Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flying training in the British Armed Forces

UPDATE 24 October 2014
The Affinity team is confirmed as preferred bidder in the race to replace the fixed wing training fleet. Final negotiations underway, FlightGlobal reports ("T-6C to head UK military training renewal", by Craig Hoyle, 24 october 2014). It is also confirmed that Linton on Ouse will no longer be a training centre, with the Tucano replacement based in RAF Valley. There is no official word on the base closing, yet, but it looks like it is the natural follow on event.

Meanwhile, as the article says, 57(R) Squadron has moved into RAF Cranwell by 6 October 2014. 

Royal Air Force Number 22 (Training) Group is responsible for the recruitment, selection, initial and professional training of RAF personnel as well as providing technical training for the Army and Royal Navy. The Group provides education and continual development throughout individuals’ RAF careers. The HQ is based in High Wycombe. 

22 Group does not deliver just Flying Training. It also controls Signals training, including the Royal School of Signals, and other technical training, but the purpose of this article is to overview the air training, which is delivered under Director Flying Training (DFT). 

 DFT directly controls the Central Flying School in RAF Cranwell, the 1 Flying Training School in RAF Linton-on-Ouse, the Defence Helicopter Flying School DHFS RAF Shawbury, the 3 Flying Training School in Cranwell and the 4 Flying Training School in RAF Vallery. 

No 2 Flying Training School has been stood up this year to control Air Cadet flying training, as will be seen later in the article, but the organisation has no direct link to the frontline crew formations. 

Elementary Flying Training is delivered by No 1 Elementary Flying Training School, with HQ in Cranwell.  

Middle Wallop delivers Operational Training to the Army Air Corps helicopter crews. All elements shown on the map will be explained in the article. Elementary Flying Training is leaving Wyton this year as the resident squadron moves to Cranwell and Wyton ceases to be a flying station; more on this later.

As of early 2014, an estimate of 250 ab initio pilots and 60 ab initio crewmen enter the system each year. The british flying training pipeline also trains some 40 foreign students on average, under International Defence Training agreements and contracts, such as with Saudi Arabia. 

The UK Military Flying Training System contract

In 2008, the MOD signed a 25-year Public Private Partnership contract for the delivery of flying training to students from all three the armed services. The contract was signed with ASCENT, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Babcock. The role of Babcock is aircraft and equipment maintenance, and airfield support. Lockheed Martin and CAE personnel are involved for support to simulators and electronic training.

As part of the agreement, the MOD sets the requirements and standards of training, while supplying airfields and fuel. ASCENT is responsible for delivering the training courses and for renewing the training aircraft fleets. ASCENT has first of all taken over the legacy, existing fleets and training arrangements, and started to deliver the reworked capability areas in progression.

The first capability area to be touched was Fast Jet Training (FJT), with the order of the 28 Hawk T2 advanced jet trainers and the construction of a new hangar and a two-storey training centre in RAF Valley. The first course began on 2 April 2012.

The second capability area to be touched was Royal Navy Observer training, with ASCENT signing to take over the Observer Training Flight in 703 NAS at Barkston Heath, and with an order placed for four new Beechcraft King Air 350 (Avenger T1 in Royal Navy service) trainer aircraft, assigned to 750 NAS in Culdrose. Avenger flying operations began on 11 April 2012, with the first four Observers graduated in January 2013.

The renewal of other capability areas has been slowed down by reviews, budget uncertainty and cutbacks to the number of crews the UK need to train as the armed forces shrink. The cuts of 2010, in particular, were devastating in this sense, and led to the disbandment of several legacy training squadrons.

ASCENT is still due to renew Elementary Flying Training (EFT), Basic Flying Training (BFT), Multi Engine Pilot Training (MEPT), Rotary Wing Training (RWT) and the RAF Rear Crew Training (RCT2, with RCT1 being the RN Observers training, delivered).

