Early use of the Royal Air Force's BAE Systems Hawk T2 advanced jet trainer has dramatically boosted the quality of instruction being provided to UK students, programme officials say.
A first course of four ab initio pilots completed their training on the T2 with 4 Sqn at Valley in June 2013, before progressing to the RAF's 29 Sqn operational conversion unit (OCU) for the Eurofighter Typhoon at Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
"I think we've doubled the standard of the students," says Alasdair Shinner, station manager at the Anglesey base for Lockheed Martin/Babcock joint venture Ascent; the Ministry of Defence's training system partner for the Military Flying Training System (MFTS) programme. The T2 has the potential to deliver a "multi-role, combat-ready pilot" to the OCU, he adds, whereas the RAF's analogue cockpit Hawk T1s "weren't giving them relevant training for the aircraft that they were going to be flying".
Several additional courses are now under way, with these including RAF and Royal Navy students and 11 more UK qualified flying instructors (QFI). With only 50% of system capacity currently being used on a 28-aircraft fleet, potential options to increase the volume of training delivered include preparing additional RAF QFIs, increasing the number of instructors sourced from other air forces from a current one each from Australia, Canada and France, or approving Ascent-employed instructors to command some flights, officials say.
"Spare capacity is something that is being looked at, but there is no simple answer," says Gp Capt Simon Blake, from the RAF's 22 Group training organisation. "Lots of other air forces are coming here and seeing that we are filling the [training capability] gap," he notes.
Meanwhile, activities involving the RAF's Hawk T1-equipped 208 Sqn have been extended at Valley, with the service currently providing Phase IV lead-in fighter training for Royal Saudi Air Force pilots. Riyadh will take delivery of its first of 22 T2-equivalent Hawks from BAE in 2015, with Oman also having ordered eight of the new-generation type.
The remainder of the MFTS programme's fixed-wing equipment package should be determined by 2015, with a side-by-side-configuration type to deliver elementary training and a turboprop-powered basic trainer offering "jet-like performance" to be acquired as a replacement for the RAF's current Shorts Tucano T1s. Operations should commence from around 2018, says Ascent training director Simon Falla.