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Date Posted: 12-Feb-2004

JANE'S DEFENCE WEEKLY - FEBRUARY 18, 2004

Fixed-wing trainer aircraft

Roy Braybrook JDW Special Correspondent - London

Flying training for today's military aircrew is finally catching up with recent developments in front-line aircraft. Roy Braybrook examines the options available for training the 21st-century pilot

Four years into the 21st century and the world's flying training organisations are beginning to catch up with the last 15 years of front-line combat aircraft developments.

Today's operational military aircraft exploit unprecedented angles of attack (AoA) and accelerations previously restricted to the Harrier/AV-8 family of short take-off and vertical landing aircraft. Digital flight control systems avoid yesterday's handling problems. They also have complex avionics that require intelligent management and output-interpretation: a challenge that is reduced to tolerable levels by 'glass' cockpits.

Cost has also made an impact on fixed-wing flying training: acquisition and operation costs. The latter is a pertinent point when one may expect many trainers to have an in-service life in excess of 20 years. Financial considerations include through-life costings, shared facilities and buying-in training packages or a combination of all three for either elements, or the whole, of flying training. The great expense has encouraged air forces and governments to consider lateral solutions that will prepare their pilots - affordably - for the latest generation of combat aircraft.

One of the first solutions was to establish the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) organisation that now trains pilots from six nations: Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Singapore and the UK. It may well serve as a model for a future series of regional joint pilot training programmes.

A good case can be made for joint training by a number of Arab air forces, using a base in the Persian Gulf, once the Iraq emergency is over. Australia, already used by Singapore (RAAF Pearce), has both the required climate and ample airspace. Other air forces in the Asia-Pacific region could also use the base. South Africa's Western Cape could, likewise, provide a suitable base for regional pilot training.

The design of military trainers is another major challenge, but the production of such aircraft is best regarded as a sideline to a more serious business. With rare exceptions, building trainers can be done only for short periods separated by long intervals. In the modern world, an organisation that restricts itself to manufacturing trainers is doomed to failure.

Trainers' lack of 'sex appeal' is a big factor that militates against achieving a steady production rate. Chiefs of air staff are generally ex-fighter pilots, who are relatively easily separated from their funding by men marketing shiny new combat aircraft. When a neighbouring country buys a fighter it becomes a matter of national pride to respond by acquiring something at least as impressive. New trainers can wait, even if the aircraft they are going to replace are restricted to 2.5g by fatigue problems. The end result is that waves of combat aircraft orders are followed years later by ripples of trainer contracts. It is a business of short snacks and long famines.

This special report focuses on the introduction of a new generation of trainers and significant improvements to the existing aircraft.

Sorting wheat from chaff

Terminology varies from country to country, but pilot training can be viewed as a series of distinct phases, the first of which may be described as ab initio, primary training or grading. This is intended to establish whether the student has the necessary aptitude to become a military pilot in a reasonably short time. It will eliminate, for example, those who get airsick or lack co-ordination or judgement. During this phase of the syllabus, which may last as long as 20 hours, successful students will fly a solo circuit of the airfield. There are approximately 6,000 military primary trainers currently in service. A substantial proportion of students 'wash out' during this phase.

Compared to its low-powered civil equivalent, a typical military trainer in this class has a piston engine with power up to 150-200kW. It is also more demanding to fly and considerably more expensive. Acquisition costs can rise due to the configurations demanded by many air forces. Some prefer side-by-side seating while others opt for tandem cockpits. The canopy profile may be raised to allow the aircrew to wear their 'bone-domes'. Some prefer a retractable landing gear that allows them to extend the use of the aircraft into basic training.

Military trainers associated with civilian flying training organisations are not necessarily typical of Phase I aircraft since low operating cost is so important. Military students spend more hours in the air than civilian students. During this phase, one way to reduce cost is by using simple aircraft with a fixed landing gear. Another way is to use an airframe construction based on composite materials.

UK students at the Royal Air Force (RAF) University Air Squadrons fly up to 90 hours during this phase on the Grob G115E Tutor, powered by a 134kW Textron Lycoming AEIO-360. In the US, the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is under a five-year contract to train students from the US Air Force (USAF) Academy on the Canadian-built Diamond Aircraft DA20-C1 Katana with a 93kW Teledyne Continental IO-240.

