Testing that took place in Italy in coordination with the Italian Air Force shown the successful deployment of two weapon systems: the Lizard LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and the Mk.82 ballistic bombs. Recce and cannon pods are already integrated and fully operational, according to company sources.
Unveiled at Farnborough International Air Show in July 2016, the M-346FT is the new low-cost, multi-role variant of the basic M-346 Master AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer), one of the world’s most advanced trainers in service with the Air Forces of Italy (18 ordered jets, performing training as well as aggressors tasks), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8)
The “FT” is intended to offer both advanced training as well as urban and battlefield close air support, tactical reconnaissance and homeland security tasks. For this reason the aircraft is going to be equipped with a TDL (Tactical Data Link) and a defensive aid subsystem, to provide SA (Situational Awareness) and self-protection; a multiband secure radio and networking suite. Leonardo is also working on one more version that would also include a radar. With such an addition, the aircraft, that could easily be converted from the trainer configuration to the light attack one, could satisfy the requirements of many air arms all around the world that are looking for tactical platforms able to carry a wide array of weapons and sensors at lower costs than the current 4th (and 5th) generation’s combat planes.
The “baseline” M-346 Master platform already offers 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 variety of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft: it’s considered one of the best LIFTs (Lead-In Fighter Trainers) to train pilots destined to the next generation aircraft, thanks to its performance and cutting-edge human-machine interface.
The “Master” is also one of the candidates to replace the Air Education and Training Command’s T-38 Talons as the next-generation U.S. Air Force training plane. Leonardo is offering a specific variant of the 346, dubbed T-100, for the competition as prime contractor. The Italian company (initially by means of its subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi) teamed up with General Dynamics, between 2013 and 2015, and with Raytheon, between 2016 and Jan. 25, 2017, to offer the T-100 for the T-X. But both U.S. company withdrew as prime contractors for the T-100 offering, leaving Leonardo without an American partner in the program where it would face the competition of some clean sheet designs, such as the Boeing T-X, as well as some modified trainers, such as the Lockheed Martin T-X, an upgraded T-50A.
On Feb. 8, 2017, Leonardo eventually announced its decision to propose the T-100 for the U.S. Air Force T-X competition, with its U.S. subsidiary DRS as the prime contractor. Leonardo DRS will be supported by CAE USA in the design and development of the T-100 Ground-Based Training System (GBTS) whereas Honeywell will provide twin F124 turbofan propulsion engines. The new T-100 aircraft is to be built at a U.S. manufacturing facility that has not been selected yet.
During their approach to Dęblin, the “Master” jets, locally named “Bielik” (Polish for white tailed eagle), flew in formation with the TS-11 Iskra trainer aircraft which were sent to welcome the new airframes.
The delivery of the first two of 8 aircraft was preceded with long preparatory stages, as it required the Polish pilots to be trained at Lecce-Galatina airbase, in Italy, home of 212° Gruppo (Squadron) belonging to the 61° Stormo (Wing) of the Italian Air Force, the flight school that operates the T-346s (this is the ItAF designation) in Italy.
The first flight of the Polish jet took place on Jul. 4, 2016, while Lt. Col. Konrad Madej was the first Polish pilot to fly the jet, an Italian airframe, on Mar. 2, 2016.
The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 “Master” is a dual-engine LIFT (Lead-In to Fighter Trainer) jet for 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 aircraft has also been selected by Italy, Israel and Singapore.
Among the things said during the visit one is particularly interesting: a claim has been made by the school officials that the Polish indigenous PZL I-22 Iryda trainer program will be reactivated, with the jets being manufactured in Chełm, alongside small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and drone systems.
The news is very surprising and somewhat bizarre, considering that Poland has already procured the brand new M-346 Master advanced jet trainers, with the first deliveries for the Polish Air Force Academy in Dęblin expected to take place in November. The first two examples of the M-346 Master for the Polish Air Force are already undergoing the relevant test flight program in Italy. Eight Masters have been ordered by the Polish Air Force, with an option for more aircraft.
