Italian Air Force Testing M346s
Since the first quarter of 2012 two Aermacchi M346s have been flying under Italian air force colors, carrying out the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) campaign. From March 5 to Sept. 5, 2012 the two Masters logged some 130 flight hours in the hands of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (test flight wing) of Pratica di Mare.
The IOT&E was aimed at evaluating the new aircraft both from the operational-technical point of view and from the logistics-maintenance standpoint. The evaluation was planned by an integrated test team (ITT) that included not only RSV personnel but also personnel belonging to operational and maintenance units. The first part of the IOT&E campaign was aimed at assessing the basic characteristics of the M346 in order to verify that flight qualities, performance, avionics and human machine interface functionalities were compliant to mission requirements.
The program enabled confirmation of the optimal performance capabilities of the M346, but also allowed the team to identify technical aspects that needed to be fine tuned following operation by the final customer. The main adaptation concerns the human machine interface and optimization of the embedded tactical training simulation (ETTS) software. The joint efforts of RSV, ITT and Alenia Aermacchi experts resulted in transformation of those operational needs into technical upgrades that will soon be available on the M346. Once the IOT&E was concluded the two M346s were handed back to Alenia Aermacchi, which is upgrading their final configuration before giving them back to the Italian air force.
The current contract, known as T-346A ITS for integrated training system, includes six aircraft, a full mission simulator, part task trainer, training management information system, a real time monitoring system allowing real-time changes to the training scenario, computer-based and simulation based training assets and an integrated logistics support system.
The Italian air force planned to provide the final configuration M346 next July, however an accident that occurred to one of the company prototypes might have an impact on that delivery. Possible delays are currently being evaluated. The upgraded aircraft are to be used for the final operational test and evaluation phase (FOT&E), which should lead to full trainer certification by late 2013. Tests that still have to be completed include configurations with external payloads–including external fuel tanks–as well as validation of the human machine interface and ETTS upgrades. The so-called carefree flight envelope will have to be verified at up to 30 degrees angle of attack both in clean and external load configurations, and some additional helmet mounted display and voice command system functionalities will have to be verified.
The training syllabus has been drafted, following the IOT&E phase, and will also exploit the FOT&E phase; during those flights both RSV and 61st Wing pilots acquired the experience and competency needed to establish the new syllabus according to the capacities of the new aircraft. The ITT is thus finalizing a first draft document, which will remain a living document until the end of a validation phase that will follow the delivery of all six aircraft. As for the impact of the T-346 upon the first line fighter, the Italian air force needs to acquire some operational experience with the full ITS. The complete system allows the air force not only to download data from the T-346 but also from the T-346 into the ground-based training system. The service will thus work to find the ideal mix between real and simulated flight hours. This will probably happen following the delivery of all six aircraft to the 61st Wing based at Lecce AFB; currently no T-346s are planned to be permanently assigned to the RSV at Pratica di Mare. As for the remaining nine T-346s on option, financing is not yet planned, although the air force hopes to add them as 15 aircraft would allow it to cover the national requirement.
The Italian air force is also busy training Singapore air force pilots; currently six of them are taking part in the Phase III and IV (pre-operational) courses at the 61st Wing. Italy and Singapore are finalising an M-346 joint users group to share experience on the new integrated training system.