Alenia Aermacchi unveiled the first low-rate initial production example of its M-346 advanced/lead-in fighter trainer on 10 April, and could fly the aircraft at the UK’s Farnborough air show in July.
Revealed at the Finmeccanica company’s Venegono plant near Milan, the so-called industrial baseline configuration aircraft is the first M-346 to be produced to series production standards.
Although generally similar to two earlier prototypes, the new aircraft has had its empty weight reduced by nearly 700kg (1,540lb), largely due to a 30% reduction in parts, a new wing box spar, composite material totalling 20% of its structural weight and increased use of titanium. The most apparent changes are the replacement of the prototypes’ AMX-derived landing gear with a new and reduced-weight design, plus movement of the aircraft’s airbrake forward by 0.9 m (2.9ft).
© Pino Modola
Further enhancements include the addition of 200kg of internal fuel, plus embedded training simulation systems, provision for stores management systems and radar, and improved maintainability. The aircraft’s new flight control software was developed Alenia Aermacchi, with mission computers supplied by Alenia SIA and Selex Communications.
Other improvements introduced following feedback from flight testing and by pilots from the Italian air force, plus Austria, France, Greece, Singapore and United Arab Emirates include system and instrumentation changes, for example a new layout which provides improved downwards visibility in the rear cockpit.
The IBC aircraft will be used to conduct further development tests, and is likely to eventually be reconfigured to the operational standard and delivered to the Italian air force as its 15th M-346.
Read Flight's 2006 flight test report on Alenia Aermacchi's prototype M-346 trainer.