Sometimes an article is copied out of necessity or for clandestine purposes - the German ‘Gerät Potsdam’, a wartime copy of the British Mk II Sten gun, is an example of this, as was the Tupolev Tu-4 (NATO reporting name ‘Bull’), a Soviet reverse-engineered Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. HAL-26 Pushpak could be said to be in the same class of objects.
The Aeronautical Corporation of America (known as Aeronca), had been turning out light ‘planes since the 1930s. After the Second World War they produced a series of two-seat, high-wing monoplanes suitable for private use, or as ‘club aircraft’. These included a development of the Chief design, which was known as the Model 11CC Super Chief; this model had an upgraded interior, toe-brakes for the pilot, and balanced elevators. Powered by the ever-reliable Continental Motors Corporation C90-8F of 90 hp, the prototype first flew in 1948, and was quite successful. However, Aeronca withdrew from light aircraft production in 1951. The type certificate for the Aeronca 11CC Super Chief was sold to Mr. E. J. Trytek, of Syracuse, New York, but he undertook no production.
In the early 1950s, an Aeronca 11CC was being used by an Indian flying club, when it was seriously damaged. It is said that a new student pilot misunderstood an instruction whilst taxying, turned sharply onto an exit road from the airfield and neatly removed the wings of the Aeronca by taking it between a set of granite gateposts that were just NOT quite wide enough. The story goes on to say that the prospective pilot ran off up the road and was never seen again!
The remains of the aircraft languished in a hangar for a while, and then an interest was taken in them by the Hindustan Aeronautics Corporation, who had already undertaken major servicing of USAAF Catalinas and other types during WW2, and had designed and flown the HT-2 trainer (which closely resembled the DHC-1 Chipmunk) in 1951. Depending on who you listen to, either E. J. Trytek sold a licence to HAL to produce the Aeronca 11CC Super Chief, or the aircraft was reverse-engineered from the remains of the wrecked example, by reducing it to its component parts and producing exact copies of each casting, nut and bolt. That particular course of action is given credence by the fact that if you look at the Pushpak's rudder pedals, you will find that wear marks, caused by heavy usage, have been accurately reproduced in the 'new' castings! However, the ‘company line’ from HAL is somewhat different. In front of a preserved example (wearing Indian national markings, but no serial) of the resulting HAL-26 ‘Pushpak’, which is exhibited in the Indoor Display Hall of the HAL Aerospace Museum & Visitor Center, Bangalore, is a label which claims that the aircraft was ‘indigenously designed’. Suffice it to say that the Pushpak – other than a few slight differences in rudder profile and a Russian-made cockpit clock, IS a Super Chief! 154 of these capable trainers were manufactured from 1958 – 1968, and used by flying clubs across India. From the early 1980s, the HAL-26 fleet began to be retired; several were disposed of abroad, and two examples (G-AVPO, G-BXTO) reached Great Britain.
Here we see Pushpak G-BXTO, (c/n PK-128) having just landed at Keevil Airfield during a fly-in - note the difficult local weather conditions, which made G-BXTO the ONLY arrival on the first day of the event! Its original Indian identity was VT-DWM, and after that it was on the Singapore civil register for a time, as 9V-BAI. The aircraft appears regularly at fly-ins and other events around the UK. It is now owned by Peter Quinn of Chippenham, Wiltshire, and looks quite splendid in its blue and yellow colour scheme. Whatever the true circumstances surrounding its ‘birth’, the Pushpak makes for a delightful example of the art of reverse-engineering!