Tag Archives: Poland

Mastering the Master

“Radar lock on Cobra 1”, I hear my pilot call from the front seat. And yes,  I can see it on the head up display (HUD) and on the screen between my knees. But the thing is, we don’t actually carry radar or air-to-air missiles. Seconds later and to my amazement, I see Cobra 1 in a thermal targeting image from a Litening pod on the left screen. The image reflects my actual view of Cobra 1 in our 1 o’clock position. But again, the thing is, we don’t actually carry a Litening pod. Welcome to the M-346 Master Advanced Jet Trainer and it’s world of simulation.

Click on the pictures for a larger image

Just 30 minutes before, Cobra 1 and Cobra 2 are both lined up at runway 14 at Lecce Galatina airbase in southern Italy. The military airfield houses the Italian Air Force’s 61st Wing and all seven M-346 Master Advanced Jet Trainers now in use. Two of those are now scheduled for a familiarization sortie in the area, with me in the backseat of Cobra 2. Flying Cobra 1 is the commander of 212 Gruppo, the squadron that since 2014 is the sole operator of the M-346 in the Italian Air Force.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Time for a selfie while holding short for take off. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

The flight follows after a visit to Leonardo Aircraft’s Venegono facility in northern Italy, where the remaining eleven Italian jets are still in production, next to a batch of eight aircraft for Poland. Leonardo puts the M-346 – called T-346A by the air force – on the market not merely as a Phase 4 Lead-in Fighter Trainer (LIFT) platform, but as an integrated training solution for military jet pilots, and one that makes good use of the virtues of simulation. In the costly world of 4th and 5th generation fighter jets, that’s not a bad place to start from.

Take off

Back in Lecce, we start our take off roll in formation and become airborne after only 15 seconds. Since I studied the Master’s cockpit the day before in Venegono, I already feel somewhat familair in these surroundings, but what catches me by surprise once in the air, is the nearly unlimited visibility from the back seat. I can observe nearly all of the world around me, but also what my pilot – whose tactical callsign is ‘Pants’  – is up to in the front seat. Pants is an instructor pilot (IP) and it’s his job to ready student pilots for the next step in their military flying career, which is flying 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft such as the Typhoon, plus the F-35 Lightning II in the near future. But first, they’ll have to master the Master.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Rotation is achieved just 15 seconds or so after brake release. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A topside view over Italian farmland. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
The sea turns turquoise while we execute a left hand turn. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Data stream

In doing so, the 8 g capable M-346 should also be able to present student pilots with the same, endless data stream that fighter pilots are subjected to in combat situations. And after doing some pre-briefed photo set ups below and above the clouds first, the jet in fact proves it is capable of doing exactly that. Pants in quick succession shows me the various air-to-ground and air-to-air modes. If needed and by using the M-346’s embedded tactical simulation plus datalink capablities, an IP on the ground at Lecce could present us with an immediate tactical threat of any kind, and leave us to deal with it. It puts the right amount of pressure on any aspiring fighter pilot. But, thanks to Leonardo’s smart and unique Live Virtual Constructive (LVC), none of it is actually real.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Cobra 1 shows its belly to the camera. The small profile of the M-346 makes it quite hard to visually spot from distances. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Barrell rolling in formation. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
And more aerobatics as seen from the backseat. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Computer generated

The same goes for the thoroughly convincing thermal image I’m seeing of Cobra 1. That image is actually a computer generated picture, relayed to us via a ground station at Lecce. But to us in the cockpit of Cobra 2, it is like we are actually carrying a Litening pod beneath our aircraft.  I have to remind myself that in reality, we don’t. Our jet is in full trainer configuration, completely devoid of any external stores.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A climbing turn on the wing of Cobra 1. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Cobra 1 in the distance… (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
… and up close in a computer generated infrared image. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Mean version

If it were up to Leonardo Aircraft back in Venegono, that may very well change. The company is currently developing the M-346FT (for Fighter Trainer), a weaponized variant of the M-346. ‘One system, one switch, two missions’, the head of Leonardo’s international sales division tirelessly repeats when talking about this ‘meaner’ M-346, that effortlessly turns from a trainer aircraft into a full fighter aircraft. Electronic warfare capabilities, chaff and flares, recce and targeting pods; all possibly turn from simulated to very real on the M-346FT.