The Slingsby Aviation T67M-260 Firefly with a 194kW Textron Lycoming AEIO-540 is a more typical primary military trainer. Some air forces, such as the Royal Bahraini Air Force, progress directly from the T67M-260 to the BAE Systems Hawk Mk 127 advanced jet trainer, thus leap-frogging the intermediate (basic) phase. Slingsby is considering developing a faster T67M with a smaller, thinner wing and a 'glass' NVG-compatible cockpit.

For improved performance, some training institutions use the retractable-gear 194kW Grob G120A, as flown by Lufthansa Flight Training in the US to provide initial training for student-pilots for the German armed forces. Elbit Systems' subsidiary, Cyclone, currently also operates the G120A (renamed Snunit). Under a 10-year contract, 27 Snunits will provide pilot training for the Israeli Air Force: an example of where a capability has been bought in.

The practice of many former Warsaw Pact countries of buying their piston-engined trainers from Romania (Aerostar Yak-52) and their jets from the Czech Republic (Aero Vodochody L-29, L-39) provided sensible production rates and economies of scale. In April 2002 the Russian Defence Ministry selected the Sukhoi Su-49 powered by a 315kW Vedeneyev M-9F radial engine to replace the Yak-52. This offered Russia the prospect of a launch order for 300-400 aircraft and, later, up to 1,000 for the DOSAAF, the paramilitary training organisation.

The Su-49 programme is stalled because Sukhoi refuses to complete development until it has a firm production order in place. As a result, the defence ministry has instead negotiated a preliminary agreement with Yakovlev to upgrade an initial batch of 50-70 Yak-52s, fitted with 268kW Vedeneyev M-14P engines, to the Yak-52M standard. This will have new avionics, a stronger wing, increased fuel capacity, a three-blade propeller and (later) Zvezda SKS-94MY lightweight ejection seats and the more powerful M-9F engine. The Yak-52M prototype made its debut at Moscow's MAKS 2003 airshow.

In a further development, Yakovlev has reached an agreement with Odessa-based company Ukraviaremont to refurbish and upgrade Ukrainian Air Force Yak-52s, which includes installing the 345kW ZMBK Progress AI-450 turboprop, derived from the turboshaft in the Ka-226/228.

Expanding the market?

Whereas developing a limited operational capability can broaden the potential market for jet trainers, virtually the only way to increase primary trainer sales is to provide a four-seat cockpit so it can also be used as a liaison aircraft. This was done in the case of Finland's Valmet L-70, which first flew in 1975, but only 32 were built.

Technological advances in engines may also help increase the sales of primary trainers. Many air forces would prefer not to use avgas (AViation GASoline) fuel for reciprocating piston engine aircraft. It is not universally available, is expensive and introduces the risk of misfuelling. This will presumably lead in the longer term to the acceptance of a new generation of diesel-powered trainers burning avtur (AViation TURbine) fuel. The leaders in this field are the Liechtenstein-registered Thielert Aircraft Engines with the 100kW Centurion 1.7 and France's SMA (a joint venture by Renault-Sport, EADS and SNECMA) with the 170kW SR305-230. Applications for the Centurion 1.7 include the Diamond Aircraft DA40 TD1, which has been ordered for the Lufthansa Flying School. Both engine manufacturers are developing units in the 225kW class, which could re-power French Air Force EADS/Socata Epsilons.

Another way to avoid using avgas in the primary training phase is to use a relatively low-powered turboprop. For example, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) plans to replace its 250kW piston-engined Fuji T-3 with the same company's T-7 (formerly T-3kai) equipped with a 335kW Rolls-Royce 250-B1F turboprop. The T-7 also has a wider cockpit, a stretched fuselage and a swept vertical tail; it first flew on 9 July 2002. The JASDF plans to buy a total of 49.

However, no low-powered turboprop trainer has ever been a major commercial success. Although the Rolls-Royce (formerly Allison) Model 250 is one of the most successful gas turbines ever developed, no trainer with this engine (many of which have flown as prototypes) has sold in big numbers. There may be little interest because the fuel capacity is not increased, but it may also be that trainers in this power category fall awkwardly between the primary and basic training phases. Despite these poor results, Chile's ENAER, which flew a converted Turbo-Pillan (later Aucan) in 1986, is now marketing the T-35DT project in a new mission with a FLIR Systems Ultra 7500 thermal imager for the drugs-interdiction role.

