Tag Archives: 61° Stormo

First ever swing role course on the T-346 prepares Italian Air Force pilots to the Typhoon and Tornado

The Italian Air Force has recently begun training its first Eurofighter and Tornado pilots on the Alenia Aermacchi T-346A at Lecce airbase, in southeastern Italy.

At the beginning of September, the Italian Air Force has launched the very first training course on the T-346A (M-346 “Master”) at 61° Stormo (Wing) based at Lecce-Galatina.

The course, that started 6 months ahead of schedule, is a swing role class held by 212° Gruppo (Squadron) and attended by four Italian pilots who will convert to the Typhoon and Tornado combat fleets upon successful completion of the training, which aims to develop the information management and aircraft handling skills of future pilots before they are assigned to the OCUs (Operational Conversion Units).

M-346 air-to-air two

The four Italian pilots will be trained for 9 months in accordance with a new “experimental syllabus” designed by the squadron’s Instructor Pilots (IPs) in the last months and currently based on 170 training events, 50 percent of those carried out in flight and the remaining 50 percent in the simulator.

In fact, with the “Master,” the training syllabus can be split 50-50 between ground and air segment: half of the flight hours is flown in the simulator and the remaining half is flown on the actual plane with a significant cost reduction. Indeed, thanks to an integrated training system (ITS), student pilots can attend ground lessons and practice the training missions in extremely realistic simulators several times before their knowledge and skills are evaluated by an IP, both at the sim and in flight.

M-346 break

The T-346A is a LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) with impressive performance, cutting edge human-machine interface and a lot of interesting technologies such as a full digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as the ability to simulate the flight characteristics of other aircraft and to replicate a wide array of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft.

The plane itself is just the air segment of the ITS that includes ground-based facilities, academics, simulators, and mission planning and debriefing stations developed to fill the gap between the flight schools and the operational unit and to prepare the pilots to operate Gen. 4th and 5th multirole aircraft in high-threat/high performance environments.

M-346 Simulator

Indeed, while current pilots are being prepared for the Typhoon or Tornado aircraft, in the near future, courses will be aimed at training attendees destined to the F-35 Lightning II.

Besides the Italians, pilots from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, are going to undertake the LIFT course with the T-346A at Lecce, along with the Polish Air Force pilots whose first of 16 pilots will start training on the Master with the ItAF in November.

The Polish Air Force is expected to take delivery of the first of 8 M-346A, selected in 2014, by the second half of 2016.

M-346 air-to-air

We have flown one of the world’s most advanced jet trainers: the M-346 of the Italian Air Force

Chosen by Italy, Israel, Poland and Singapore to prepare their pilots to the 4th and 5th Gen. fighter jets, the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 “Master” is considered one the world’s most advanced jet trainers.

The never-ending evolution of the front-line warplanes that operate in a hi-tech battlefield with new generation avionics, PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), EW (Electronic Warfare) suites and several hi-tech sensors, has called for the redesign of the training syllabus: rather than learning to fly fast jets, at a certain point of their training process, student pilots are required to become proficient at employing modern weapons systems in complex missions, in high-threat/high performance environments.

M-346 8

The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 “Master” is a dual-engine LIFT (Lead-In to Fighter Trainer) jet selected by Italy, Poland, Israel and Singapore for advanced pre-operative training, the latest stage of a fighter pilot training, which aims to develop the information management and aircraft handling skills of future pilots before they are assigned to the OCUs (Operational Conversion Units).

The “Master” couples cutting edge equipment with impressive performance for a plane of its type: the jet features a high thrust-to-weight ratio, supersonic speed at high altitude, and a maneuverability similar to those of the leading combat aircraft. It is equipped with a HUD (Head Up Display), HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick), VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), and a Helmet Mounted Display system built around a lightweight HGU-55P helmet, with a night module that can to be fitted to the standard NVG eyepiece kit that works by overlaying the HMD symbology to that of the NVG imagery. In other words, it is equipped with all the “accessories” pilots can find in the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F/A-18 Hornet, the Dassault Rafale or the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

M-346 6

Furthermore, the M-346 can replicate the capabilities of the frontline aircraft in challenging tactical scenarios: the pilots can learn to use the radar, drop LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) on moving ground targets designated through an Advanced Targeting Pod, and shoot radar-guided enemy planes in dissimilar air combat, even if the plane is not equipped with any of these systems: while interacting with the other aircraft or ground stations via datalink, the on-board computer generates the required HUD and radar symbology, offers a different weapons load out, in accordance with the training needs of the mission. The real-time mission monitor can even inject new allied and enemy planes into the system via Link 16, so that the threats will show up in the radar and on the HUD. This means, a flight of two M-346 in the air can perform a simulated intercept on a “virtual” enemy plane or attack a convoy on the ground generated by an IP (Instructor Pilot) on the ground.