In 2012, with the turmoil of cuts and disbandments passed, it was decided that ASCENT would proceed with the renewal of EFT, BFT and MEPT. A Request For Proposals was put out in December, and three team bidders stepped forth:

BAE Systems, in team with Babcock, Gama and Pilatus proposed maintaining the existing Grob 115E (Tutor T1) fleet for the EFT, while using Pilatus PC-21s as replacement for Tucano T1 for BFT and new Cessna Citation Mustangs replacing the Beechcraft King Air 200 for the MEPT.

An EADS Cassidian-led team comprising CAE and Cobham proposed the Grob G120TP for EFT and the Beechcraft T-6C for BFT. Their proposal for MEPT is not known.

Finally, Affinity Group, a team made up by Elbit Systems and KBR, proposes the Grob G120TP for EFT, the Beechcraft T-6C for BFT and the Embraer Phenom 100 for MEPT. Note that both of the known proposals for MEPT come with twin turbofans, instead of the turboprops which have been the norm this far. The RAF going ahead will only have the A400M and Shadow R1 propelled by multiple turboprops, and evidently it is assessed that turbofans will deliver better training. It still is curious, however, that the Beechcraft King Air 350 is not considered: one would think that commonality with the Shadow R1 fleet and Avenger fleet would still be attractive, even if maintenance is carried out by Babcock under the contract arrangements.

News reports suggest that the Affinity Group is going to win. An announcement is (or at least was) expected before the end of this year. At ILA Berlin Air Show earlier this year, a presentation by Ascent said that contract award is expected in the first quarter of 2015. In May 2017 Cranwell would begin receiving the first new Elementary Flying Training aircraft, and the first student course would start in December 2017.

The new Basic Fast Jet Trainers would begin arriving at RAF Valley in April 2018, with the first student course in January 2019. The METP would see deliveries of the new trainer aircraft beginning at Cranwell in October 2017, with the first student course starting in June 2018. 

The Phenom 100 could be the next multi engine trainer
The T-6C could replace the Tucano

The Rotary Wing Training should select the way ahead by around 2018. The replacement of the legacy training fleet was delayed in 2012, and the contract covering the existing fleet and arrangements was extended out to 2018, but the old Squirrel and Griffin are increasingly inadequate, with their old avionics being in no way representative of the glass cockpits and systems the crews will find on passage to the frontline. The Rotary Wing Training at DHFS Shawbury currently is delivered by FB Heliservices.

AINoline in one article said that a RFP for the renewal of the Rotary Fleet was expected this month, but so far there have been no news. Confirmations that the competition is to begin soon have filtered, though, and Airbus is already positioning itself to offer the EC-130 and EC-135, Flightglobal reported from Farnborough.

Work has also begun to define the RCT2 training package for rear crewmen.

By 2019, if there aren’t further changes and delays, all the training packages might be delivering. One current training base, RAF Linton-on-Ouse, is expected to lose its Basic Fast Jet Training role, which will be consolidated in RAF Valley under current plans.

As is explained in greater detail in this article, RAF Valley is very likely to see the disbandment of 208(R) Squadron by around 2016, and it appears that the idea is to use the room freed by it to house the BFT school and its single flying squadron.

Another installation which is seen as at risk is Middle Wallop. The Army is resisting calls to concentrate helicopter training completely in Shawbury, as it believes that Middle Wallop is perfectly located to provide the right challenges to pilots undergoing Operational Training Phase: the base’s airspace is crowded, and the closeness to Salisbury Plain and to important Joint Helicopter Command bases and fleets is assessed as being extremely beneficial to training.

670 AAC Squadron, in Middle Wallop, uses 9 Squirrels updated by the army with a moving map display, a simulated ­defensive aids system panel and night vision goggle-compatible anti-collision lighting to support formation flying at night. They are able to deliver a much more complete and operationally relevant preparation to crews before they move on to 671 Sqn (OCU, or better Conversion To Type unit for Lynx, Gazelle and Bell 212) or 673 Sqn (Conversion to Type unit for Apache).

