The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has found itself without training jets to teach new fighter pilots.

Ottawa on 8 March retired its BAE Systems Hawk jet trainers, locally designated as CT-155 Hawks. The RCAF revealed the move in a 10 March post to social media platform X.

“On Friday, 419 Tactical Fighter Squadron held a cessation of operations ceremony in Cold Lake, Alberta to both mark the end of the CT-155 Hawk training operations for the RCAF and to begin a period of hiatus,” the service says.

Cirium data says the RCAF had 17 Hawk jets in service at the start of 2024. Ottawa fielded the single-engined type in 2000 – making its service life just 24 years.

CT-155 Hawk c RCAF

Source: Royal Canadian Air Force

The Royal Canadian Air Force has yet to select replacement training jets, with Ottawa evaluating which platform will best prepare trainees to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35As it plans to acquire

Notably, Canada has not identified a replacement for its primary jet trainer, leaving the country without the ability to domestically certify new fighter pilots.

Instead, RCAF trainees will attend training overseas with various NATO allies, including the USA, Finland and Italy. A small number of RCAF instructor pilots will also be stationed abroad to assist in the effort, under an existing NATO partnership programme.

Canadian students undergoing training with the US Air Force (USAF) will fly jets significantly older than Hawks – Northrop T-38 Talons. That trainer – which the USAF soon hopes to retire in favour of the new Boeing T-7A Red Hawk – has been in service with the USA since the early 1960s.

Ottawa says the decision to retire the CT-155s and place its training squadron on hiatus was driven by the planned acquisition of Lockheed Martin F-35A fifth-generation fighters to replace the RCAF’s current Boeing CF-18 Hornet jets.

The service calls the end of a CT-155 sustainment contract with Canada’s CAE a “natural point” for the RCAF to transition to a new training solution – one designed to prepare trainees to fly F-35s.

“With the Hawk reaching the end of its service life after 20 years, Canada, along with many countries, is faced with the challenges of what will be the next jet trainer in a world of fifth-generation fighter aircraft,” says Colonel Adam Carlson, the RCAF’s director of training.

Ottawa plans to reactivate 419 Squadron sometime in the early 2030s – flying that new aircraft. But which aircraft the RCAF will select remains a matter of discussion.

Boeing’s T-7 is one option. The company’s St Louis, Missouri production line should be at full-rate output by the time of a decision in Ottawa.

Another strong contender could be Korea Aerospace Industries T-50. That single-engined trainer is produced in partnership with Lockheed, which also assembles the F-35As that will serve as the RCAF’s next frontline fighter.

UK developer Aeralis is also developing a next-generation trainer with a modular cockpit that the company says will be able to mimic fifth-generation fighters.

In the meantime, the RCAF will continue to operate a variety of turboprop trainer aircraft, including De Havilland Canada CT-142 Dash 8s, Beechcraft CT-156 Harvard IIs and Beechcraft C-90B King Airs, for multi-engine certification, basic flight training and non-fighter instruction.

The retired Hawk trainers will be sent to CFB Borden in Ontario, where they will be used as ground-based articles for training new RCAF aircraft technicians.

Story updated 13 March to include post-retirement plans for the Royal Canadian Air Force CT-155 Hawk fleet