Fit to fight

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STEWART PENNEY / CFB COLD LAKE

Training for the fast jet pilot concentrates on weapons and in Canada it is performed in a partnership between air forces and industry

NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) has been training pilots since 2000, taking students post-screening and providing instruction up to the operational conversion or training unit (OCU/OTU) level.

Once a potential fast jet pilot has received his wings at the end of Phase III, fighter lead-in training - Phase IV - awaits. Bombardier created the NFTC programme with the Canadian Forces, but the scheme is for sale, with BAE Systems expected to agree a purchase soon. Such service provision contracts are becoming increasingly popular, with the UK's Military Flight Training System - a key BAE target - to be funded this way, and some European air forces will probably follow a similar route, either inside or outside the Eurotraining umbrella.

NFTC was created to allow the Canadian Forces to retain a training capability despite not needing enough new pilots to make the system economically viable. To this end, NFTC training is sold to other countries. Denmark, Hungary, Italy and Singapore participate throughout the course - which begins on Raytheon T-6 Harvard basic trainers, followed by BAE Hawk 115 advanced trainers, at CFB Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan (Flight International, 13-19 February 2001).

The UK Royal Air Force joins the programme in Phase IV, sending some graduate pilots to 419 (City of Kamloops) Tactical Fighter Training Sqn at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta. Other RAF pilots remain in the UK at RAF Valley on Anglesey, Wales, completing fighter weapons and tactics training on the Hawks of 19 Sqn. All NFTC students receive the same Phase IV syllabus regardless of previous training, although Singaporean students fly a few additional "Phase IVB" sorties. The syllabus is agreed by an international steering group.

Instructor supplies

Each country also commits instructor pilots (IP) to the programme. Of 419 Sqn's 23 IPs, nine are Canadian, seven British and three German, with Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden contributing one each, says Flt Lt Berty Archer, an RAF instructor. Some of these countries send only IPs, gaining experience and understanding of the programme, says George Adamson, NFTC marketing director. IPs convert to the Hawk at Moose Jaw before completing a 35-40h instructor upgrade course with 419 Sqn.

Maj Dave Stone, 419 Sqn deputy commanding officer, says a potential IP must have completed an operational tour and, ideally, an instructional tour. In a perfect world, an IP should have a multirole background, he says. Most have 2,000h-plus, two have more than 6,000h. To monitor standards, Canadian Central Flying School "agents" are attached to 419 Sqn.

Although owned by Bombardier, with maintenance and other ground services provided by industry, the overwhelming impression within 419 Sqn's headquarters is of an operational unit, which helps immerse trainees in a military environment. "We've made a concerted effort to achieve a squadron atmosphere," says Stone. "When students finish Phase III, we wean them from the school to the operational squadron....Also, working with 4 Wing is very important." With two operational Boeing CF-18 Hornet squadrons and the OTU, 4 Wing is Cold Lake's principal resident. The 419 Sqn building comprises a crew room, offices and a series of networked briefing/debriefing rooms as well as several classrooms.

As with Phase III, 419 Sqn also uses the Hawk 115; the most noticeable difference between its aircraft and those at Moose Jaw is carriage of a Raytheon AIM-9L Sidewinder on one wingtip missile rail and Cubic air combat manoeuvring instrumentation (ACMI)pod on the other. Aircraft also carry a drop tank.

Archer says the extra fuel adds 15-20min to a mission, with a typical sortie lasting 1h 10min. "Before [the tanks were fitted] we were doing three extra sorties to achieve the course hours," he says. The ACMI pod is a key part of the training, particularly during post-flight debriefs, says Stone.

The squadron has nine Hawks, with seven required to always be available on the flightline, although normally Bombardier provides eight. The squadron plans four waves of seven aircraft a day, with an IP flying twice a day, although one trip could be as a simulator tutor, says Archer - 419 Sqn has a Hawk simulator. All bar one of the sorties use multiple aircraft, until at the end of the course the trainee pilot participates in four-versus-one (4v1) missions. Most air force trainer aircraft will fly two or three times a day, some only once. One of the efficiencies of industry-led programmes such as NFTC is use of assets, says Adamson.

After two weeks of dedicated air-to-air ground schooling, the first half of Phase IV concentrates on air-defence tactics, while the second concentrates on air-to-ground operations. While students from NFTC Phase III do not have to convert to the aircraft - they flew it at Moose Jaw - RAF trainees complete a short conversion course, as the Hawk 115 has a glass cockpit, head-up display (HUD) and other avionics not found in the UK's Hawk T1s. Initially, students start with 1v1 missions, followed by 2v1 and the introduction of ground-controlled interception to allow the teaching of beyond-visual-range engagements. An IP flies the bogey aircraft - the Red Baron - but on early sorties is not allowed to use the Hawk's combat flap and is restricted to 95% power. Later, the Red Baron can use the aircraft's full capabilities.

Downloaded techniques

Multiple aircraft sorties mean NFTC provides some downloading (transferring elements of the syllabus from the higher level to earlier in the training process) from the OCU/OTU. The RAF course, for instance, does not include 4v1 missions, says Archer. The ground school also introduces techniques such as electronic warfare, radar, countermeasures and tactical datalinks, which have been downloaded from the OCU level, says Archer.

As on the earlier NFTC phases, each student is issued with a laptop computer containing coursework and used for self-teaching, running the same software as during formal teaching sessions.