The future of Middle Wallop hangs in the balance of a number of choices regarding the delivery of training in the future. Will the Army’s Operational Training Phase be sacrificed on the altar of savings, or anyway absorbed somewhat by the future RWT in Shawbury? As the Wildcat replaces the Lynx, the Gazelle eventually leaves service and the handful of Bell 212 face an uncertain future, will 671 remain? The Wildcat fleet has its training centre in Yeovilton, and 652 Sqn is earmarked as the OCU: either 671 Sqn vanishes and gives its role completely to 652, or both squadrons stay, one delivering Conversion to Type training and one Conversion to Role (more advanced training, specifically focused on operational, tactical use of the machine). The same uncertain future faces 673 and the Apache force. As the attack regiments restructure, it is not at this stage publicly known how training will be reorganized.

The Apache pilots, after completing their initial training or after coming from another type, move to 673 Sqn in Middle Wallop. This is the Apache Conversion To Type training squadron, which delivers 8-months training courses to form the crews of the attack helicopter.
Achieving conversion to type, however, is not at all the end of the training. Conversion to Role prepares the crews for actually flying combat missions.  

3 and 4 Regiment AAC have borne the burden of a constant presence in Afghanistan for all these years, by adopting a two-year cycle that sees one Regiment committed to operations and one in supporting role.
For example, in its operational year, 4 Regiment would cover the 12 months by deploying each of its three squadrons for a 4-month tour, modelled on RAF guidelines (which have been selected by Joint Helicopter Command, the higher authority the AAC responds to).
In the same 12-months period, 3 Regiment, in the supporting role, would deliver Mission Rehersal Exercise (MRX) support to troops preparing for deployment; Operational Conversion Training and a token Contingency force available for new operations, such as Op Ellamy in 2011.

One squadron on rotation between the three in the Supporting regiment would be tasked as Conversion To Role (CTR) unit, inglobating the Air Manoeuvre Training and Advisory Team (AMTAT). The Squadron would also hold Station Airfield responsibilities, looking over Wattisham, and would deliver training for shipboard operations, delivering Deck Landing Qualifications (DLQ).

Effectively, this arrangement was considered a 5 + 1 solution of five deployable squadrons and one training unit.

Under Army 2020, if the plan hasn't been revised further, the idea seems to be to reduce the Attack Regiments to binary formation, with two squadrons each, in line with the new binary structure of 16 Air Assault Brigade.
In addition, one squadron, while no longer frontline tasked, would remain as “OCU” unit: this could be, judging from the fate of 654 Sqn, the future of whatever squadron will be selected within 3 Regiment AAC once involvment in Herrick is over and the regiment is restructured to its binary Army 2020 structure.

What is not clear is if this “OCU” based in Wattisham would complement 673 Sqn by delivering Conversion to Role training, or if it would replace 673 and deliver both Conversion to Type and Conversion to Role courses.

The future of 671 and 673, their continued existence and their basing, will be decisive for the future of Middle Wallop. It is far from impossible to imagine the MOD pressing the Army to concentrate Wildcat CTT and CTR in Yeovilton and concentrate Apache training in Wattisham, in order to close down Middle Wallop.

The future of 670 Sqn and Operational Training Phase is also crucial for the future of the base. Its replacement might come through a new requirement, outside UK MFTS, which was explained by deputy commander of Joint Helicopter Command, Brigadier Neil Sexton, in January 2014. The brigadier went on record saying that the MOD is now looking at a Surrogate Training requirement, which might help cover the Operational Training requirement and download some of the training flying from expensive Wildcat and Apache airframes to a much cheaper, but representative, machine.
In January, the idea was described as having small fleet of smaller, cheaper surrogate training helicopters (indicatively six for each base) equipped with dummy systems and adequate human-machine interface to enable highly realistic training at lower cost. The pilots will need to be able to move seamlessly from the surrogate to the real thing.
A key factor is that this requirement would be detached from the DHFS, which would continue to deliver Initial Training. 

Such Surrogate Trainers could be an excellent solution, but being based alongside the helicopters they would represent, they would do nothing to save Middle Wallop, as they would be housed instead in Yeovilton, Wattisham, Odiham, Benson.

