Many aviation enthusiasts do not know that India's current aviation efforts all derive from one single Rutan Long-EZ...

The LCRA prototype (VT-XIU) was ready by the end of 1986.

The LCRA made its maiden flight on 26 February 1987 with
Wing Commander P. Ashoka, HAL's chief test pilot.

The LCRA flying past the Bellandur Lake.

Builder:National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL), India

Type:  two-seat canard pusher

Program:  Light Canard Research Aircraft (LRCA)

Powerplant: one 108 hp (likely a Lycoming O-235) piston engine

Significant date: 26 February 1987 (first flight)

As early as 1983-84, India's National Aeronautical Laboratory (or NAL, now National Aerospace Laboratories) started the project to fabricate an all-composite aircraft. Designated the LRCA (Light Canard Research Aircraft) it has often been described as the first Indian indigenous all-composite material aircraft, while in fact it was basically a Long-EZ built for research purposes by a team headed by Professor Rustum Damania, using a kit bought from Rutan. Damania started work on his LCRA aircraft at NAL in 1985 with a team of engineers comprising Prs. R. Narasimha and M.S. Rajamurthy, among others. Their main goal was to acquire experience in composite material constructions.

The pivotal role in the aircraft fabrication came from the contribution of D.V. Bakshi and his team. The first flight of the LCRA took place on 26 February 1987 and went smoothly. Altogether the LCRA logged 302 hours of snag free flights and went on to become the bedrock for small aircraft development at NAL. Its aerodynamic characteristics were analysed extensively. A complete structural analysis, including vibration and aero-elastic behaviour, was done and flight tests were carried out to substantiate the analysis.

Successful fabrication of the LCRA from foam, fiber-glass and resin gave the NAL scientists a moral boost and a significant understanding of the properties and performance of composite materials. This has also helped scientists to understand challenges involved in their fabrication. This was a sort of orientation for scientists at NAL for developing light and combat aircraft, beginning in 1991 with the design of an all-composite two-seater trainer aircraft, the NALLA (NAL-Light Aircraft), which was later named Hansa.

As early as 1987, NAL presented the details of a 32-channel PCM telemetry system developed to acquire data from flight experiments, which was to be partly conducted on the LCRA. Damania had a grand plan for flight research activity at NAL and even thought of using the LCRA for aerial photography and remote sensing. He loved Rutan's design from the beginning and this love endured till his last days, when he was involved in some special studies on LCRA's flying performance. Even earlier, Damania had offered to use Rutan's approach to build and test fly an 80% LCA derivative to generate flight data.

The LCRA prototype is still stored at ADE in Bangalore, but its current status is unknown. LCRA was the precursor to two major aircraft development programme. SARAS, a nine to fourteen seater multi-role light transport aircraft (LTA) and HANSA, an all-composite light trainer aircraft. But mostly, it inspired the Rustom-1 unmanned UAV demonstrator.

Population: 1 (c/n 1) [VT-XIU]

Max. speed: 218 mph
Range: 1,650+ miles
Ceiling: 23,000 ft.

Crew/passengers: 2

Main sources:
- Flight International 21/3/1987
- more about Pr. Rustom Damania
- " NAL- Flying High" on the Vigyan Prasar website
- Frontline Volume 21 - Issue 13, Jun. 19 - Jul. 02, 2004
- NAL's civil aviation programme, by K. Yegna Narayan
- History of NAL (online presentation)

Many thanks to Walter van Tilborg for providing additional information.

Prof. Rustom Damania

According to his colleague M. S. Rajamurthy, "Damania's untiring spirit and zeal to build a flying machine was unmatched. Such was his passion that he would not think twice about shuttling from NAL to HAL to Jakkur to City Market all in one day on his reliable motorbike. Especially memorable were those drives across the runway to HAL whenever we needed something from HAL. Most normal beings went to HAL by public roads, but Rustom was different! He was always in a hurry."
After his untimely death in 2001, his wife Deenah recalled her "days of love and companionship with Rustom", his "other love affair" with aeroplanes, and his last days ("he died in my arms"). In a special ceremony, NAL presented a carefully prepared multimedia narrative (top picture) highlighting Damania's achievements, and renamed one of its hangars after the man who practically invented Indian aviation.