The FT version was sparked by interest from Poland when ordering an initial batch of eight trainer versions. Deliveries of the first of these are set for November 2016. Leonardo is working on update kits that transform M-346 trainers into M-346FT warplanes.

Alternative

The M-346FT also is a noteworthy alternative to buying new expensive fighter jets for countries such as Argentina. That explains the visit to Lecce by Argentine Air Force pilots just a few days before my M-346 flight. Lecce is a melting pot of nationalities by any standards. The airbase houses student and instructor pilots not only from Italy, but also from Poland, Greece, Kuwait, Austria and Singapore among others.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Up, up, up! Despite not being equipped with afterburning engines, the M-346 has plenty of power. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Dutch training

The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is also represented at Lecce. An instructor pilot has been flying the M-346 for about a year know, although the main objective of the Dutch delegation is to find out if fighter pilot training in Italy could replace current training in the US. Whereas Dutch student pilots were originally to fly the M-346 also, the RNLAF instead opted for the cheaper and less capable MB-339CD. The Dutch however are enthusiastic about the Italian way of training, and about the M-346 in particular.

Barrel rolls

Meanwhile, at 10,000 feet over the Mediterranean Sea, we do some tight turns, barrel rolls and more aerobatics in formation. By now, we have burned close to 1400 kilograms of fuel, so ‘bingo fuel’ is called and it’s time to head back to Lecce. Before we land, I take pictures of Cobra 1 overflying the airbase and the Ground Based Training System (GBTS) that reflects the increasing amount of simulator training that is being done at Lecce. Currently, 50 percent of flight training takes place in the simulator on the ground, but this percentage could grow to as much as 80 percent in the future, further driving down costs.

While Cobra 1 settles down on runway 14, Pants pushes forward the throttles for one more go around and a final circuit followed by a 130 kts landing. As we taxi back to the hangarettes and I switch my ejection seat to safe, I realize that I am truly impressed by the aircraft I have just spend 1 hour and ten minutes in. Mastering the Master appears quite a handful with all the information management tasks it is able to provide, but it’s exactly that which prepares students for what awaits them. It turns them from pilots into fighter pilots.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): Breaking left! (Image © Elmer van Hest)

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Over the coastal town of Santa Maria di Leuca…. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
… and over Lecce airbase, with the Ground Based Training System (GBTS) visible just to the right of the aircraft’s nose, plus the hangarettes in the lower right hand corner. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Cobra 1 turning final for landing. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Touchdown! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Our turn on finals. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two thumbs up for the M-346 Master Advanced Jet Trainer. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two thumbs up for the M-346 Master Advanced Jet Trainer. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

First Turkish S-70i Black Hawk seen in Poland

Just two weeks after the Turkish Government announced the start of the Turkish Utility Helicopter Program (TUHP) to build a fleet of multi-role T70 utility helicopters based on the S-70i Black Hawk, Lockheed Martin-owned Sikorsky has accepted the program’s prototype aircraft produced by its Polish subsidiary, PZL Mielec.

Sikorsky accepted the TUHP prototype aircraft from PZL Mielec during a ceremony on 22 June. The chopper is the 37th S-70i helicopter built in Poland. Among the modifications that PZL Mielec added to the aircraft are a rescue hoist, internal auxiliary fuel tank, cargo hook, Integrated Vehicle Health Management System, a blade de-icing system, and a rotor brake.

Early next year, Sikorsky will fly the prototype to Ankara where it will become the engineering development test bed for a new avionics suite being co-developed by Sikorsky and Turkish defense electronics company Aselsan. The two companies will use the helicopter to integrate, flight-test, and qualify the avionics suite, which is designed to the preferences of the T70 user community.

Contractual agreements approved by the U.S. and Turkish governments license TAI to build and deliver a total of 300 T70 helicopters (109 baseline + 191 options) to six Turkish agencies: the Land Forces, Air Force, Gendarme, Special Forces, National Police, and the Directorate General of Forestry. The first Turkish-built T70 aircraft will be certified and qualified for delivery to the Turkish Government in 2021.