In other words, going ahead, as the training pipeline is renewed, at least two bases risk being lost: RAF Linton-on-Ouse and Middle Wallop.

The UK MFTS, on its part, will go ahead with just four bases: Barkston Heath with the Defence Elementary Flying School; Shawbury with the Defence Helicopter Flying School, Cranwell and Valley, plus Culdrose if we include 750 NAS and its operations. 

Another training unit that will be impacted in future is the SARTU, based in RAF Valley. The Search and Rescue Training Unit will undoubtedly be affected by the passage of SAR duties from the military to the Depertment of Transport in 2016. 
SARTU provides ab initio rearcrew students with an introduction to SAR helicopter techniques in both the Winch Operator and Winchman roles. This training includes mountain and overwater helicopter operations. SARTU also provides a selection course and dedicated rearcrew training to meet the needs of the UK SARF and 84 Sqn RAF. 84 Sqn, based in Cyprus, will remain and will maintain its SAR capability, so a residual SAR training capability will be needed, but it is not clear how it will be delivered. 

On behalf of DHFS, SARTU also delivers tailored SAR courses to foreign and commonwealth military and civilian customers.
Finally, the unit runs a number of staff courses to form Qualified Helicopter Instructors (QHI) and Qualified Helicopter Crewman Instructors.  

The training pipeline

A 22 Group presentation, released in 2011, shows the arrangement of flying training post-SDSR. I’ve modified the slides slightly, to include the RN Observer course and to include training squadron indications.


In more detail, here I will explain the passages of the training process:

RAF Direct Entry personnel and/or trainees with University Air Squadron experience first of all undergo the Initial Officer Training IOT at the Officer and Aircrew Training Unit (OACTU), RAF College Cranwell. They then move into the flying training pipeline, beginning with ground school courses in Cranwell (No 3 Flying School) which are the same for all three services, and thus Joint in nature (purple color in the graphic).

RAF students then progress into RAF No 1 Elementary Flying Training School, which puts them into courses flying the Grob Tutor. As of 2011, the course lasts 24 weeks, including 55 flying hours.  

The school stood up in 2005 with 3 squadrons: 16 (R) Sqn at Cranwell, 57 (R) Sqn at Wyton and 85 (R) Sqn at Church Fenton.

85(R) Squadron was disbanded in August 2011 due to the reductions coming from the SDSR 2010 and RAF Church Fenton was closed down during 2013.

57(R) Squadron is due to transfer into Cranwell by the end of August as Wyton ceases to be a flying station and fully transforms into the Joint Forges Intelligence Group station, part of Joint Forces Command. 

Tutor T1

Following the EFT phase, RAF students are streamed either to the multi-engine (ME) line or to the fast jet (FJ) line or the rotary wing line.  

Army Air Corps and Royal Navy personnel are first graded by the squadrons 676 AAC in Middle Wallop and by 727 NAS in Yeovilton respectively. Both squadrons use a handful of Grob Tutor aircraft supplied by Babcock under contract for this task.

After moving through ground school in Cranwell, Army and RN students move to the Defence Elementary Flying Training School in Barkston Heath, where they train on the Tutor aircraft of either 674 AAC or 703 NAS. The courses are a bit different: RN personnel flies 55 hours vs 40 for the Army, and has 24 weeks long courses compared to 13 to 14 weeks for the Army personnel.

A limited number of Army students move into the Multi Engine stream to train for the Defender / Islander fleet of 5th Regiment AAC, while the others progress into the Rotary Wing Stream.

RN students move on to the Rotary Wing Stream or to the Fast Jet Stream.

In addition, the Royal Navy needs to train Observers:  they receive a purposefully designed training from Observer Training Flight, 703 NAS, before moving to 750 NAS for training on the Avenger T1 (Beechcraft King Air 350 supplied under UK Military Flying Training System).

In 750 NAS, RNAS Culdrose, the observer students are prepared for systems and sensors management and all-weather aircraft operations before going to serve into the rotary wing pipeline.

