One of the key features of the Aermacchi M-346 advanced jet trainer being promoted to the UAE Air Force is the aircraft’s BAE Systems/Teleavio quadruplex fly-by-wire control system. This can be configured to simulate the handling of different operational aircraft. This, it is said, allows the level of difficulty to be increased throughout the training.

But the utility of a reconfigurable flight control system is hotly disputed. Some believe that Advanced Jet Trainers should not be aiming to teach type-specific skills at all, but should instead concentrate on teaching generic fighter pilot skills of handling, situational awareness and mission and systems management – for which a reconfigurable FCS is irrelevant.

Others point to the practical difficulties inherent in such systems. You can only emulate some elements of a particular front-line type - you can’t have both sidestick and centrestick, for example. If students are destined for different frontline types, can they fly in formation in differently configured trainers? Can instructors safely instruct in trainers configured to represent different front-line types?

More seriously, some question whether a reconfigurable control system can ever overcome clearance and airworthiness/certification problems. The UK ETPS uses BAE Systems Hawk and Beagle Basset aircraft with just such systems, but cannot fly them solo, and does not fly them below 5,000 ft except in their default mode.

The other question hanging over the M-346 relates to its maturity. While advanced variants of the Hawk are in service, and graduating student pilots, in several countries, and while the first T-50 class graduated at the end of October, the first customer deliveries of the production M-346 are not expected until 2009.

However, Aermacchi believes that it has the edge over the competing KAI/Lockheed Martin T-50 on grounds of cost-effectiveness. It believes that its product more accurately fills the advanced trainer role and that its competitor crosses the boundary into light combat aircraft territory.

The M-346 aircraft carried out operational trials for the UAE Air Force in July at Al Ain air base in Abu Dhabi. The aircraft flew mission profiles in temperatures over 50C to measure aircraft performance and system evaluation. Al Ain is the home of the service’s Aermacchi MB-339A advanced trainers, acquired in the late 1980s. The Italian manufacturer will be hoping it garners some beneficial spin-off from its existing relationship with the service. The M-346 can be seen at the show in both the static park and flying display.

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Source: Flight Daily News