Over the next two years, PZL will manufacture the first five cabin structures that TAI will assemble onto the first five T70 aircraft. PZL personnel also will provide technical and manufacturing assistance and training to TAI both in Turkey and Poland. The PZL facility is the largest manufacturing facility outside the United States owned by Lockheed Martin.

Featured image: Turkish colours in Poland. (Image © (Image © www.kristrzaski.pl)

Polish F-16s ready for Middle East deployment

Polish Minister of Defence Antoni Macierewicz has confirmed plans to deploy four F-16 fighters for Middle East reconaissance missions, supporting coalition against so-called ISIS. The MoD decision still needs to be accepted by Polish prime minister and president, but according to MoD Chief, planning is already finished and crews are ready.

The contingent of four fighter aircraft and up to 150 personnel should be based in Kuwait. Further Polish support of coalition effort would be 60 special forces operators, deployed to Iraq. Their tasks would cover advising and training of iraqi special forces personnel.

Aircraft should be present in the operations area before Warsaw’s NATO Summit, beginning on 8th of July. Jastrzabs, as they are known in Polish AF, would be tasked with reconaissance missions only. Polish Air Force flies 48 F-16 block 52+, which are equipped with Goodrich DB-110 reconaissanse pods.

The same recce tasks are now fulfilled in the ISIS’ conflict area by Luftwaffe Tornados. Six German fighter-bombers and Airbus A310 MRTT tanker are now based in Incirlik in Turkey.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com contributor Paweł Bondaryk
Featured image: A Polish Air Force F-16. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

First Polish Master rolled out

Leonardo Finmeccanica rolled out the first of eight M-346 Master trainer jets for Poland on Monday 6 June. The aircraft was unveiled at the Leonardo Finmeccanica production site in Venegono, home of all production for the M-346.

The jet wears a two tone camouflage and the emblem of Dêblin airbase below its windshield. The Polish M-346s will be based at Dêblin, where they replace the TS-11 Iskras that have been in use for many decades.

The Masters will prepare future jet pilots for F-16 operations. The first jet will now undergo a flight test program to certify bespoke systems chosen by the Polish Air Force, such as the brake parachute. It will then be delivered to Poland by the end of the year along with a second aircraft. Deliveries will be completed by November 2017.

The M-346 is a product of Alenia Aermacchi, now part of Leonardo Aircraft and part of Leonardo Finmeccanica, and so far has been ordered by the Air Forces of Italy (18), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8) for a total of 68 orders. A follow on order from Poland seems likely.

Poland now ponders on attack helicopters

Poland’s hesitation when it concerns miltary helicopters must drive manufacturers out of their minds, and Airbus Helicopters especially. The company saw a 3 billion USD deal for H225M Caracal choppers fall through earlier this year and now wants Poland to select the Tiger as its new attack helicopter. Best cards are for the AH-64 Apache and AH-1Z Viper, however.

Airbus Helicopters is ‘laying the groundwork’ for future Tiger production in Poland in the same way it has been doing with the Caracal, says a statement released on Thursday 28 April. The European company taps into the fact that disagreements over off sets eventually caused the Caracal to largely collapse.

Poland doesn’t seem to have much eye for the Airbus Helicopter offer and mostly looks at the AH-64 Apache or AH-1Z Viper as its new attack helo. The former would be locally built by PZL Swidnik, while the latter could be produced by PZL Mielec.

Warsaw has a history troublesome history when it comes to selecting helicopters, however. A long process led to the selection of the Caracal as the country’s new combat search and rescue (CSAR) platform… until it was decided to look at other contenders once again.

Meanwhile, classic Mi-8 Hip transport helicopters soldier on and ageing Mi-24 Hind helicopters keep fulfilling the attack role.

The struggle could be associated with the fact that Poland also modestly produces helicopters on its own.  PZL Swidnik furthermore is tied to AgustaWestLan, while PZL Mielec is involved with Sikorysky.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A Tiger Helicopter in production at Airbus Helicopters in Germany. (Image © Elmer van Hest)