UK flight training ascends to reality as aircraft arrive

 - July 17, 2010, 8:07 AM

The first courses to be provided under the UK’s new military flying training systems (MFTS) are to begin in less than a year when Royal Navy observers start training next May. Later that year, advanced jet training with new BAE Systems Hawks is to begin, and air crew destined for that training are already preparing on the first of six flight training devices installed at the Royal Air Force’s Valley base.

Prime MFTS contractor Ascent Flight Services has been busy implementing the complex 25-year program in the two years since it sealed a training partner service contract in June 2008. Ascent is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin’s Simulation, Training and Support division and the UK’s VT Group.

“We have done the training needs analysis and the training system design,” explained Ascent managing director Sir Barry Thornton. “We are well on the way to developing the costs for the various programs that are not yet committed.” MFTS will entail training for 23 air crew disciplines covering 33 different courses. No fewer than 6,500 student lessons are to be provided at six different locations through 2041.

“MFTS will deliver improved value for money with about £1 billion saved over the life of the program,” claimed Sir Barry, who was formerly the head of the Royal Air Force’s training command. “It is the only way we will get the training system modernized.”

Four Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350 twin turboprops have been bought for the Royal Navy observer training. They are being modified by FR Aviation and Cobham, with the first aircraft due to be completed this month. Both the aircraft and the ground-training units are being provided with the Xwave Solutions tactical mission trainer. Students will undergo initial flight and navigation training at the MFTS common ground school before moving to the Culdrose base to work on the King Airs, which are to replace aging British Aerospace Jetstreams.

The UK Ministry of Defence has handled the purchase of the new Hawks for the advanced jet training. Ascent is providing the ground-based training environment package, which includes developing courseware and lessons, building the new school and accommodation at RAF Valley. CAE is building the two full-mission simulators for this facility, the first of which is to be delivered in January 2011.

Under the groundbreaking MFTS program, Ascent has overall responsibility for delivering the training, managing courses on a day-to-day basis using a mix of civilian and military training. Most ground training instructors are civilian (although generally with a military background), and as the training moves closer to frontline service, the ratio of military trainers increases. Ascent gets input
from current frontline pilots to shape the training content.