Feeling like a jet

The second phase is basic flying training, which typically consists of 100-150 flying hours in a high-powered turboprop with tandem seating. During this phase, students learn such skills as aerobatics, night flying, formation flying and cross-country navigation.

Despite a proliferation of turboprop basic trainers, the Russian Air Force has never embraced this training phase. Russian pilots will move directly from the piston-engined Yak-52M or Su-49 to the Yak-130 advanced trainer. This follows the precedent established by the French Air Force to move students directly from the 225kW Epsilon to the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet advanced trainer. Although some non-commissioned students do follow this course, others now proceed via the Embraer EMB-312 Tucano turboprop.

The turboprop basic trainer category was pioneered by Switzerland's Pilatus, and subsequent developments have mainly resulted from the company's battles with Brazil's Embraer. The dominant engine throughout has been the Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) PT6A series.

Pilatus first converted a P-3 prototype, replacing the piston engine with a PT6A-20, and it flew in 1966. However, the market was not yet ready (all-through jet training was then the vision of the future), and the concept was put on hold until the early 1970s when rising oil prices and shrinking defence budgets made air forces review operating costs. Pilatus flew a second converted P-3 in 1975 and, in 1978, the first production PC-7 flew with a PT6A-25A flat-rated at 410kW.

Today the PC-7 remains Pilatus' no-frills, low-cost baseline model, with no ejection seats, no airbrake and no hydraulic nosewheel steering. It has electrically operated flaps and landing gear. Over 450 have been sold to 20 air forces. The PC-7 Mk II(M), which came much later (after the PC-9), was adopted by South Africa under the name Astra. It has a 522kW PT6A-25C engine to offset the heavier weight that results from the addition of ejection seats and hydraulically operated landing gear, airbrake and nosewheel steering. Over 70 have been sold to three air forces.

The Beech T-34C Turbo Mentor struggled to compete with the PC-7 but, in 1980, Embraer flew the EMB-312 Tucano: the first trainer designed from the outset for a turboprop engine. Larger than the PC-7, with 36% heavier empty weight, the Tucano needs a 560kW PT6A-25C to achieve a similar level of performance at low level. It has ejection seats and the rear cockpit is raised, giving the instructor a better field of view. Over 620 Tucanos have been built for 15 air forces.

Pilatus struck back with what was virtually a completely new design, the PC-9M, which first flew in 1984 and is powered by a PT6A-62 derated to 708kW. The PC-9M has ejection seats, a raised rear cockpit and hydraulic systems that were later copied for the PC-7 Mk IIM. Over 250 have been sold, and it is still regarded as one of the finest trainers available. Ireland selected the PC-9M in January 2003 from a shortlist that also included Embraer's stretched Tucano - the EMB-314 Super Tucano (ALX) - and Raytheon's T-6A Texan II.

Slovenia operates armed PC-9Ms with mission systems by Israel's Radom.

For the US Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) competition, an air force/navy programme, the PC-9M competed with the EMB-314 Super Tucano, powered by a 970kW PT6A-68. In 1995, a modified PC-9M was selected to be built by Raytheon under licence as the T-6A Texan II. The latter differs from the PC-9M in several ways. It has a pressurised cockpit redesigned to accommodate 95% of eligible pilots; Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seats; single-point refuelling; improved birdstrike resistance; and a Raytheon-patented rudder trim device. The engine is a PT6A-68 flat-rated at 1,100kW with a power management system that is modified to simulate the response of a turbofan engine.

The US armed forces plan to acquire around 780 T-6As by 2017. The Fiscal Year 2005 (FY05) US budget request is for 53 T-6As at a unit cost of $5.8 million. In September 2003 the 200th was delivered, at which stage the USAF had 108, the US Navy 21, the Hellenic Air Force 45, and the NFTC 26, where it is designated the CT-156 Harvard II.