The Fast-Jet path moves on through No 1 Flying Training School in RAF Linton-on-Ouse, where they fly on the Tucano T1 with 72(R) Squadron. 124 flying hours are amassed as part of a 40 weeks instruction course.

The other squadron of the school, 76 Sqn, was disbanded as a consequence of the SDSR 2010. 

Tucano T1
When Basic Fast Jet Training (BFJT) is completed and the wings are obtained, the training moves to RAF Valley, where No 4 Flying Training School completes the job delivering Advanced Jet Training with the Hawk T2 of IV(R) Sqn, with a course of some 36 weeks including 120 flying hours.


The ME path includes a 5 weeks Multi-Engine Lead-In (MELIN) course flown on Tutor and overseen by 45(R) Squadron, before the Multi-Engine training proper is carried out on Beechcraft King Air 200 flying from Cranwell with 45(R) Squadron, followed by the passage to the relevant Multi-Engine OCU squadron. 

Beech King Air 200
For ME training, RAF Students coming from Elementary Flying Training and students from the Defence Helicopter Flying School which decide to re-role have to pass through a Multi-Engine Lead In (MELIN) course lasting 5 weeks with 12 flying hours on Grob Tutor.

This is not necessary for more experienced personnel re-roling or re-streaming from other branches. Depending on their preparation, they are sent either to Multi Engine Advanced Flying Training – Long courses of Short courses, which lead eventually to passage in the fleet OCU squadrons.

Army personnel directed to the Defender/Islander fleet move through a purposely designed MELIN course lasting 6 weeks and including 19 flying hours on Tutor, before passing through a ME AFT Long course.


RAF personnel moving to the rotary stream (either coming out of RAF elementary flying training or re-streaming from various points of the fixed wing careers / training paths) move through the same ground courses faced by Army and Royal Navy pilots coming from the Defence Elementary Flying Training School.

After the classroom instruction, all students, from all three services, move through the Single Engine Rotary Wing courses delivered by 660 Sqn AAC and 705 NAS at the Defence Helicopter Flying School in RAF Shawbury. The helicopter employed is the Squirrel HT1. 

Squirrel HT1

After this course is completed, paths separate: RAF personnel streams into the (60) Squadron Lead In Course (SLIC), and moves on towards Multi Engine Advanced Rotary Wing training, flying 77 hours on the Griffin HT 1 of 60(R) Squadron RAF. 

Griffin HT2. In the HAR2 variant, it serves in Cyprus with 84 Sqn.

Army and Royal Navy personnel, curiously, do not face a multi-engine training course, despite all the Army and RN helicopters being multi-engine (with the exception of Gazelle, as long as it is in service). Navy personnel instead move through the Maritime Ops Lead In Course (MOLIC) at 705 NAS before reaching the OCU squadrons. They only receive their wings after completing the training at the OCU squadrons. 

Army personnel face the Army Lead In Course (ALIC) at 660 Sqn AAC, before moving to Middle Wallop for the Operational Training Phase (OTP) flown on the Squirrel HT2 of 670 Sqn AAC. The successful students get their Wings, and then move on to 673 Sqn (Apache OCU) or 671 Sqn (Lynx, Gazelle, Bell 212 OCU) for Conversion To Type training. 

Crewmen (loadmasters, EW and intelligence operators etcetera) are trained starting with the Non-Commissioned Aircrew Initial Training Course, lasting 11 weeks and delivered by the Officer and Aircrew Training Unit (OACTU) RAF Cranwell, followed by a Weapon System Operator Generic (WSOp Generic) lasting ten weeks and delivered by 45(R) Sqn.

Crewmen and Navigator / WSO for Tornado were once trained on the Dominie T1 (version of the BAE HS.125) by 55(R) Squadron at Cranwell, but the squadron was disbanded and the aircraft withdrawn from service in January 2011.

