UK defence procurement officials are evaluating an expansion of the country’s military flight training fleet, with decisions on the acquisition of new rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft due over the next 12 to 18 months.
Babcock and Lockheed Martin joint venture Ascent Flight Training displayed at the Royal International Air Tattoo for the first time all seven aircraft types it operates under the UK’s Military Flying Training System (MFTS).
These include the BAE Systems Hawk T2, Beechcraft King Air 350ER Avenger and T-6 Texan, Embraer Phenom 100 and Grob Aircraft G120TP, plus the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter rotorcraft.
Although describing these as “cutting edge aircraft”, Air Commodore Simon Edwards, Royal Air Force (RAF) programme director for MFTS, acknowledges that the fleet needs to grow.
Under the rotary-wing element of MFTS, Ascent has acquired 29 H135s and just three of the larger H145s for tri-service training at RAF Shawbury’s Defence Helicopter Flying School.
While noting that the two helicopter types are “are exceeding specifications by some way” – particularly with regard to their reliability – and are “very much part of the success story”, Edwards says that the H135 is not large enough for all rear-crew training tasks.
A future acquisition creates the “opportunity” to “rebalance the fleet mix”, he says.
Additional fixed-wing aircraft will also be required, he says, “to increase the capacity and meet the growing front-line needs”.
However, the acquisition – due in 2020 – will have to decide on the balance required between the Grob Aircraft 120TP Prefect, Phenom 100 and the T-6.
Rear-crew training is currently conducted at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall using four Avengers. Training provision at that site will see “further growth”, says Edwards.
This could involve additional assets – or another type – to match the training requirements of crews for the RAF’s incoming fleet of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 maritime patrol aircraft, the first of which is due to arrive in the UK early next year.