Although not chosen for JPATS, the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) selected the EMB-314 Super Tucano in 2001 to meet its ALX advanced trainer and light attack requirements. It placed an order for 76 aircraft with an option for a further 23. The ALX cockpit is pressurised and its PT6A-68 can be rated at 1,195kW for the attack role and 932kW for training. It will be built in both single- and two-seat forms, with FAB designations A-29 and AT-29 respectively. It can carry 1,500kg of stores on five pylons and is unusual in having two 12.7mm machine guns mounted inside the wings. The first ALX development aircraft (a single-seat A-29) flew on 2 June 1999. The island of Dominica has ordered 10 A-29s to replace its A-37s.

In a bold attempt to bridge the basic/advanced phase transition, Pilatus is using royalties from the T-6 programme to help fund development of a completely new advanced turboprop trainer: the PC-21. This development was not so much a reaction to the Super Tucano as an acknowledgement that the PC-9M would not be able to compete with the T-6 in countries where Washington has market influence.

Pilatus intends the PC-21 to perform better than any competitor while retaining life-cycle costs roughly in line with current turboprops, despite having a more powerful engine and ejection seats equivalent to the Eurofighter Typhoon. The development programme began in January 1999 and the first new-build PC-21 flew on 1 July 2002, following tests from late 1997 with a proof-of-concept aircraft based on a PC-7 Mk II (JDW 8 May 2002). At the end of 2003, the first aircraft had flown well over 300 hours. A second prototype is due to fly in mid-2004.

The PC-21 is powered by a PT6A-68B driving a Hartzell propeller with five graphite blades. Unlike the engines in the T-6A and Super Tucano, it is flat-rated at 800kW up to 70kt (130 km/h) and power can be increased in a linear manner to the full 1,195kW at 200kt (370km/h). To provide the widest possible speed range and jet-like handling, the PC-21 has a relatively short wing span with spoilers, allowing the use of relatively small ailerons and thus long-span Fowler flaps. The result is a stall speed of 80kt (148km/h) and a maximum speed of around 325kt (600km/h). By increasing the fuel capacity to allow two consecutive flying training sorties to be made without refuelling, the centre of gravity range has extended aft, necessitating a small degree of wing sweepback.

To improve on the marginal weathercock stability of the PC-7 and PC-9, the rear fuselage of the PC-21 has been stretched by 1.5m. The PC-21 will have Pilatus' own yaw-compensation system. The cockpit is pressurised and the field-of-view of both pilots benefits from the absence of a front canopy arch. A new trailing-link landing gear has been introduced to allow a higher sink rate at touchdown.

One of the basic aims of the PC-21 is to include mission system management training that would normally be carried out on an advanced jet trainer, which Pilatus estimates would have a direct operating cost three to six times higher. External loads totalling up to 1,150kg can be carried on five hardpoints, but stores clearance will be the responsibility of the buyer. The 'flyaway' price for the PC-21 is approximately SFr10 million ($7.9 million) with full avionics. Pilatus hopes to sell around 300 PC-21s over the next 20 years.

One objective of PC-21 marketing (though not the first chronologically) is to have the aircraft selected as a Tucano-replacement in the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS) programme. It would complement the BAE Systems Hawk T.1/1A and the recently ordered Hawk Mk 128 and allow some of the former model (80 of which have recently completed a further life-extension programme) to be withdrawn.

The pending UKMFTS programme is a 25-year private finance initiative that is expected to cost up to £12.5 billion ($22.7 billion) and cover all aspects of providing aircrews for the three UK services, with helicopter training added from 2012. It will include the provision of base facilities, aircraft maintenance and simulators.

UKMFTS is now in the assessment and convergence phase, with final approval expected in 2006. If the contract is signed in that year it could lead to the handover of the existing system on schedule in 2007 and full service provision from 2012. In October 2003 it was announced that five organisations, of which the first two have subsequently teamed together, had been shortlisted to compete for the role of UKMFTS training systems integrator:

* The Boeing Company;

* Thales Defence Ltd;

* BAE Systems, Bombardier Aerospace Defence Services and Serco;

* ASCENT (Lockheed Martin, the VT Group and Rolls-Royce plc); and

* VECTOR (Kellogg Brown and Root Ltd and EG&G/Lear Siegler Inc).

It appears that the UK Ministry of Defence will select a new turboprop trainer, although it remains to be seen if it is purchased outright or, in effect, leased via the training systems integrator.

