FARNBOROUGH 2008: Royal Navy to get new King Air trainer fleet

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Cobham's FR Aviation subsidiary is to supply a new fleet of Beechcraft King Air 350ERs to deliver observer training services for the UK Royal Navy, after being named as preferred bidder for the requirement.

A deal for an undisclosed number of aircraft should be signed in October, according to the Lockheed Martin UK/VT Ascent consortium, which during May received a contract to deliver the UK Ministry of Defence's 25-year Military Flying Training System.

 beech king air 350 (n171cp)

The new type will replace the RN's current fleet of around 12 Jetstream T2 trainers at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. The King Airs should be ready for training use one year after contract signature, with operations of the current type to halt during 2010.

FR Aviation was selected during June following a competitive and assessment process of around 18 months, defeating one other bidder to the public-private partnership deal. The company will provide modified aircraft and deliver maintenance support, says David Harrison, divisional commercial director for Cobham Aviation Services.

The selection of the King Air 350ERs - which Harrison says have already been secured - was made by the MoD, but he adds: "It's absolutely the right choice for this task." While declining to detail the required modifications to the aircraft, he says these will be "quite extensive, but well within our capability".

Cobham's success in securing the RN requirement could lead to further opportunities within the MFTS programme, such as for a second-stage rear crew and multi-engine trainer to enter Royal Air Force use in January 2014. A contract for this work will be awarded during 2011, according to Ascent.

"We will use this opportunity as a real litmus test for Ascent and the MoD to see what we are capable of," says Harrison, who adds: "We will do a good job." Possible export opportunities for similar services could exist in Australia and the Middle East, he says.