The first two trainers are about to be delivered to the 61st Wing of the Italian Air Force.
The first two new Leonardo M-345 trainer aircraft, designated T-345A in accordance with the Italian Mission Design Series, were recently photographed in Italian Air Force colors. The photos you can see in this article, taken by photographer Oscar Bernardi, show the T-345s during taxi and flight tests at Venegono airport, in northwestern Italy, where the final assembly lines of Leonardo Aircraft and Helicopter Divisions are based.
The aircraft with the provisional serial CSX55233 made its first flight on Jul. 21, 2020, some weeks after the airframe serialled CSX55234 (that was built first). Both trainers should be delivered to the 61st Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force – ItAF) at Lecce-Galatina Airbase, later this month.
At the moment, the T-345s are painted in an overall light grey color scheme and do not sport the 61-xx codes that associate the aircraft with the 61st Wing yet, but they will probably be applied to the forward part of the fuselage, below the canopy, upon delivery along with the Wing insignia on the tail.
The M-345 is the latest evolution of the S-211 trainer, which was redesigned with improved aerodynamics, reinforced airframe, new cockpit and avionics and called initially M-311, before assuming the final name as M-345 High Efficiency Trainer. The aircraft, which shares also some parts with the M-346 Master (T-346A in Italian service), is powered by a Williams FJ44-4M-34 turbofan engine with 1,540 kg (3,400 lb) of thrust, can fly up to 40’000 ft with load factors of +7/-3.5 g and a max speed of 380 KTAS at sea level or 425 KTAS at 20,000 ft. The max range is reported as 760 nm in clean configuration and 1,000 NM with external fuel tanks.
As you may already know from our previous articles, the Italian Air Force ordered 18 M-345As (a number that may increase up to 45 aircraft) to start replacing the aging MB-339s, together with ground-based training systems similar to the ones developed for the M-346 advanced trainer. The new aircraft will also become the new platform of the Italian Air Force’s Frecce Tricolori display team.
In May 2020, the T-345A obtained the Initial Certification from the Directorate for Air Armaments and Airworthiness (DAAA), the Italian Ministry of Defense’s Certification Authority, after 200 test flights by Leonardo and the Italian Air Force, paving the way for the delivery and entry into service.
The T-345A will be used for Phase 2 and Phase 3 training, where students obtain their Military Pilot Licenses before moving to Phase 4, the Lead-In Fighter Training with the T-346A Master. The aircraft will be initially used by the 61st Wing and will later support the reinforcement and internationalisation of the training offer launched by Leonardo in partnership with the Italian Air Force as part of the International Flight Training School (IFTS) framework, which is currently based on the M-346 Master only.
Big H/T to Oscar Bernardi for sending us the photos you can find in this article.