One of the latest but lesser-known turboprop trainers is the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KT-1, equipped with a 710kW PT6A-62A. Deliveries to South Korea's air force (RoKAF) began in late 2000, and KAI has now completed this batch of 85 KT-1s plus seven KT-1Bs for Indonesia. The company is reported to have a preliminary agreement with the RoKAF on the procurement of 20 examples of the KO-1, a forward air control/counter-insurgency variant, the first deliveries of which are scheduled for 2005. It will be interesting to see if South Korea's success in automobile manufacture is followed by substantial export sales of training aircraft. At the time of writing, the KT-1 is competing against the PC-9M, PC-21, Super Tucano and T-6 for a Turkish order for 60 aircraft to replace the T-34B/C.

A wider market?

Just as low-powered turboprop trainers have failed to find a market, all attempts to sell bottom-of-the-range jets in the modern basic trainer market have also flopped. If one was going to succeed, it should logically have been the S.211, which is now part of the Aermacchi product range. Combining a well-proven 14.2kN P&WC JT15D-5C turbofan engine with a supercritical wing, the S.211 appeared to be the right choice for any service that believed in all-through jet training.

However, for the level of performance required in basic training, a turboprop is a much less expensive solution. At these speeds, the propeller acts as a highly effective thrust-magnification device. As a result, the engine is much smaller than in the case of a turbofan. Fuel consumption is likewise reduced.

The availability of reasonably priced turboprops in the 1,000kW class, primarily from P&WC, has effectively removed the market for turbofan-powered basic trainers such as the Aero Vodochody L-39, which are only marginally faster. Whether a low-cost new jet design such as the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) HJT-36 Sitara or the Hongdu K-8 can change the situation appears doubtful. Not a single example of the Aero Vodochody L-139 (with a more powerful version of the Honeywell TFE731 used in the K-8) has been sold, and the vastly superior L-159 (with a Honeywell F124) has yet to win an export order. HAL hopes to build 211 HJT-36s for the Indian Air Force, the first of which flew on 7 March 2003. This new design is powered by a single 14kN Snecma Larzac, putting it in broadly the same class as the S.211.

Enter the jet

Following the second phase, an advanced flying training course of 150-200 hours on a high performance tandem-seat jet-powered aircraft may well be restricted to those students who have been 'streamed' for the fast jets. Phase IV - lead-in fighter training - is generally performed on the same aircraft, preparing the pilot for operational conversion (Phase V).

It is probably fair to say that the BAE Systems Hawk, powered by a single Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour turbofan, established the current standard for advanced jet trainers. The baseline Hawk T.1 entered UK RAF service in 1977. Approximately 650 Hawks have been ordered, and the company has a substantial production share in its Boeing T-45 Goshawk derivative, of which 234 are planned for the US Navy (USN). The USN's selection of the Hawk to serve as the basis for the navalised T-45 has been a useful endorsement, as was Bombardier's adoption of the Hawk Mk 115 (as the CT-155) for the NFTC programme.

One of the most important factors in the relatively successful marketing of the Hawk has been the manufacturer's ability to arrange offset deals. These activities were launched to support the sale of Hawks to Finland in 1977 and were of crucial importance in winning a South African order in 1999.

BAE Systems also pioneered the 'lead-in fighter trainer' (LIFT) concept, with the cockpit and controls of the Australian Hawk Mk 127 designed to facilitate transition to the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF's) F/A-18. Another major step has been the introduction on the South African Hawk Mk 120 of the Adour 951, with a thrust of 28.9kN, an 8,000-hour time between overhaul, full-authority digital control and usage monitoring system, making it fully competitive with the new-generation Honeywell F124. The Adour 951 is also to be used on Bahrain's Mk 127 and the RAF's Mk 128, but the 66 Indian Hawks (of which 42 are to be built in-country by HAL) will use the less powerful 25.8kN Adour 871. Air-to-air refuelling capability, as tested on an upgraded RAAF Hawk Mk 127 in late 2002, is now available as an optional fit.

