On 1 May, Leonardo briefed delegates at IDEF ’19 on the International Flight Training School (IFTS), a joint project with the Italian Air Force (ITAF) that brings together the two pre-eminent flight training organisations in Italy.
Building on a heritage of having constructed over 2,000 aircraft – most of which have been dedicated trainers – Leonardo is providing its T-345 and T-346 aircraft for various parts of the IFTS syllabus: the T-345 for Phase II and III intermediate training, the M-346 for Phase IV advanced and Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT).
Launched in July 2018, the IFTS achieves twin objectives: further growth and internationalisation of the ITAF’s training school and at the same time increasing its capabilities and the range of pilot training solutions offered to external customers. A total of 22 M-346 aircraft at Galatina, in southern Italy, provide training currently for student pilots from Argentina, Austria, France, Greece, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain and the USA, in addition to Italy. Of these nations, Italy, Poland and Singapore have already procured the M-346 for their own programmes – as has Israel – for a total of 76 aircraft.
The undoubted capabilities of the M-346 platform in particular make the IFTS a powerful potential solution – whether for sending students to the existing campus (with a current capacity of some 80 students per year) or for cloning the capability into a national or regional flight training school. When the M-346 was in development, much was made of its supersonic capability as a positive advantage. Although it is still there if needed, training preferences have changed over the last decade. “We would rather make sure we have an additional five transonic engagements to familiarise pilots with weapons release, for example, than a single supersonic sortie after which fuel issues will force a return to base,” a Leonardo spokesman told the audience in response to questions.
The IFTS is an idea whose time has come and it will be fascinating to watch the extent to which it will be supported in action rather that words from potential users. Not set in stone but flexible, upgradeable and adaptable, the idea should support a compelling argument to change the face and nature of fast jet pilot training for the next 30 years and beyond.