The BAE Systems Hawk 115 trainers recently retired by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) have reported for new duty, now on the ground.

Ottawa plans to use the jets as instructional articles for training new aircraft maintenance technicians. The single-engined aircraft, operated under the local designation CT-155 Hawk, were previously used to train new RCAF fighter pilots.

“CT-155 Hawks are finding new life as maintenance trainers,” the RCAF said on 29 May, in a post to the social media site Instagram.

Those aircraft were formally retired from flight duty in March, after just 24 years of service. They have since been transferred from their previous home at CFB Cold Lake in Alberta province to the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering at CFB Borden, some 40 miles north of Toronto.

Photos published by Ottawa on 24 May show at least five of the black-liveried CT-155s being wheeled through the main gate at CFB Borden, each towed behind a commercial pick-up truck.

The first five Hawks arrived at Borden in the early morning hours of 14 May local time, according to the RCAF. The aircraft were transported via ground convoy from nearby Collingwood Regional airport on the evening of 13 May.

Ottawa says 15 of the jets will ultimately be repurposed for maintenance training, replacing the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, which was Canada’s previous jet trainer-turned-maintenance aid.

“Canada’s upgraded Hawks represent a more modern design than the current maintenance trainer – the CT-114 Tutor aircraft,” says Colonel Adam Carlson, director of training for the RCAF.

After several decades of use, Carlson says the Tutor maintenance trainers are “showing their age, while also lacking system complexity and overall relevancy to modern aircraft that our technicians will eventually be working on after their graduation”.

Cirium data indicates the RCAF had 17 CT-155s in service at the start of 2024.

“The Hawks will be used to teach the RCAF’s newest technicians how to maintain aircraft not only today, but those fleets about to enter service like the CF-35A,” Ottawa says, using Canda’s local designation for the Lockheed Martin F-35A stealth fighter.

Ottawa plans to acquire 88 of the fifth-generation jets to replace the RCAF’s Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornets – currently the service’s primary combat fighter.

The RCAF says it will procure a new trainer platform to prepare future pilots to fly the F-35, but has not yet selected an aircraft for that role. Likely contenders include the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50, the Leonardo M-346 and the Boeing T-7A.

Notably, Ottawa retired its Hawk trainers after a relatively short service life, with the type entering service in 2000. By contrast, the US Air Force’s fleet of aged Northrop T-38C trainers boasts an average age of 57 years, according to Cirium data.

Canada says the CT-155 was “no longer meeting the needs” of the RCAF, as the service prepares new flight training requirements oriented around the fifth-generation F-35.

“The decision was made to cease in-air training with the jets while options for a more suitable future fighter lead-in trainer are explored,” Ottawa says.

The RCAF plans to reactivate its 419 Tactical Fighter Squadron, which until recently oversaw fighter pilot education, sometime in the early 2030s – flying that new aircraft. That gives Ottawa a few years to reach a procurement decision, especially if it selects an aircraft currently in production.

Discussions with industry around that so-called “future fighter lead-in trainer” were expected to begin this week at the CANSEC defence industry conference, which took place in Ottawa from 29-30 May.

In the meantime, prospective Canadian fighter pilots will undergo training with NATO allies overseas, including the USA, Finland and Italy.