'M-346 is very similar to fighters,' says Israeli Air Force

'The M-346 has really lived up to expectations in all aspects.'

Israeli M346 Lavi training
Israeli Air Force M-346 'Lavi' advanced trainer jet.

The Israeli Air Force operates one of the largest fleets of advanced fighter aircraft in the world, with more than 300 fixed-wing planes comprising F-15s, F-16s and, its newest addition, the F-35.

In 2012, after ordering its F-35s, the air force recognized that it needed to replace its aging A-4 Skyhawk training aircraft with a new advanced high-performance trainer that would meet its modern needs.

“We looked for an actual trainer,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Ido Nehushtan, the commander in chief of the Israeli Air Force at the time of the procurement. “Flight safety is absolutely a priority and the aircraft needed to show best value for money for the whole package of training.

“We went to the market and looked at the different candidates. We decided on 150 different criteria of comparison and flew each and every one of the options.”

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Shmuel Tzucker, the former head of Israeli Ministry of Defense procurement and production administration, says that selecting the right training aircraft was a crucial decision for such an advanced air force.

“We decided to take the Leonardo M-346 because we found, at the end of the day, it was the best aircraft. Thirty aircraft we ordered for delivery over two years.

“I worked on a lot of negotiations, a lot of contracts and a lot of milestones. This was one project that really stayed on time and budget. It was amazing how much effort the two companies, Leonardo and Honeywell, put into this project.”

The first Leonardo M-346 was delivered to the Israeli Air Force in 2014. One of the first instructors to fly the aircraft was Brig. Gen. (Res.) Avi Maor, a 40-year veteran who had previously flown fighters including the F-4, F-15 and F-16. Maor, who had previously been instructing in the A-4 Skyhawk, says that he immediately noticed the difference. “If you look at the performance and the way you fly, it’s a totally new airplane. You can teach your student everything. You don’t have restrictions because of the aircraft.”

After training in the Leonardo M-346, young pilots go straight into the most advanced fighter aircraft. And, says Maor, it is very easy to make the transition.

“The big advantage with the M-346 is that you can fly all missions, operational missions,” he said. “In modern fighters, you face problems of G-LOC because you fly 9G and you have to teach young pilots how to deal with this.

“In this aircraft you can have high G, but you can play with it. You can start with low G and then switch to high G, so you can train the pilot as you want.

“It’s very easy to make the transition from the M-346 to a real jet fighter because it’s very similar to the fighters. You learn how to fight and then do the transition to the real fighter. You don’t need to learn how to fight again with the real fighter, so you save a lot of hours.”

Maj. Gen. (Ret.). Nehushtan highlights a number of other features that maximize the safety and effectiveness of the trainer.

In particular, he says, compared to some modern trainers, the center stick control helps the instructor to lead the student in each and every move in the cockpit. And the twin Honeywell F124 engines, which have not had a single failure in four years of service, improve flight safety.

“We liked the two engines and the redundancy that it provides with the young pilots, with the price of a single engine,” said Nehushtan. “The M-346 has really lived up to expectations in all aspects.”

Take note that Israeli officers are talking about the training variant of the M-346. Leonardo has also developed a combat variant of the aircraft, the M-346FA, which boasts additional capabilities. The M-346FA in full configuration made its first flight in July 2020.

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Source: Honeywell Aerospace

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