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The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has begun ab initio pilot training with its newly-acquired Pilatus PC-21 aircraft, Tim Fish reports for MONCh from Avalon 2019 in Geelong. The RAAF has taken delivery of 22 PC-21s so far, with the total expected to be 49. As more aircraft are delivered the training programme on the aircraft will expand, with more courses.

A spokesman from the service told MONCh that a course is underway, with 10 students, at the Central Flying School (CTS) at RAAF Base Sale in Victoria. He added that the older PC-9 aircraft will be retired from the CTS, although they will still be used at No. 2 Flying Training School (FTS). No. 1 FTS is co-located with CTS at East Sale and conducts training for brand-new pilots, while No. 2 FTS is based at RAAF Pearce in Western Australia.

The intention is to run four pilot training courses per year, each with 20 students doing basic training, alongside three flying instructor courses, the spokesman said. He added that the PC-21 aircraft are at the “top of the iceberg” of the training programme, as there is a significant amount of simulation and other ground-based training also conducted.

This means that, when students get to the ‘live’ part of the training in the PC-21, they are much more experienced and can get more out of the aircraft whilst in the air. The aircraft’s modern systems also mean that students “come better prepared” when the transit to type conversion courses for other aircraft in Australian service – a particularly important issue when considering future training requirements for 5th-generation aircraft such as the F-35A LIGHTNING II.

The AIR 5428 phase 1 requirement for a new turboprop fixed-wing Pilot Training System was won by Team 21, led by Lockheed Martin Australia, in March 2015. The programme was initially planned in the early 2000s, well before the Australia selected the LIGHTNING as its next-generation combat aircraft to replace the F/A-18A/B HORNET, so the AIR 5428 phase 1 programme had to sit on the sidelines for a while, till the training requirements could be accurately defined.

A Request for Information was not, in fact, released until 2013, when Lockheed Martin led Pilatus and Hawker Pacific in Team 21, beating competition from BAE Australia, Beechcraft and CAE, offering the Beechcraft T-6C TEXAN II. Team 21 was awarded a contract worth A$1.2 billion for the 49 aircraft and seven flight simulators – five of which will be located at East Sale and a further two at Pearce – plus five years’ support.

Of the 49 aircraft, 22 are to be located at the CTS in East Sale, 20 with No. 2 FTS at Pearce, with four going to No. 4 Squadron to replace the PC-9s used by Special Forces since 2009 for Joint Tactical Air Control, based at RAAF Williamtown. The last three are destined for the Aircraft Research and Development Unit at RAAF Edinburgh.

Aircraft deliveries from the Pilatus facility in Switzerland started in June 2017: issues arising with the programme delayed the start of training in 2018, but MONCh understands these have been satisfactorily resolved by the RAAF, the Department of Defence Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) and Team 21.

Tim Fish

The RAAF has begun ab initio training for future pilots using the Pilatus PC-21 two-seat trainer. (Photo: Tim Fish)

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