Tag Archives: M-346

The Italian Air Force T-346 Master debuts as Aggressor during NATO Tactical Leadership Programme

A new role for one of the most advanced combat jet trainers that is also a candidate of the U.S. Air Force T-X advanced trainer program

From Feb. 4 to 12, two T-346As (Italian Air Force designation for the AleniaAermacchi* M346 “Master”) belonging to the 61° Stormo (Wing) based at Lecce Galatina airport, Italy, deployed to Albacete airbase, Spain, to take part in the TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) in the “Aggressors” role.

The Italian Masters had already successfully undertaken such task at Grosseto airbase in May 2015, when the T-346 jets conducted several aerial combat sorties against the local-based F-2000A Typhoons of the 4° Stormo.

T-346s park

But this was the very first time they joined the “Red Air” during a NATO exercise.

The aircraft were piloted by IPs (Instructor Pilots) of the 212° Gruppo (Squadron), the Italian Air Force unit flying the Master for the LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Trainer) training courses required to prepare the Italian, Dutch and soon Polish pilots to the 4th and 5th Gen. combat planes, including the F-35.

The T-346A is a LIFT with stunning performance, cutting edge human-machine interface and a lot of interesting features that could only be found on the most advanced fighter jets: 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.

That’s why it is perfect to play the “Bandit” role: fast, highly maneuverable and very well equipped.

During the TLP the two Italian T-346As conducted two daily sorties flying alongside the Spanish Air Force Typhoon from Moron, also part of the “Red Air” and deployed to Albacete.

The Masters took part in quite complex missions which included as many as 12 Aggressors and many “Blue Air” combat planes, including Typhoon, Rafale, F/A-18 Hornet and Mirage 2000, involved in CAS (Close Air Support), CSAR (Combat SAR) and Personnel Recovery support, or No-Fly Zone enforcement missions.

Mirage 2000 TLP

The debut of the advanced jet trainer in the Red Air team during the TLP was important for both the other TLP attendees, who could train in a more real and challenging scenario, and the 212° Gruppo’s IP pilots, who had the opportunity to gain a valuable experience in the role; lessons learned that will be useful in future multinational exercises as well as during the standard LIFT courses at Lecce.

Rafale TLP

Noteworthy, based on the T-346 is also the T-100, an advanced variant of the Master offered by Raytheon Company, with principal partners Finmeccanica 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.

*Now Finmeccanica’s Aircraft and Aerostructures Divisions.

T-346 landing

H/T Giovanni Colla and Remo Guidi for contributing to this post. All images credit: Remo Guidi

Radom Airshow provides an insight into some Polish Armed Forces procurement programs

An awesome airshow.

Along with an impressive line-up, what made Radom Airshow 2015 interesting was the fact that it provided an overview of some of the weapons systems involved, in one way or another one, in several Polish Armed Forces procurement programs.

Among the aircraft that took part in the largest airshow organized in Poland this year there was the T129 ATAK helicopter, offered by TAI within the scope of the Polish “Kruk” attack helicopter tender, that performed an interesting dynamic display.

Secondly, the ATK company presented its AGM-88E AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile) which is offered as a complementary element of ordnance for the Polish F-16 fleet.

Then, Alenia Aermacchi company showcased a scale model of M-346 Master armed with the Brimstone missiles. Poland has already procured eight M-346 jets for the Air Force Academy but along with the advanced jet training role the “Master” could also partly replace the old (but recently upgraded) Polish Su-22 fighter bombers thanks to the advertised ground attack capabilities.

Radom Air Show 2015_11

Radom Air Show 2015_10

The main portion of the show belonged to the aerobatic teams. Radom flightline included the Polish Orlik and Iskry teams, as well as the famous Frecce Tricolori, along with Patrulla Águila and Patrulla Aspa from Spain, Swiss Patrouille de Suisse team, Baby Blue team from Denmark or the Baltic Bees team from Latvia.

Radom Air Show 2015

Radom Air Show 2015_14

Radom Air Show 2015_07

Fighter jets also performed spectacular displays.

Both the Italian Eurofighter Typhoon, the Polish and Slovak MiG-29 and Belgian or Greek F-16 fighters, and the French Rafale took part in the air display with stunning maneuvers.

However, one of the most spectacular displays was performed by the Romanian MiG-21 LanceR, as this fighter is at least two decades older than the fourth generation jets. The MiG-21 display exhibited the raw power of the Cold War jet, with a lot of afterburner coming into play.

