U.S. Navy Begins Multi-Engine Trainer Replacement Program

 - January 28, 2023, 5:12 AM
The T-44C has performed multi-engine training duties with TAW-4 at Corpus Christi since 1980. The type will begin to be replaced by the T-54A from 2024. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

U.S. Naval Air Systems Command has awarded a single-source contract to Textron Aviation for 10 Beechcraft T-54A aircraft to fulfil its requirement for a Multi-Engine Training System (METS) aircraft. The new aircraft—which are based on the commercial King Air 260 model—are part of a $113.1 million contract that also includes support equipment, spares and training. Ultimately the Navy intends to acquire up to 64 T-54As in a deal that could be worth $677.2 million. They are scheduled for delivery between 2024 and 2026.

The T-54A twin turboprops will be used for training Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard pilots destined to fly what the service terms “non-centerline thrust” aircraft, such as the C-130 Hercules, P-8 Poseidon, E-2 Hawkeye, E-6 Mercury, and V-22 Osprey. They will be used to teach students advanced instrument flying and asymmetric engine handling.

“The new METS aircraft will give us the ability to train pilots across the services with an advanced platform that better represents fleet aircraft,” said Captain Holly Shoger, Naval Undergraduate Flight Training Systems Program Office (PMA-273) program manager. “The T-54A will include the latest avionics and navigational updates, such as virtual reality and augmented reality devices, to ensure pilots are ready to face any challenges that come their way in tomorrow’s battlespace.” 

The METS requirement called for a pressurized aircraft with side-by-side seating and jump seat in the cockpit, and a reconfigurable cargo bay in the cabin. Avionics are to include multifunction displays with a digital moving map; redundant ultra-high frequency and very high-frequency radios; an integrated global positioning system/inertial navigation system; automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast; flight management system; weather radar; radar altimeter; and a cockpit data recorder. 

Other requirements include FAA certification for both single- and dual-pilot operations under day/night VFR/IFR conditions. The aircraft should also be equipped with systems to capture data for the Condition-Based Maintenance Plus system, which provides aircraft health trend monitoring and prognostic maintenance.

Textron was the only respondent to the bid, with its King Air 260 meeting most of the requirements in its commercial version. Small modifications will provide the T-54A with a high angle-of-attack capability, which is necessary to train pilots who will land the E-2 Hawkeye aboard aircraft carriers.

In Naval Air Training Command service, the T-54A will replace the Beechcraft T-44C Pegasus, based on the King Air H90. The Navy bought 61 as T-44As in the late 1970s, upgrading them with new avionics to T-44C standard in the late 2000s. They currently serve with Training Air Wing Four at NAS Corpus Christi in Texas, serving with two squadrons: VT-31 “Wise Owls” and VT-35 “Stingrays”. Retirement of the T-44C fleet is due to begin six months after the delivery of the first T-54A.