The Italian Air Force is currently testing the capabilities of the new Alenia Aermacchi M-346 (called T-346 in Italian service) in the aggressor role. The aircraft performs Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) missions with Eurofighter Typhoons at Grosseto Air Base. Meanwhile, Alenia Aermacchi’s training solutions start to attract more and more foreign interest.
The tests are aimed at proving that the M-346 is a worthy opponent and substitute for the Eurofighter Typhoon, but also at proving that both aircraft can work together seamlessly. According to Alenia Aermacchi, which also builds Typhoons for the Italian Air Force, the two aircraft are perfectly interoperable: thanks to its data-link system, the M-346 is able to operate in Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missions, while the Typhoon uses its own FPR-14 Autonomous Air-Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (AACMI) pod to simulate air-to-air “radar-to-radar” missions.
Starting next August the students of the Italian Air Force who are to fly on combat aircraft will accomplish their final training phase IV on the new M-346 – the last step before they switch to the Eurofighter. The M-346 is a huge step up from the MB-339 used so far. Once the fly the Typhoon, pilots are able to fly DACT missions against the highly manoeuvrable M-346.
Alenia Aermacchi has always stated the M-346 is ideal in providing valuable training to frontline fighter pilots, while saving very costly flying hours for types such as the Typhoon and F-35. The Royal Netherlands Air Force has taking an interest in the M-346 for exactly that. A Dutch delegation visited the M-346 production facility in Venegono very recently.
In Venegono, the production process for the first of eight M-346s for Poland has started. Italy, Singapore and Israel already use the type. Noteworthy is the visit of two M-346s to a recent airshow at the French training air base in Tours.
At the Paris Air Show, France was reportedly also interested in the M-345 High Efficiency Trainer (HET). A large French delegation was seen getting all the ins and outs about this basic jet trainer. France is looking for a replacement for its current Alpha Jet trainers.
UPDATED 19 June | As always its the orders for airliners that fight for attention at the Paris Air Show, but on the military side, things are happening as well. Most interesting little fact was the apparent first export order – announced on Monday – for the Pakistan-made JF-17 Thunder, although no country was mentioned. Let’s not be surprised however when it turns out to be Myanmar.
Pakistan Air Force officials only described the country that soon may add the JF-17 to its military inventory, as ‘Asian’. The same officials reported that current turmoil in the Middle East has slowed down export talks. The JF-17’s development meanwhile continues, with a possible two seat version on the way.
On the slower spectrum, Mali and Ghana agreed to buy six and five A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft respectively, while Saudi Arabia signed for four Airbus C295W medium transport and patrol aircraft. Perhaps the most prominent deal was the purchase of four Boeing C-17s for the Qatar Emiri Air Force.
As far as helicopters are concerned, Malaysia placed an order with Airbus Helicopters for two AS365 Dauphins for SAR duties.
Unnoticed by many was the first sale for Aero Vodochody of its new L-39NG aircraft. More on that is here.
Dassault’s Rafale was the most numerous aircraft. Three Rafales were on the ground, while a fourth gave a flying display. In the trade halls, models of Rafales in the colours of Qatar, India and Egypt were seen. Given the recent orders from those countries, further Rafale sales are unlikely.
Also in the halls, Alenia Aermacchi was pitching its M-345 jet trainer. France is reportedly interested in this trainer aircraft. Elsewhere, Antonov was pitching its new An178 transporter. The Ukrainian company also announced the An188, a military transport aircraft in the A400M and Boeing C-17 category, powered by four turbofan engines.
Alenia Aermacchi has selected the Williams International FJ44-4M to power its new M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer) aircraft. The FJ44-4M is the fully aerobatic version of FJ44-4A engine. It is a modern two–spool co–rotating turbofan engine with medium bypass ratio, mixed exhaust, and high cycle pressure ratio, according to the Italian aircraft builder.
Alenia Aermacchi and Willams International already started joint activities to finalize the collaboration framework, which will lead to integrate the engine into M-345 HET aircraft in the next couple of years. The M-345 HET represents the most recent solution proposed by Alenia Aermacchi for the basic/advanced phase of the military pilots training syllabus. The M-345 HET provides air forces with a very cost-effective solution, thanks to a high performance level coupled with significantly low acquisition and operational costs. Cost figures, in fact, are very similar or even lower than those of powerful turboprops now in the market which, although being of the same weight class of the M-345 HET and equipped with similar on-board systems, provide definitely lower performance and, consequently, lower training effectiveness.
In June 2013 Alenia Aermacchi and the Italian Defence Ministry signed an agreement to jointly define the operational requirements and to collaborate in the development of a new basic/advanced trainer aircraft, called M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer), conceived as a legacy of the S-211/M-311 trainer aircraft. Development is ongoing and the aircraft entry into service is envisaged at the end of 2017.
The M-345 HET includes the following technical data: Enhanced performance (speed, energy and maneuverability), improved maintainability and accessibility, design load factors of +7/-3.5 g with high fatigue life, latest generation turbofan Engine with reduced fuel consumption and maintenance tasks, state-of-the-art digital avionics and Embedded Training Simulation capability (HUD (Head Up Display) in the front cockpit, a HUD repeater in the rear cockpit, three Multi-Function Displays in each cockpits, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle-And-Stick) controls), excellent potential as Light Combat Aircraft and Life Cycle & Acquisition Cost comparable to a heavyweight turboprop aircraft.