M-346 1

Needless to say, along with the training mission, such a plane can be used for operational roles, thanks to Electronic Warfare System Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and a Chaff & Flare (C&F) dispensing sub-system and to seven hardpoints that enable the aircraft to carry a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, including the AIM-9L and IRIS-T air-to-air missiles, a 12,7 mm Gun Pod, and BRD (Bomb Rocket Dispensers).

The aircraft is so advanced that it is considered one of the best candidates for the T-X program, to replace the U.S. Air Force Northrop T-38 Talon, even though the future of the T-100, the T-38 replacement offering based on the M-346, is unclear after General Dynamics has withdrawn itself as the prime contractor for the bid.

M-346 2

Recently we had the unique opportunity to take part in a training mission from the back seat of an Italian Air Force M-346 “Master”. And we did it from Lecce Galatina airbase, in southeastern Italy, home of the 61° Stormo (Wing), where Italian and international aircrews are trained, by far considered one the best candidates to become the European Air Training Center, a multinational flight school responsible for the training of allied pilots in accordance with NATO’s “pooling & sharing” concept: share the best assets in order to save money.

M-346 7

Four T-346A jets (as the M-346 is designated in accordance with the Mission Design Series of the Italian Air Force) are assigned to the 212° Gruppo (Squadron), one of the three squadrons (the other ones being the 213° and the 214° GIP) of the 61° Stormo. The task of the 212° Gruppo is to provide a training tailored to the needs of the frontline squadrons. “The courses delivered here at Galatina on the T-346A aim to bring the student pilots to the skill set required by the three Italian Air Force OCUs: the 101° OCU for the AMX, at Istrana; the 102° for the Tornado, at Ghedi; and the 20° for the Eurofighter, at Grosseto,” says Col. Paolo Tarantino, commander of the 61° Stormo.

“With the M-346, the training syllabus can be split into ground and air segment: half of the flight hours are flown in extremely realistic simulators and the remaining half is flown on the actual plane. Furthermore, the induction of a new trainer with an in-flight sensor and scenario simulation can “download” forefront combat planes’ workload to less expensive but highly advanced trainers with a significant cost reduction.”

M-346 break

On Apr. 16 this Author had the opportunity to be the first journalist to fly in the ItAF T-346A and here’s a brief report of the mission.

“Dragon formation”

It’s Apr. 15 and I’m on the backseat of one of the four T-346A already assigned to the Italian Air Force.

In the front seat, currently talking on the radio, there’s Maj. Alessandro Olivares, commander of the 212° Gruppo, an IP with 2,500 flight hours and a wide experience in real operations flying the Tornado fighter bomber. In front of us, there are two T-346As waiting for the clearance to line up on the runway: the plan is to take off in sequence, rejoin and proceed to a working airspace located off the coast to the southwest of Lecce. Once in the area, we will split from the other two 346s and work a bit on the air-to-air mode to shoot some (virtual missiles) against them.

The cockpit is quite large, with a HUD in front of me showing the relevant flight parameters, radio channel, distance from the selected bullseye, attitude indicator and any other information required to fly the plane while looking outside. The front panel includes digital instruments and three MFD (Multi Function Displays) that can be arranged at will, to show the nav menu, the system status, the engine status, the moving map, etc. The visibility is excellent from the backseat.

“Dragon, line up and wait, runway 32”.

Ok, it’s our turn.

We enter the runway and prepare for take off. We complete the run-up bringing the engine power to the 80 percent. The two T-346As start the take off run with a separation of 10 seconds. Once the stopwatch reaches 20 seconds, Olivares brings the throttles to the maximum power and we start rolling as well.

The acceleration is simply impressive; comparable to those of fast jets equipped with afterburner. In 11 seconds we reach 120 knots and rotate. We are airborne.

M-346 11

We soon reach 2,500 feet, at 400 knots and we rejoin with the rest of the formation to head towards the operative area. The position of the two T-346s is clearly shown on the map thanks to the datalink.

M-346 4

We transition to the working area briefly joined by an MB.339A and an MB.339CD, the other two types flown at Lecce, and once on the pre-planned breaking point, we split to work a bit with the radar.

M-346 10

Now the datalink provides the information that the on-board computer translates into a radar picture. We can work on both TWS (Track While Scan) and RWS (Range While Search) radar modes and, using the button on the throttle, select any of the tracks to lock the target.

Using the buttons on the throttle, we can select the scale and aperture of the radar.

High G turn

What is more, the datalink can be used to send encrypted messages or to provide information about the other planes’ configuration: in this case, the two M-346s carry 2 AIM-9L and 4 AIM-120 AMRAAMs.

We select TWS to scan the airspace from ground to 42,000 feet and we lock one of the two distant targets: the HUD symbology reacts accordingly showing the locked “enemy”. Distance to the target, closure speed, missile range are shown until the message “shoot” appears, stating that we are ready to fire our simulated air-to-air missile. After a couple of turns we terminate the engagement and reposition for another one.

Once again, we find the target on the radar, lock it, wait until at the right distance for using the AAM and this time, we shoot a missile. “M346 hit” message appears shortly thereafter on the MFD providing a real-time kill notification.

