Ascent Flight Training is in the advanced stage of preparations to increase by almost 50% its provision of basic instruction for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) using a fleet of 14 Beechcraft T-6C Texan IIs.
“We will be growing from 36 to 53 students per year with the Texan, with that capacity to come online in April 2025,” Ascent managing director Tim James says. This will in part be achieved through the increased use of virtual and mixed reality technologies, with new simulators currently being acquired.
The increase also will require Ascent to hire more instructors over the next 18 months to support the uplift in activity at RAF Valley on Anglesey, Wales, James told FlightGlobal at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT).
All seven of the aircraft types employed as part of the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) programme were on show at Ascent’s exhibit area at RIAT, which was staged at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire from 14-16 July.
Full operational capability for the entire MFTS fleet was declared last year, with a total of 110 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in use. Since service entry, the assets have so far logged a combined 133,000 flying hours.
James says a record amount of training was delivered last year, with output also on the rise in 2023. In June, some 473h was logged on the T-6 fleet, and 1,653h on the 29-strong Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno fleet: the highest ever for both types.
Further expansions to the fleet are not planned currently, with Ascent having previously acquired four extra T-6Cs and a trio of additional H145 Jupiter rotorcraft, taking the latter fleet to seven examples.
Under a £125 million ($161 million) contract placed earlier this year, the MFTS programme’s four Beechcraft King Air 350ER Avengers are to undergo a major upgrade via a Rear Crew Sustainment activity. This will add a Leonardo Osprey 30 surveillance radar, electro-optical/infrared sensor, new mission system and ground-based training equipment.
To be retained in use until 2033, the enhanced twin-turboprops are expected to deliver the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) future intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance and rear crew training solution – or FIRCTS – need. This plans to increase training capacity by four times, with much of the uplift to be provided by the increased use of synthetic training.
James says requests for proposals are currently out with bidders in support of the FIRCTS requirement, which also will split operations of the King Air fleet between its current home at the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) RNAS Culdrose site in Cornwall and RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
The FIRCTS system will deliver observer training for the RN, and rear crew instruction for types including RAF Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic intelligence aircraft and remotely piloted air systems.
James says Ascent also is looking to boost capacity on the programme’s five Embraer Phenom 100 multi-engine trainers, primarily through the expanded use of synthetic instruction.
Meanwhile, Ascent continues to work around capacity challenges resulting from a reliability issue with the BAE Systems Hawk T2’s Rolls-Royce/Safran Adour engine.
“The Hawk availability is not where we need it, with the engine issues, but that is improving,” James says, with the issue being managed by the MoD, BAE and R-R. Capacity on the 28-strong advanced jet trainer fleet is expected to remain pressured for the next 12 to 18 months, he indicates.
The remaining other type employed as part of the Ascent-managed system is Grob Aircraft’s G120TP Prefect primary trainer, 23 of which are in use.
Ascent is this year marking the 15th anniversary of its commencement of service delivery under the MFTS programme, with early work having been linked to the Hawk T2 fleet. The Babcock/Lockheed Martin joint venture’s term as the MoD’s training system partner will run until 2033.