As of 2014, however, the way forwards for rear crewman (Fixed Wing) training is still a bit up in the air. The RAF is considering ways to incorporate some of its crewmen training needs into 750 NAS at Culdrose, for example, while it waits for a more effective solution that might be years away. The Military Flying Training System project includes a RAF Rear Crew Training requirement (RCT2, since RCT1 has been contracted, delivered and is operating, being 750 NAS itself) but so far it has not progressed in any significant way. The purchase of a new fleet of rear crew training aircraft is not currently funded, so it is to be assumed that the RAF will have to make do for quite a while still, meeting the requirement by exploiting the aircraft used by 45(R) Squadron for Multi Engine training, and possibly exploiting some of the capability of the RN’s Avenger aircraft in 750 NAS.


The Flying Training Schools 

No 3 Flying Training School – RAF Cranwell

Flying Wing provides training for multi-engine pilots using the seven Beechcraft King Air B200 aircraft of No 45(R) Squadron.

The Wing also incorporates Central Flying School (CFS) Tutor Squadron, Ground School Squadron, Air Traffic Control Squadron, Operations Squadron, General Service Training Squadron and the Meteorological Office.

The Central Flying School is the RAF’s primary institution for the training of military flying instructors, for testing individual aircrew, audit the Flying Training System, give advice on flying training and provide the RAF Aerobatic Team. Established at Upavon on 12 May 1912, the Central Flying School (CFS) is the longest serving flying school in the world.

No 1 Elementary Flying Training School – RAF Cranwell 


(1 EFTS) has its Headquarters at Rauceby Lane, Royal Air Force College Cranwell together with the Central Flying School. The School is responsible for fixed wing elementary flying training for pilots of all 3 UK armed forces and for pilots from some overseas countries.

Following the disbandment of 85(R) Squadron and the closure of RAF Church Fenton, the school comprises two RAF squadrons:

16 (R) Sqn at Cranwell,
57 (R) Sqn at Wyton; transferring to Cranwell this year

The EFTS stream also includes 703 Naval Air Squadron and 674 Squadron Army Air Corps at the Defence Elementary Flying Training School, RAF Barkston Heath.

Flying the Tutor and “training the trainers” for the EFTS stream is 115 (R) Sqn of the Central Flying School (CFS) at Cranwell (transferring to RAF Wittering this year), and 14 University Air Squadrons (UASs) based at 12 different locations around the country.

The University Air Squadrons offer flying training to undergraduates and represent a way to experience life in the RAF without / before joining. There is no obligation to sign up for RAF service at the end of the UAS period. All UAS are equipped with the Tutor T1. As we have seen earlier in the description of the training pipeline, the training in the UAS is not necessarily part of the preparation of RAF crews.

No 1 Flying Training School – RAF Linton-on-Ouse

The school delivers Basic Fast Jet training, using the Tucano T1. The school used to have two BFJT squadrons, 72(R) and 207(R), plus 76(R) squadron to deliver air navigation training, as part of the WSO courses.

However, the SDSR 2010 with its cuts ended the WSO training line, leading to the disbandment of 76(R) Squadron in May 2011. The reduction in the number of personnel to be trained also led to the disbandment of 207(R) in January 2012.

The School retains a single flying squadron, 72(R).

Personnel from Central Flying School is on the base to train the Tucano Qualified Flying Instructors.

No 2 Flying Training School – RAF Syerston

This school was stood up only recently, and in January 2014 took command of the RAF Air Cadet’s national gliding, which means controlling the world’s largest fleet of gliders. The school commands 25 Voluntary Gliding Squadrons which deliver a training program for up to 45.000 cadets in the age range 13 to 19. The school represents the first full time reserve officer position, at Group Captain rank, in a flying command appointment. Full time reservist officer Group Captain John Middleton is the first commander of the school.

The school brings training for the Air Cadet Organization back under RAF roof. The ACO is sponsored by the Royal Air Force but is not a recruiting organization. It is to be noted, however, that up to 50% of RAF personnel will on average have been a cadet in youth.

The ACO is made up by two areas:

The Air Training Corps is the RAF's cadet force, and is divided into six regions, 34 wings and around 1000 squadrons within communities around the UK.