The latest Hawk variant is the Mk 128 adopted for the UKMFTS programme. The Mk 128 uses a new BAE Systems open-architecture mission system with modular software, facilitating add-ons such as sensor-simulation using GPS and IFF inputs (rather than radar), ground proximity warning and traffic collision avoidance. It will make some use of direct voice inputs, but not on the same scale as the Typhoon. The 44 aircraft planned (20 firm and 24 on option) are to provide 16,000 flight hours per year (364hr/yr per aircraft), which is a high use by RAF standards but small in comparison with the 630hr/yr of USN T-45s.

Current Hawk marketing targets include Poland, which has the rather basic Iskra but needs to train pilots for 48 F-16C/Ds that will begin delivery in 2006. Slovakia is currently choosing a new advanced trainer, which is also to serve in the light attack role. Other possibilities include Finland (presently still in the Eurotrainer programme), the RAF (beyond the planned 44) and Canada's NFTC, which will almost certainly continue to expand. BAE Systems estimates that on a global scale 1,500-2,000 advanced jet trainers and light attack aircraft will be purchased over the next 15 years, including 200 Eurotrainers. The company hopes to sell a further 400 Hawks or more if it is eventually selected for the Eurotrainer programme.

The Boeing T-45A Goshawk entered service with the USN in 1994. The T-45C with glass cockpit, INS/GPS and an advanced head-up display followed in 1997. The USN advanced and strike training syllabus includes carrier qualification, with four touch-and-go landings and 10 daytime arrested landings. The US FY05 budget request included eight T-45Cs at a unit price of $31.7 million.

The marketing success of the Hawk series has been achieved at the expense of the Aermacchi MB-339 and the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet. In the case of the MB-339, the relatively older design limits some performance, while the twin-jet power plant of the Alpha Jet has not proved popular in the export market. Dassault has made an unsolicited proposal to upgrade 125 French Air Force Alpha Jets to bridge the gap to the projected Eurotrainer. This follows upgrading of the Belgian Alpha Jets by Sabca.

The Advanced European Jet Pilot Training (AEJPT) or Eurotrainer concept began with an Outline European Staff Target (OEST) that was agreed at the European Air Chiefs' Conference (EURAC) in 1999, covering the advanced flying training and lead-in (pre-operational) parts of the fast jet pilot syllabus (Phases III and IV). At the end of 2001, 12 of the 17 EURAC air forces (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) agreed to fund a 12-month feasibility study. The EUR8 million ($9.9million) contract was signed in December 2002. A consortium of 30 companies led by Aermacchi (prime contractor) and including Dassault Aviation, EADS-CASA, EADS-Deutschland, Saab, Thales and Turbomeca, is conducting this study. Italy's Directorate General for Aeronautical Armament is the contracting agency for the study.

It is hoped that a Eurotrainer-based AEJPT programme will be launched later this year, following the recent two-month extension to the feasibility study, due to conclude in March. This could possibly be located at three airfields in northern, central and southern Europe. Initial operational capability is scheduled for 2010 and full operational capability for 2012. The four competing designs are the Aermacchi M-346, a new single-engine high subsonic trainer from Dassault Aviation and two variants of the single-engined EADS Mako: a transonic version and a supersonic variant.

A subsequent assessment phase will look at the suitability of these aircraft. It is also possible that other aircraft may be considered. Saab is reported to have proposed a new subsonic trainer, designated '518', and a derivative of its two-seat Gripen conversion trainer, while versions of the BAE Systems Hawk and Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI)/Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle may also be considered.

The Aermacchi M-346 will likely win the Eurotrainer competition, if only because it is already being funded and could meet the 2010 in-service date. Aermacchi also argues that only a twin-engined aircraft is likely to meet the OEST attrition demand for less than one catastrophic loss per million flying hours.

The M-346 is an extensively redesigned derivative of the YAK/ AEM-130 demonstrator. It is lighter, Westernised and powered by two Honeywell F124 turbofans, carrying an extra 200kg of internal fuel. The M-346 has quadruplex fly-by-wire controls, with independently actuated tailplane halves to assist roll control and improve battle damage tolerance. It is noteworthy that the demonstrator reached an AoA of 35º under full control: a figure to which Aermacchi will presumably aim to clear the M-346. The first of three M-346 prototypes was rolled out in June 2003 and is due to fly in the spring of 2004. Allowing for the 300 flight tests made with the earlier demonstrator, production deliveries should be possible by 2007 (JDW 18 June 2003).