It is very likely that the choice for the FJ44-4M is very much related to the first M-345 HET aircraft, which will re-equip the Italian national aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori. An Airheadsfly.com visit to the Alenia Aermacchi facility last May, already showed a M-345 HET in full colours of the Italian national aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori. During the Farnborough International Airshow in July saw a unique mixed formation of Alenia Aermacchi aircraft, including the same M-345 HET in Frecce Tricolori scheme.
Source: Alenia Aermacchi, with additional reporting by Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk
“The pride comes when any student pilot completes his first solo flight in the M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer”, says Quirino Bucci, chief test pilot Trainer Aircraft at Italian aircraft maker Alenia Aermacchi. It’s not when he himself takes a brand new M-346 up for the first time. Bucci already knows how the aircraft will perform, as it’s the result of the expertise at Alenia Aermacchi. A student pilot on his first solo, that’s what it’s all about. Alenia Aermacchi aims for just that with the innovative integrated training system, a special Italian recipe with the M-346 as the main ingredient.
Quirino Bucci has clocked over 7,000 hours in more than 60 aircraft types. His office overlooks the flightline at Venegono, the small airport in northern Italy that is home to the production line of Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer. Just over an hour ago, Bucci piloted a M-346 back home from Sardinia, where test flights with external loads – including AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles – were performed while flying from Decimomannu airbase. “Besides training, we’re trying to meet as much operational requirements with this aircraft as we can”, says Bucci.
For its users, the M-346 is a giant leap in military fast jet training, as the air forces of Italy, Singapore, Israel and Poland have already discovered. Together, they ordered 56 state-of-the-art M-346 jet trainers. The type’s first flight was on 15 July 2004. The aircraft shares its design history with the Yakovlev Yak-130. The M-346 is now being marketed as the most advanced fast jet trainer around. And perhaps rightly so, as the features of the fly-by-wire M-346 are remarkable. The two Honeywell F124-GA-200 engines give the APU-equipped M-346 an impressive max. climb rate of 22,000 feet/min and a max level speed of 590 knots. The aircraft is certified up to +8G and -3G. Maximum angle of attack is 40 degrees, with the stall speed being an equally impressive 95 knots. The aircraft can fly all the way up to 45,000 feet.
But sitting in the cockpit, the M-346 reveals even more of its potential. This is an advanced trainer in every word, offering three multi-function LCDs to both pilots, a Human Machine Interface (HMI) that is unparalleled and supplies air forces with advanced flying training, plus pre-operational training. Not only is the cockpit equipped with an embedded tactical simulator, it is also fully Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible and offers voice command and hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls. The embedded tactical simulator features a simulated radar and radar warning receivers, positioning student pilots in all kinds of tactical scenarios. A unique selling point is definitely the possibility of using a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), a feature that is key to the true potential of M-346.
It’s the production line in Venegono where all components and features are merged into the partly composite airframe of the M-346, which measures 11,49 meters (about 38 feet) in length and 4,91 meters (roughly 16 feet) in height, while the supercritical wing has a span of 9,72 meters (about 32 feet). Alenia Aermacchi set up the production line in Venegono in 2010 and since then produced aircraft for Italy and Singapore. During AIRheads↑Fly’s visit, several Italian and Israeli aircraft were seen, with the first of 30 Israeli M-346 (named Lavi in Israel) already being test-flown. Production of the first of eight Polish M-346 will start in 2016. The M-346 has also been selected by the United Arab Emirates Air Force.
Alenia Aermacchi, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, offers its customers not “just” trainer aircraft, but a totally integrated training system. Meaning the manufacturer sells a concept that guides student pilots through the screening and primary training on the turboprop SF-260TP, followed by basic training on the turbofan M-345 High Efficiency Trainer (HET) – an evolution of the S-211 and M-311 trainer aircraft – and finally, advanced and pre-operation training on the M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer. Academic training, Full Mission Simulator training and full logistics support are also part of the unique integrated concept.
The M-346 is a cost-effective operational trainer, giving operational pilots the ability to train in a highly manoeuvrable fighter, in complex tactical scenarios – real or simulated – and using technology from today’s front-line fighters, such as the HMD. Flying the M-346 saves expensive flying hours on front line fighter aircraft, freeing them for operational requirements and saving maintenance hours and money while doing so. In broadening the role of the M-346, Alenia Aermacchi is working to certify the aircraft for carrying ACMI-pods, Bomb Rocket Dispensers and air-to-air missiles, which as said, was what chief test pilot trainer aircraft Quirino Bucci went to Sardinia for.
“Of course it is now my favourite aircraft”, says Bucci, who became a test pilot at the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) at Boscombe Down in the United Kingdom. “The M-346’s HMI is beautifully designed and the swing role performance is excellent. The great thing is, this aircraft can be programmed to be really easy to fly at first for new students, and after a few flights we can adjust it to become a little bit more demanding. This gradual curve is a huge difference from, let’s say, the T-38 in which I learned to fly. That was a really tough trainer to fly due to the high speeds. The M-346 is a joy to fly and an ideal training platform.”
At Lecce airbase in southern Italy, student pilots will soon start flying the T-346A, as the advanced trainer is called by the Aeronautica Militare. They follow in the footsteps of Singapore Air Force pilots at Cazaux in France, where 150 squadron has been flying the M-346 now for some time. On 7 April, the Singapore Air Force proudly announced the first solo flight by a trainee pilot in an M-346. And even though the M-346 clearly has a lot more to offer, as AIRheadsFLY found out in Venegono, that’s what it’s all about.