipmunk's service spanned at least two generations.
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