Radom Air Show 2015_12

Radom Air Show 2015_02

Two displays that are worth mentioning here were performed by the role demo teams – the Polish Su-22 aerobatic team which presented the capabilities of the old jet – including spectacular passes with varied geometry of the wings (which is quite difficult, considering the small speed overlap in case of the extreme wing positions). Second display was performed by a CAS-role demo team with the Polish F-16 jets performing a CAS (Close Air Support) demonstration, together with the Fitters.

Unfortunately, the F-16 solo display did not take place during the Radom show, even though the demo team is involved in intensive training activities over the Krzesiny airbase. The display is rumored to have a premiere planned for the Krzesiny Air Base annual air show, scheduled on Sep. 5.

Radom Air Show 2015_15

The static display also featured numerous interesting airframes, as the above-mentioned MiG-21, two examples of C-27J Spartan transports, Israeli C-130 Hercules (open to the public) and the German P3 Orion.

Radom Air Show 2015_05

Radom Air Show 2015_06

The Polish Air Force showcased all of its inventory as well, including the Mi-8 and Mi-14PŁ helicopters and F-16, Su-22 and MiG-29 fighters. Even Kaman Seasprite helicopter of the Polish Navy was presented in a static display, unfortunately without the special color scheme painted on the fuselage.

Radom Air Show 2015_17

Overall the air show in Radom was very interesting. The only thing lacking were the jets from beyond the Eastern border of Poland, such as the Ukrainian or Belarusian Su-27 Flankers or Su-24 Fencers.

However, in the current geopolitical situation, it is hard to expect that the Ukrainians would attend any air show east of Hungary. The Belarus’s Flanker fleet is in a really bad shape, on the other hand – according to some of the last year’s reports.

All photos: Jacek Siminski



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.


Here's the M-346 in Israeli Air Force colors

As reported in a previous post, Israel has selected the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 as the advaced trainer for combat pilots designated for front line fighter jets.

Since the Italian plane will replace the aging Israeli Air Force A-4s, based on the camouflage color scheme used on the Skyhawk, Al Clark has drawn a digital mock-up of how the M346 in Heyl Ha’ Havir colors could look like.

M-346 advanced combat trainer's HMD (Helmet Mounted Display) tested in night configuration

Alenia Aermacchi has recently announced the succesful completion of a  series of 7 test flights with a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) system (similar to that used by front line combat planes), performed as part of the qualification and certification program for the Italian Air Force’s T-346A (the Italian version of the M-346 trainer aircraft).

The system was installed onto 3rd series production aircraft and flown from Torino Caselle airport, Italy, during the Dec. 18 to 22, 2011, period.

Initial findings were very encouraging confirming the successful integration of the HMD into the cockpit and avionics of the M-346 even using the helmet in its “Night Configuration”.

Alenia Aermacchi said that its test pilots found the HMD “fit for the training purpose” and that they also noted that some of the characteristics such as “comfort levels, ease of integration and great flexibility of use” had been very beneficial.

The test pilots said that the projected symbology was “sharp and clearly visible” significantly reducing fatigue; also during the night tests it was found that the situational awareness of the pilot was significantly increased, improving safety too. The test pilots also liked the customisation of the symbology and thought that this made the HMD very promising not only for training purposes but also operationally.

The HMD system is built around the HGU-55P helmet designed to be easily configured by the aircrew so that it can easily cover the needs for both day and night operations through a modular architecture approach. The night module is designed to be fitted to the standard NVG eyepiece kit used by many of the world’s air forces and it works by overlaying the HMD symbology to that of the NVG imagery.

The HMD system is fitted in both front and rear cockpits and is fully integrated to the aircraft’s avionics suite, giving the HMD system the ability to cue sensors and weapons giving support during navigation and attack modes during training both day & night. Alenia has said that “the successful integration of the HMD system in the M-346 gives the green light for the imminent production deliveries of the systems to the Italian Air Force, as part of the T-346A full trainer configuration suite”.

The M-346 is the only Advanced trainer that has a HMD in both day and night configuration, something that has obviously been noticed by the Israeli Air Force that yesterday announced the selection of the M-346 as the training plane that will replace the aging Skyhawk fleet.

Noteworthy, whereas some HMDs have been extensively used by several air forces in the recent Libya Air War and in Afghanistan, some of the most advanced combat planes are not equipped with this kind of helmets. Among them the much troubled F-22 and the Rafale, winner of the Indian MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) bid.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: Alenia Aeronautica