Whereas the M-346 is one of the world’s most advanced jet trainers, that couples impressive performance with a full digital cockpit, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) commands, carefree handling, VCI (Vocal Control Inputs), a Helmet Mounted Display as well as many other things that make the aircraft perfect to prepare pilots to the most modern combat planes, PZL Iryda is an old indigenous design dating back to the 1970s. Its main purpose was to replace the older TS-11 Iskras.
The airframe was not a successful design, and test pilot Jerzy Bachta died during the flatter tests of the jet.
Ultimately the jet was redesigned PZL M93K and M93V variants, with M96 version to follow, with modified wings (Fowler Flaps), power-plant (Rolls Royce Viper engine) and new avionics. Eight such airframes were used by the 58 Training Aviation Regiment of the Polish Air Force. Initial plans were to procure 19 aircraft, that were never built due to problems and lack of funding.
Hence, the revival of such an unsuccessful aircraft seems to be quite unlikely: in the mid-1990s, the Iryda’s avionics were already unsuitable to train the pilots for the modern jet fighters. Even more so today, the obsolete design would be completely anachronistic to train Polish pilots destined to fly 4.5 and 5th Gen. jets, such as the F-16 Block 52+ or the F-35.
The fact that Iryda’s production could be restarted may just be a part of the publicity created by the new Polish right-wing government, which strongly emphasizes the need to reactivate the domestic industry and develop its potential. As shown by the Ministry of Development’s decision to scrap the Airbus Caracals helicopter deal, announced on Oct. 4, because the offset agreement options were insufficient.
An awesome new clip shows the new multi-role variant of the M-346 trainer.
Unveiled for the first time at Farnborough International Air Show in July 2016, the M-346FT (Fighter Trainer) is the new multi-role version of the M-346 Master, one of the world’s most advanced jet trainers.
The aircraft, whose characteristic is to pass very easily from the trainer aircraft configuration to an operational one thus “combining the operational and training requirements of the Air Forces all over the world, assuring top performances and remarkably lower costs” integrates a wide range of systems and sensors for tactical support and air defense: including a tactical data link, a self-defense system, reconnaissance and targeting sensors and a large array of weapons.
The M-346 Master platform couples impressive performance with cutting edge human-machine interface and features 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 variety of sensors and weapons as if these were actually installed on the aircraft.
Indeed, with the advanced jet trainer version, 68 examples of which have been ordered and about 50 already in service with the Air Forces of Italy (18 jets, performing training as well as aggressors tasks), Singapore (12), Israel (30) and Poland (8), pilots can learn to use the radar, drop LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) on moving ground targets designated through an Advanced Targeting Pod (TGP), and shoot radar-guided missiles against enemy aircraft, even if the plane is not carrying with any of these systems: the on-board computer generates the required HUD and radar symbology and offers a different weapons load out in accordance with the training goals of the mission.
Along with the ability of simulating some external payload, the M-346FT will carry electronic countermeasures and will employ several “real” air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, including air-to-air missiles (IRIS-T and AIM-9), a 12.7 mm gun pod, GBU-12 and GBU-49 laser-guided bombs, JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) and also the Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb and a reconnaissance pod (the RecceLite, based on the footage below).
Based on the M-346 is also the T-100, an advanced variant of the Master offered by Raytheon Company, with principal partners Finmeccanica (now Leonardo) and Honeywell Aerospace, as the next-generation training plane for the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Pilot Training competition worth 350 jet trainers to replace the Air Education and Training Command’s T-38 Talons.
Konrad Madej is the commander of the Polish 48th Training Squadron, based at the 41st Training Aviation Base in Dęblin, being a facility which cooperates with the Dęblin Air Force Academy, also known as the “School of Eaglets”.
Poland acquired 8 examples of the jet, the first four of which are already being assembled at the Venegono Superiore Finmeccanica facility.
They are expected to be received by the Polish Air Force in November this year. Along with the Master jet, Poland also acquired the whole training program, including ground-based systems. The ground segment of the training facilities include flight-planning and mission analysis stations, mission simulator, ejection simulator, along with a computerized training system.
Meanwhile, six Polish pilots are involved in the training courses delivered by the 61° Stormo at Lecce.
After completing their M-346 training program in Italy, these pilots will become instructors at the Training Aviation Base in Dęblin.