Farnborough Air Show

Lockheed And Babcock Close To Ascent

 - July 13, 2012, 9:20 AM

The long-delayed solicitation for fixed-wing basic training aircraft to serve in the UK’s Military Flying Training System (MFTS) will be issued within 40 days. Lockheed Martin and Babcock, the partners in the Ascent consortium that is providing the MFTS in a public-private partnership (PPP), are confident of a green light; Jim Weitzel, vice president training solutions for Lockheed Martin, told AIN that after a thorough review by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the MFTS strategy had been confirmed as “good value for money and the right construct.”

However, Weitzel revealed that the MoD is likely to change the terms of the PPP. “They’re looking at a hybrid structure, where they will acquire some assets, and others will be financed over a shorter period.”

PPPs were fashionable under the previous British government, but the current coalition regime takes a more skeptical view. Ascent’s plans for the MFTS have also been affected by the reduced requirement for aircrew resulting from the 2010 UK defense review. Sir Barry Thornton, Ascent’s managing director, and before that the commander of RAF Personnel and Training Command, resigned recently.

Weitzel declined to identify the potential bidders that will provide the fixed-wing training aircraft. But it has been widely reported that they will be three consortiums: BAE Systems/Babcock/Pilatus; EADS Cassidian/Cobham/CAE; and KBR/Elbit Systems.

As for the aircraft that they will offer, informed sources at the show told AIN that the BAE-led consortium would propose keeping the RAF’s existing Grob G115 elementary training aircraft from which students would graduate to the Pilatus PC-21. The Cassidian-led consortium would propose the Grob G120TP for elementary training and the bulk of the basic training syllabus. Students would move on to the Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Texan trainer. The KBR/Elbit team would make a similar proposal for a G120TP/T-6 combination, but it would also offer the G120TP as a stand-alone solution for the entire syllabus.

Most air arms that have bought the T-6 employ it for the entire basic training syllabus. Hawker Beechcraft declined to comment for this article but Andre Hiebeler, co-chief executive of Grob Aircraft, told AIN that the G120TP was a side-by-side design capable of taking pilots from the first steps of flying all the way to 6g aerobatic maneuvers. “Tandem airplanes offer 60 knots more speed than us, but they are much more expensive,” he said.