The aircraft provides the pilot with the same “user experience” as if he was using an APG-80 radar. Awesome.

After some more air-to-air activity, we engage another working area for some free flight, during which Olivares shows me the maneuverability of the plane. The autotrim feature is quite useful, while the way the engines react to the throttle is pretty impressive. I’ve also the opportunity to taste the flight controls and HOTAS to perform some basic maneuvers. A breathtaking 280°/s aileron roll (performed by the pilot in the front seat) ends this part of our flight.

Noteworthy, we make extensive use of the Voice Command (VC), to change radio channels or to squawk “ident” to the Air Traffic Control radar. I can even give it a try: I activate the VC with my left finger on the throttle button and by saying “Radio 2, Channel 19” I instruct the plane to select a new radio frequency.

The VC can be used to know the fuel to bingo (in our case 140 kilograms) or to change the MFD arrangement to show the Map on the central display.

Unfortunately, it’s time to return to the base.

We coordinate with the Approach the exit from the area and head towards the base to fly a straight in approach to runway 32 at Lecce. Once established, with the field in sight, below 250 knots, we extend the landing gear and at 200 kts we lower the flaps.

The final is flown at 120 kts with 8° AOA (Angle Of Attack), following the guidance of the HUD that helps us correcting the wind drift.

After the touchdown at 110 kts, Olivares shows me the aerodynamic braking. The aircraft decelerates to 80 kts and gently lowers the nose.

M-346 touchdown

We have landed after a really interesting 70-minute flight during which we have had a taste of one of about 20-30 air-to-air modes the aircraft can provide.

“Impressive” and “Awesome” are the adjectives that I’ve used the most to describe such an experience. Stay tuned, there is more to say about the T-346A and this flight….

David e Alessandro

The Author wishes to thank the Italian Air Force Press Office, the 61° Stormo and its Commander Col. Paolo Tarantino, and the 212° Gruppo for the support provided in preparing the article. A big thank you to Iolanda Frisina and Alessandro Borsetti who contributed to the report.

 

Starex 2010 – part 2

More pictures taken at “XMannu” (X is the Roman numeral for 10th or 10°, in Italian “Decimo”, so XMannu is a short form for Decimomannu) on May 11, 2010, by Giovanni Maduli, during the Starex exercise.

















Starex 2010 – part 1

From May 3 to May 13, 2010, Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, home of the AWTI (Air Weapons Training Installation) hosted the STAREX 2010 exercise. About 50 aircraft attended the operations that simulated an International crisis scenario. AMXs belonging to the 51° and 32° Stormo (respectively based in Istrana and Amendola), Tornado ECRs of the 50° Stormo (Piacenza), Tornado IDSs of the 6° Stormo (Ghedi), F-2000 Typhoons of the 36° and 4° Stormo (Gioia del Colle and Grosseto), F-16s of the 37° and 5° Stormo (Trapani and Cervia), HH-3Fs of the 15° Stormo (Pratica di Mare), AB.212s of the 9° Stormo (Grazzanise), MB-339CDs of the 61° Stormo (that became famous for sporting the F-2000 kill markings)  and a KC-130J belonging to the 46^ Brigata Aerea (based and operating also during the Ex. from Pisa airport) were deployed to Decimomannu where a GAF (German Air Force) Tornado Detachment was also operating. Especially during the first week of the Starex, many special colours took part in the Exercise, comprising the “Viper Special” and the “Diana Special” (the Special Tail) of the 5° Stormo that rolled out at Cervia on April 16 (read here: Con la Diana sul Petto Part 1 and Part 2).  Giovanni Maduli went to Decimomannu on May 11 and 12 and took the following images of the aircraft involved in the STAREX 2010. More pictures will be published soon.












MB.339CD kill markings

The following pictures, taken by Giovanni Maduli at Decimomannu airbase during Starex exercise have made the news and caused sensation. In fact, the kill markings on the two MB.339CDs of the 212° Gruppo of the 61° Stormo, based in Lecce-Galatina, clearly show the silhouettes of a three (2+1) F-2000 Typhoons (virtually) shot down during training engagements that took place inside the ACMI range. The kill markings were applied as a hoax but the news of the presumed kills was too much emphasized. Many talked about the presumed failure of the Typhoons and their pilots, a superficial analysis that was far from being true. Actually, the 339s played a sort of aggressor role in a so-called “Bogey scenario” that was very dangerous for any interceptor; furthermore, the F-2000s were compelled by the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) to be “visual” with the CDs within 1 or 2 miles, and had not the immediate clearance to engage “hot”. Consequently, the “Macchini” had the opportunity to shoot one or two Fox 2s (IR-guided missiles, the AIM-9L Sidewinder) thanks to both the manouvrability of the MB.339 and to the fact that the F-2000 could not use the flares. Hence, the scenario that the Typhoon had to face was extremely demanding, especially since the F-2000s were also called to “manage” some F-16s at the same time. The pilots of the 61° Stormo honestly admitted that the F-2000s obtained so many kills on the MB.339s that there would have been not enough space on their fuselages to draw them all!