This is why military pilot training is undergoing a generational change

Trainer jets flight school
Leonardo M-345, M-346 trainer jets.

The flight training methods still used today by most armed forces around the world date back to the early 1900s, when Major Smith-Barry invented a revolutionary system for the time. It consists of a training process divided into several phases with strict boundaries between them. This very linear process involves increasing complexity with the student having to learn to fly a number of different platforms, each of which is more difficult to operate and the environment becomes progressively more complex until the first line aircraft is reached.

However, this method does not allow students to capitalize on the progress achieved due to the different operational dynamics of the aircraft, resulting in more flight hours in each platform and greater waste of money. This is why a generational shift in flight training is underway.

The most advanced aerospace companies have been working for many years to offer the armed forces a package of training systems with similar characteristics. Leonardo, for example, offers the M-345 jet for the basic and intermediate phase and the M-346 jet for the advanced phase with the two aircraft characterized by a very similar cockpit. In turn, their cockpit is analogous to that of modern frontline combat aircraft. This greatly helps students who encounter familiar environments during all phases of training, breaking down boundaries. As a result, training times are shortened and costs are reduced. The goal is the same for all nations, to break the cost curve that has haunted defense for the past 40 years.

However, not many companies have achieved satisfactory results. The common mistake has been to develop and promote platforms intended for all phases, as is the case with some turboprop manufacturers, but the plans of the major air forces show that this plan is proving to be unsuccessful. Looking to France, Spain, Greece and the United States, they are all looking to introduce a modern LIFT jet despite having military flight schools equipped with modern turboprops. 

Therefore, the Smith-Barry method is not entirely outdated, it still remains partially valid today. The vision of the air forces says that it is right to divide into phases, each of which involves aircraft with increasing performance suitable for increasingly complex missions (from formation flight to air combat, live fire, etc.), but the on-board systems must be comparable.

The Italian Air Force is an excellent example of the modern training concept, it was one of the first ever to introduce an advanced jet trainer (M-346) as well as one of the first to have a fleet of all modern trainers (M-345 + M-346). Its flying school is taken as an example by many nations today.

This evolutionary process of the armed forces will be completed within the next 10 years and will be valid for at least the next 40.


Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: Leonardo

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