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Hungarian pilots to train with NFTC ahead of Gripen deliveries in 2004

STEWART PENNEY / LONDON

Hungary has become the latest country to sign up to the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) programme as it seeks to improve air force standards to match the rest of NATO and prepare for the service entry of Saab/BAE Systems Gripen fighters in 2004.

The deal means further expansion for the Bombardier-operated NFTC programme, and another two BAE Systems Hawk 115s have been ordered, taking Canadian orders for the advanced trainer to 22, and another two RaytheonT-6A Harvard basic trainers. NFTC is to take delivery of its 19th and 20th Hawks later this year.

The Hungarian air force also considered the European NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training programme, run by the US Air Force, before signing up to Bombardier's scheme for 17 years, making the deal the biggest outside the initial Canadian Forces contract. Hungary joins Denmark, Italy, Singapore and the UK.

The CF says Hungary will send seven trainees a year to Canada for basic instruction. Most will transfer to the advanced fighter training course, although some will be sent to the CF's helicopter flying school at Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, and multi-engine training at the same location.

As well as trainees, Hungary, like other NFTC participants, will provide instructors, seven of which will be seconded to three NFTC elements - Phase II basic training, Phase III advanced training and Phase IV fighter lead-in training.

The first Hungarian pilots went to Canada in February to improve their English ahead of joining the training programme on 2 April, says an NFTC source.

Hungary will initially send seven experienced RSK MiG-29 Fulcrum pilots to complete part of Phase III,  before joining Phase IV. It will also send 13 Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros pilots to complete Phase III and Phase IV. These 20 pilots will be the initial Gripen aircrew.

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