Paris Air Show

New breed of t’props

 - December 14, 2006, 11:16 AM

A fighter pilot is as expensive as the aircraft he or she flies. The current trend for containing costs is to concentrate as much of the training syllabus as possible on cost-efficient turboprop trainers, including a large part of the lead-in phase and weapon training, and to limit the use of high-performance jet trainers. Operating costs of jet trainers are estimated to be three to six times those of a turboprop.

Several new-generation turboprop trainers reflect that philosophy and include the Pilatus PC-21, Raytheon T-6B, Embraer Super Tucano and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KT-1. The T-6B, Super Tucano and KT-1 are in service, while PC-21 series production started in January.

After a long and hard-fought contest, Raytheon’s Beechcraft T-6A was selected as the winner of the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) competition to supply the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. Based on the Pilatus PC-9 but extensively remodeled, the T-6A is also in service with the Hellenic Air Force of Greece and the NATO Flying Training in Canada program. In January, the upgraded T-6B embarked upon a world demonstration tour taking in the UK, Spain, Greece, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Here at the Paris Air Show, the T-6B comes to the end of its world tour and Raytheon will report on what has been learned from potential customers in the countries visited. U.S. aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff will fly the aircraft in the Le Bourget display this week.

With the RAF’s Tucano trainers coming to the end of their lives, the UK is one of the prime targets for the T-6B marketing effort and during the demonstrator’s visit earlier this year, it made four flights per day in an endeavor to influence the decision-makers. Service pilots in the UK were impressed with the aircraft’s handling qualities and training capability but some commented that they would not want to lose the T-6’s basic advantage of providing ab initio training.

However, others remarked that they would want to maintain its ease of flying, while gradually increasing the workload using the avionics to the point where the T-6 could cover the lower end of the advanced flying training syllabus currently covered by the BAE Systems’ Hawk jet trainer.  

Even before the recent upgrade to T-6B level, the basic model had incorporated many changes from the original Pilatus design. These included a new canopy, the addition of pressurization, the ability to cruise at 270 knots at low level and changes designed to improve maintainability.

The T-6B incorporates an upgraded cockpit that includes new displays, a mission display processor, while the Flight Visions avionic suite provides the advanced cockpit management functions that pilots use in the latest frontline aircraft. The suite is flexible and can be configured to each customer’s training program, expandable to include deployment as a light attack aircraft. The missionized T-6B can be outfitted with guns, rockets and bombs.

PC-21 Is The Real Thing, Says Pilatus

Designed in close collaboration with the air forces of the UK, Australia, South Africa and Switzerland, the PC-21 is an entirely new program and most closely reproduces the environment the student pilot will later find in a contemporary front-line fighter. Its cockpit features three 6- by 8-inch displays, a head-up display and two smaller standby displays and Pilatus claims the PC-21 to be both a real-world trainer and a flying simulator offering a realistic reproduction of virtual weapon operation.

So in addition to flying an airplane capable of diving at 420 knots and experiencing loads of +8g and -4 g, the student pilot can feel the release of real weapons as the PC-21 can carry up to 2,535 pounds of underwing loads. This allows pilots to exercise multiple virtual launchings, with repeated virtual reloads of weapons the actual aircraft would not be capable of carrying, such as medium-range air-to-air missiles. In all cases, the instructor will be able to judge the hit rate achieved by the student pilot.

The PC-21 was one of the first aircraft to be developed by computer-aided design (CAD) and it relies extensively on computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) whereby components are milled out of metal blocks, resulting in fewer parts. It is a metal airframe with composites used only for low-stress parts. Powered by a 1,600-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68B driving a five-blade propeller, the PC-21 has stepped Martin Baker zero-zero ejection seats and its maximum takeoff weight with underwing loads is 9,370 pounds and 6,834 pounds in clean configuration.

The PC-21 program suffered a setback when one of the two flying prototypes crashed in mid-January 2005, shortly after basic type certification was issued. Pilatus nonetheless launched series production and hopes to make up for time lost by using series aircraft for further test flying and complete certification.

The Swiss manufacturer has no firm orders yet but negotiations for delivery of a first batch are under way with the Swiss Air Force. The first series-standard PC-21 is scheduled to fly in August 2005.

However, Pilatus continues to offer the PC-9M and the lighter PC-7 Mk II trainers, delivering eight of the former to Ireland and six to Bulgaria in 2004.

Super Tucano Is All New

The Super Tucano is not just a newer version of Embraer’s EMB-312. It is a new aeroplane with a new concept.

The original Tucano design was developed to train military pilots to guarantee air superiority, carry out reconnaissance, transportation and several other missions. The Super Tucano retains all of those operational characteristics, but it has a more powerful engine, greater range and a modernized cockpit with current generation instruments in its avionics suite.

The new model’s concept was borne out of the need for the Brazilian air force to have a new aircraft that would be suitable for jungle operations. What emerged from Embraer is an airplane that, besides being a high-performance trainer, is also capable of carrying out air-to-ground and air-to-air combat and is excellent for operations in such harsh climates as that in the Brazilian Amazon.

The new state-of-the-art cockpit and avionics of the Super Tucano are equal to that of many modern jet fighters in use in the world today, and it is also capable of flying night missions. However, unlike jet fighters that are prone to foreign object damage, the Super Tucano can operate on rough or unpaved runways.

Although it was conceived as a light attack aircraft, the Super Tucano also possesses the full range of training capabilities: high maneuverability, modern pilot-vehicle interface (PVI), advanced in-flight simulation modes, dry shot capabilities and on board reconnaissance and communications systems.

To date, Embraer has sold 76 Super Tucanos to Brazil’s air force and has another 23 options, with 14 delivered to date. The Super Tucano is now being evaluated by a number of air forces around the world, particularly those who may be interested in combining operational missions and training requirements into one platform.&nbs