FARNBOROUGH 2008: Low-cost Tucano upgrade could solve UK training need

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With the UK defence budget stretched to breaking point, Marshall Aerospace is showing what it believes is an inexpensive means of updating the UK Royal Air Force’s training fleet.

Marshall is showing a demonstrator of a proposed cockpit upgrade for the service’s Shorts Tucano T1 basic trainer. The Tucano has been in RAF service since 1988 and 40 remain in service. The upgrade is built around a CMC Electronics Cockpit 4000 integrated avionics suite, with state-of-the-art HUD and navigation displays.

According to Marshall, it had been assumed that under the newly-signed Military Flying Training System (MFTS), through which a Lockheed Martin UK/VT Group consortium will take over provision of training to all new UK military aircrew across the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army Air Corps, a new aircraft would be required in the basic trainer role.

tucano cockpit 

But this seems to have been at least partly based on a misunderstanding over the remaining airframe life of the Tucano. “Someone was under the impression there wasn’t a huge amount of life left on the aircraft,” says Eddie MacLean, Marshall’s business development manager. In fact, the upgraded aircraft would have 8,000 flying hours left, he says.

Choosing an upgraded Tucano over a new basic trainer – the Aermacchi M-311 and Pilatus PC-21 have been mooted as possible replacements – could provide a basic trainer solution for 10-15% of the cost of introducing a new type, believes Marshall. Shorts are design authority for the Tucano T1.

Optional engine modifications and aerodynamic tweaks could boost the Tucano’s operating speed by around 20kt (37kmh) to 300kt (555kmh). However, says MacLean, the Integrated Project Team has decided not to proceed with this on cost grounds.