From a political viewpoint, the only conceivable supersonic alternative to the M-346 is either of the two proposed Mako variants, powered by a single General Electric F414 derated from 97-75kN. EADS has so far invested EUR80 million in the Mako. The project-definition phase will continue until the end of 2004 but full-scale development cannot proceed without a substantial launch order. It therefore appears doubtful whether the Mako could satisfy the Eurotraining timescale. The company claims that although the Mako will cost around 15% more than a twin-engined subsonic trainer, it will have a similar life-cycle cost thanks to its 16,000hr fatigue life and single engine. In view of its ability to extend the LIFT role, pilot training overall will then cost 20 to 30% less with the Mako. Maximum speed is now estimated as M1.3 and with 50% internal fuel it will have a thrust/weight ratio of 1.08, providing outstanding specific excess power.

The outside contender is the supersonic KAI/Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle, powered by a single General Electric F404-GE-402 giving 78.7kN afterburning thrust. The first of four prototypes had its first flight on 20 August 2002 and, late last year, the South Korean government authorised production of the first 25 of an eventual total of 94, which will include 44 A-50 LIFT and close support aircraft. The A-50 differs in having a Lockheed Martin APG-67(V)4 radar and a 20mm General Dynamics Gatling gun. Deliveries of the T-50 are due to begin in October 2005, so it could meet the Eurotrainer timescale. The government is funding 70% of the $2 billion development cost with contractors providing the balance.

The South Korean government is also studying a single-seat F-50 fighter derivative as an F-5 replacement. The T-50 international joint venture hopes to export around 600 T-50/A-50s over a 20-year period. The unit price has been given as $18-20 million without radar. Availability of the T-50 at an attractive price might modify the USAF decision to keep its 500-plus Northrop T-38 Talons in service until around 2040. The current T-38A model is now in the process of being given an avionics update and structural life-extension programme by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (with Israel Aircraft Industries as principal subcontractor), emerging as the T-38C.

The Eurotrainer requirement left the contest open to single- and twin-engined and subsonic and supersonic aircraft. The case for a supersonic trainer (which will have a higher unit cost and less endurance than its subsonic equivalent) is that it can reduce the time spent on operational conversion, flying a much more expensive aircraft. In addition, it can be sold as a light combat aircraft, increasing the production total.

It was hoped that the Eurotrainer study would lead to the 12 nations reaching a consensus on the choice of an aircraft by the end of 2003. However, the current situation appears to be that some countries have dropped out. Italy is strongly supporting the M-346, Germany and Spain are advocating development of the EADS Mako, while France is reportedly offering a new design from Dassault Aviation. The company declined to expand on the details at this time. Sweden evidently feels that the M-346, Mako and Korea's T-50 Golden Eagle all fail to meet its needs, which point to a new design such as the Saab 518.

In the wider marketplace, the M-346 will now have to compete with Russia's national follow-on to the YAK/ AEM-130 demonstrator, the Yak-130. In April 2002, it was selected to meet Russia's requirement for a next-generation combat trainer. That potential market represents at least 200 aircraft, which may be supplemented by orders for a radar-equipped light attack version, with armour for the cockpit and engines and a 30mm GSh-301 cannon. It currently appears that the production Yak-130 is likely to be equipped with 24.5kN Salyut-built Ivchenko Progress AI-225-25 turbofans. The first production aircraft was rolled out in June 2003 and, following acceptance trials, the first squadron is due to be formed in 2005.

It remains to be seen if there is any future for the much lighter, twin-engined RSK MiG-AT, which lost out to the Yak-130 to meet Russia's requirement. Subject to development being completed, the MiG-AT could be offered for export with the Snecma Larzac engines and French avionics of the demonstrator.

What next?

It appears that the industry has grasped the reality of fixed-wing flying training and is now bringing its various trainer projects to fruition. Marketing hype will now be arguing the relative benefits of mature evolution versus untried new technology. In a parallel move, air forces are considering more cost-effective ways to train their future pilots. The NFTC approach has much to recommend it but in Europe, the former Soviet bloc and the Middle and Far East, decisions on preferred solutions are still pending. Once the customer knows what it thinks it wants, industry will adapt its products and inform the customer of the estimated costs of various options. It is still a buyer's market.
 

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