U.S. Air Force Certifies Polish Air Force M-346 Training System For Future F-16 And F-35 Pilots

Two Polish M-346s during a training mission. (Photo: Polish Air Force)

The certification attests that the training of Polish pilots is equivalent to the training performed in the USA on the T-38C up to the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals.

Following a week-long assessment in late 2021, the U.S. Air Force certified the Polish Air Force training system with the M-346 Bielik at the 41st Training Aviation Base in Dęblin as equivalent to the training performed on the T-38C Talon in the USA, multiple Polish media outlets have reported. Following this certification, Polish pilots will now be able to complete their training at home before joining the Operational Conversion Unit, without the need of additional training abroad.

The US personnel performed a very throughout assessment of the training system centered on the M-346. Among the items checked there are the infrastructure, the theoretical lectures, the skills of the instructors, the mission planning, briefing and debriefing process, the flight simulator training and the live flight training.

“A team of several US Air Force pilots, representing both combat and training aviation, came to us and carefully checked how we train”, said Maj. Pil. Mariusz Fischer, M-346 Bielik instructor pilot. “The Americans also assessed our infrastructure in terms of its functionality, the number of available planes and simulators. The training documentation and the flight safety system were also analyzed. Each element was assessed in great detail.”

For a long time, pilots assigned to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon completed initial flight training in Poland on the PZL-130 Orlik at the 42nd Training Air Base in Radom and then moved to the United States for advanced training and Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) on the T-38C Talon, before attending the F-16 Basic Course in Tucson, Arizona. This was a forced choice as the now retired TS-11 Iskra was not enough capable to provide the student pilots with the required skillset before the F-16 B-Course.

A Polish M-346 Bielik at the top of a looping. (Photo: Polish Air Force)

Following the delivery of the M-346, the Polish Air Force entered a transition phase and now, with this certification, Polish pilots will be able to complete at Dęblin all their advanced training up to the IFF phase. Notably, the training was certified also for the future F-35 pilots therefore, like their 4th gen counterparts, they will only move to the United States when ready to attend the F-35 B-Course at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The assessment team also found room for further improvement, beginning from the number of flight simulators.

“We met the requirements set by the United States in the field of training pilots of fourth and fifth generation aircraft. This is a huge success for our staff. Our allies also gave us high marks for training documentation and instructors’ skills”, added Maj. Fischer. “The element that needs improvement is the number of simulators. These are very modern devices, but their number inadequate to the fleet of planes acquired under the contract may have an impact on maintaining the planned training rhythm. Acquiring an additional simulator seems necessary to achieve the required system throughput”.

Poland currently operates a fleet of 12 M-346s, of which the first eight were ordered in 2014 with the other four aircraft as an option. Last year, a contract for a new option of four M-346 was announced, which should be delivered by the end of the year and bring the total fleet to 16 aircraft. Along with the last four aircraft, Poland will get a new support package as well as an upgrade of the entire M-346 fleet to the NATO STANAG 4193 Edition 3 IFF standard developed by Leonardo.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.