The air-to-ground segment includes a two-day ground school and starts with a low-level familiarisation exercise before the student begins to learn 10¡, 30¡ dive angles and pop-up attack techniques, with normal and retarded unguided bombs, and strafing. As the student progresses, an enemy aircraft is introduced into the mix, so the trainee has to combine air-to-air and strike techniques in a single sortie. The aircraft do not drop weapons - HUD video is used to measure performance, says Archer. Although the aircraft are not armed, they are operated as if they are to instill disciplines that will be needed later. Data from the ACMI pod is used in every debriefing, says Archer. The ACMI system is based on GPS satellite positioning, so is not "tethered" to a fixed range and can be used anywhere in the Cold Lake training area.

Phase IV comprises 38 missions, and around 45h flying. Each sortie is backed up with computer-based training (CBT) and simulator work. On average a student flies three trips every two days, says Archer.

One of Cold Lake's advantages is its proximity to a massive range and low flying area, almost as large as western Europe. The unit usually operates at 250ft (75m), although aircraft are allowed to fly lower over the range. "Low level is the best way to test a student, because of late acquisition of targets and terrain avoidance," says Archer. Most low flying is at 420kt (780km/h), with "push-ups" to 450kt and 540kt reached on familiarisation sorties.

As part of syllabus development, earlier this month the first low-level sorties were flown in the Rocky Mountains, providing the students with the challenges of operating over difficult terrain. If these are successful and the NFTC steering committee agrees, this mission will become part of the Phase IV syllabus, says Stone. Low-level trips through the mountains are a good way of loading up a student, but the mission "will only really be exposure", says Stone.

Ground attack mission preparation is done in a traditional planning room, with the student setting up using maps and intelligence data, such as pictures of the target, before transferring the mission to a computerised planning system - similar to those used in frontline squadrons, so surface-to-air missile engagement zones and other operational parameters can be defined and used to program the navigation system.

The graphics and other instructional material used in briefings and available on the CBT are better than the aircraft models on sticks previously used, says Stone. They can show manoeuvres and techniques from a variety of positions- god's-eye, the cockpit, or from behind the aircraft. As well as computer-generated imagery, the instructors have also flown specimen manoeuvres and profiles, and the HUD video is digitised to show the student what they will see from the cockpit.

Missions in the simulator and then in the air follow CBT. Stone says this "building block" approach means the student is well prepared and there is "little chance of messing up in the air". He says, however, that the graphics will never be perfect as timescales and dimensions are often compressed, making manoeuvres unrealistic. The simulator eases many problems, "but there are still issues", so the student must fly the mission for real. As with the flying syllabus, 419 Sqn continues to improve ground-based training, says Stone. Some graphics include demonstrations of bad practice, so a student learns what not to do.

Stone says 60-70% of the learning value "is in the ACMI debrief". It allows step-by-step evaluation of a flight and the IP can jump directly to a point in a mission that needs reviewing, allowing maximum benefit from sorties without forcing long debriefs. Stone says the aim is for 45min debriefs, but the time is extended if necessary. HUD cameras and ACMI data have "injected professionalism", says Stone. In the debrief, the facts are obvious, whereas before, events were open to interpretation.

Stone adds that the squadron would like to be able to digitise ACMI imagery as this would give a more accurate representation of flight manoeuvres than traditional computer graphics. The last steering group committee meeting in April also reviewed a proposal to use the ACMI pod as the basis for synthetic radar. This would eliminate the need for GCI controllers, who are based in the Canadian Forces' centralised command centre in North Bay, Ontario.

Radar advantages

As the addition of synthetic radar would incur a cost - the pods need changes, although the aircraft already has a suitable screen for the display - all participating air forces will have to agree the change. A radar would make the task management aspect of the training more difficult, but allow the weeding out of weaker students earlier, says Stone. It would, however, be a generic radar display, so students would learn techniques rather than specifics, which would still be taught in the OCU, says Stone. Observers note that the new NFTC owner may wish to add the synthetic radar as a statement of intent once it takes over.

The Hawks are provisioned for a forward-looking infrared sensor and a radar warning receiver, which could be added if customer nations decide to add such techniques to the course. However, Stone warns, "you have to be careful how quickly you load the student up. They still have to learn to walk before they can run."

If a student falls below standard, a review process is initiated and the top-rated instructors give extra tuition. Since the first course arrived in April 2001, 419 Sqn has held 17 courses and graduated 102 pilots and failed only three, says Stone. He adds: "I reckon the students have to learn more than a doctor or lawyer during their training, but our students cannot turn to a colleague or book when they need it most."

On completion of Phase IV, Canadian students transfer across the base to 410 Sqn, the CF-18 Hornet OTU. Many other nations also have only one fighter type for the pilots to graduate to. Countries such as Italy and Singapore already know where the student will go before they begin Phase IV, says Archer. The RAF, meanwhile, continues to stream its students.

Streaming is based on instructors' recommendations, the availability of OCU slots and, lastly, student requests. If the trainee is well above average they will be recommended for single-seat aircraft. Those good at aircraft handling will be recommended for the BAE/Boeing Harrier GR7. Those good at reacting to dynamic situations are recommended for the Panavia Tornado F3 air-defence aircraft. Archer says the RAF streams students as it is "seeking more than wingmen", and it wants pilots able to lead battle formations by the end of their first tour. The advent of the Eurofighter Typhoon means around 70% of trainees will be going to single-seaters and the RAF may then have to re-evaluate this policy.