EXCLUSIVE: The first two Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Advanced Jet Trainers for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) arrived at Hatzerim Air Force Base in Israel on Thursday 9 July 2014. The M-346, of which Israel ordered 30 in July 2012, will gradually replace the Douglas TA-4 Skyhawk trainers currently operated by the IAF. Israel is now the third country to operate the M-346, the advanced jet trainer that also features in this exclusive Airheadsfly.com report.
Alenia Aermacchi calls the delivery “an important milestone which marks the team job achieved in strict collaboration with Alenia Aermacchi’s industrial counterparts, TOR and Honeywell”. Final construction of the very first Israeli M-345 began in 2013, and a roll out event took place in March 2014.
With the introduction of the M-346, the IAF can finally phase out the A-4 Skyhawk, a type that has served Israel since 168, first as fighter bomber and as trainer aircraft later in its career. The A-4 is called Ayit (Eagle) by the Israeli, whereas the new M-346 is called Lavi (Lion). At Hatzerim, the new type is likely to enter service with 102nd squadron, known as the Flying Tigers.
Meanwhile, at Alenia Aermacchi’s plant in Venegono (near Milan), production of the M-346 is in full swing: in addition to the two aircraft delivered, other 6 M-346s for the IAF are completing final assembly whereas five others are in the process of structural part assembly. All 30 aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2016. Construction of the first of eight trainers for Poland is expected to start that same year. A total of 56 aircraft are now order. The aircraft is already in service with the Italian and the Republic of Singapore Air Forces.
The M-346 is the most advanced/lead-in fighter trainer aircraft currently produced and the only new-generation trainer optimized for the role of training pilots who fly on latest-generation high-performance military planes. Thanks to its advanced technical design solutions and to the adoption of the latest “design-to-cost” and “design-to-maintain” concepts, the M-346 provides reduced acquisition and operational costs. Furthermore the reduced number of hours necessary for its maintenance make the aircraft excellent for cost-effectiveness.
Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 Integrated Training System (ITS) includes, together with the aircraft, an exhaustive Ground Based Training System (GBTS), enabling the student pilot to learn and rehearse the entire aircraft syllabus and all training objectives on the ground, before replicating them in flight.
Source: Alenia Aermacchi, with additional reporting by Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
“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.
After Italy (15), Singapore (12) and Israel (30), Poland recently became the fourth customer to order the M-346. The Polish contract of 8 raised the number of M-346 aircraft ordered to date to 56. The aircraft is already in service with the Italian and the Republic of Singapore Air Forces.
The Ministry of Defence of Poland signed the contract for the delivery of eight Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master advanced training jets on 27 February 2014. The deal is worth EUR 280 million, as announced earlier.
In addition to the eight aircraft, the provision also included logistic support, a training program for pilots and engineers and ground-based training system with dedicated classroom and educational materials.
After Italy (15), Singapore (12) and Israel (30), Poland is the fourth customer to order the M-346. The Polish contract raises the number of M-346 aircraft ordered to date to 56.
In Poland, the M-346 replaces the trusty old PZL TS-11 Iskras, a type that first flew as early as 1960. Poland has been looking for a replacement aircraft for the last five years or so. The new trainers will mainly be used for training future F-16 pilots. Poland operates 48 state-of-the-art Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52 fighters, as well as legendary MiG-29 Fulcrums.
Source: Alenia Aermacchi with additional reporting by AIRheads’ editor Elmer van Hest
The last of a dozen Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) M-346 advanced trainer will be delivered in March 2014, the Italian aircraft manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi announced.
Currently 10 of the 12 aircraft ordered have been delivered along with the delivery of the relevant ground based training system.
In February 2013, the RSAF commenced the pilot training in its Advanced Training School at the Cazaux Air Base in France, while in March 2013 the first training flight for a pilot trainee in the M-346 was successfully conducted.
Singaporese ST Aerospace is the official prime contractor of the deal, and has also Boeing involved in the RSAF M-346s.
The project has not been without problems. On 11 May 2013 a M-346 crashed in Italy, after test pilot Matteo Maurizio suddenly lost all control of the jet causing him serious injuries after ejecting from the plane. In November 2011 another M-346 was lost directly after the Dubai Airshow when all electrical power failed.