The RAF section of the Combined Cadet Force (RAF). Combined Cadet Force welcomes cadets of all three services coming together in approximately 200 independent and state schools across the UK.

The cadets receive flying training thanks to instructors of the RAF Volunteer Reserve (Training). The flying experience is delivered by the Air Experience Flights and Volunteer Gliding Squadrons.

12 Air Experience Flights based mainly on RAF Stations provide air training for the RAF Section of the Combined Cadet Force.

Viking T1
Vigilant T1

The Air Training Corps gives air experience to cadets mainly through the Volunteer Gliding Squadrons. Manned by RAF Volunteer Reserve (Training) personnel, the 25 VGSs are based all over the UK and comprise 8 Conventional Glider Squadrons, equipped with the Viking T1 glider; and 17 squadrons equipped with the Motor Glider Vigilant T1.

Conventional Glider Squadrons

  • 614 VGS (MDPGA Wethersfield),
  • 615 VGS (RAF Kenley),
  • 621 VGS (Hullavington),
  • 622 VGS (Trenchard Lines),
  • 626 VGS (Predannack),
  • 644 VGS (RAF Syerston),
  • 661 VGS (RAF Kirknewton),
  • 662 VGS (RM Condor),

Motor Glider Squadrons

  • 611 VGS (RAF Honington),
  • 612 VGS (Dalton Barracks),
  • 613 VGS (RAF Halton),
  • 616 VGS (RAF Henlow),
  • 618 VGS (RAF Odiham),
  • 624 VGS (RMB Chivenor),
  • 631 VGS (RAF Woodvale),
  • 632 VGS (RAF Ternhill),
  • 633 VGS (RAF Cosford)
  • 634 VGS (MOD St. Athan),
  • 635 VGS (RAF Topcliffe) (Formerly at BAE Samlesbury)
  • 636 VGS (Swansea Airport)
  • 637 VGS (RAF Little Rissington)
  • 642 VGS (RAF Linton-on-Ouse),
  • 645 VGS (RAF Topcliffe),
  • 663 VGS (RAF Kinloss)
  • 664 VGS (Newtownards)

The Volunteer Gliding Squadrons are being equipped with simulators as part of the standing up of the No 2 FTS. 25 simulators have been ordered and will be distributed one in each VGS. The RAF hopes to later purchase additional simulators, aiming for a final fleet of 17 Vigilant T1 simulators and 10 Viking T1 simulators.

No IV Flying Training School – RAF Valley

The School delivers advanced fast jet training and retains two flying squadrons, 208(R) with the Hawk T1/1A and the IV(R) Sqn with Hawk T2. As has been explained earlier, the position of 208 Sqn is quite precarious, and the unit doesn’t seem to have a long future ahead. 

Advanced Training for Qualified Flying Instructors (QFIs) is delivered by the school on behalf of Central Flying School.

IV Squadron is the current core of the UK Military Flying Training System, and is in the history book as the first strand of training capability completely delivered via MFTS. The Hawk T2 entered service beginning in 2011 to deliver advanced training at an higher level than was possible with the T1. The glass-cockpit T2, with its built-in simulation capabilities, is able to deliver advanced training to such a level to allow the fast jet OCU squadrons to reduce the length of their courses and cut the number of flying hours. This saves a lot of money, since Hawk T2 flying hours are assessed as costing up to 10 times less than Typhoon hours. Every bit of training that can be downloaded from the OCU to the training squadron, in other words, means money saved. 

The squadron is supported by a purpose-built training centre, the Moran building, containing the classrooms, the simulators, the maintenance and administration spaces, and all other components of the unit’s life. Training on the ground is carried out in four electronic classrooms (Classroom-Aided Instruction), and on the laptops assigned to each student, which are fitted with Computer-Based Training software. All flight manuals are electronic.

Going up in complexity, the training centre has six Flight Training Devices, which are mini-simulators that can be linked together and be programmed to simulate the front or rear cockpit depending on need. The FTDs are simpler than a full simulator, and can be used by the student on its own, for self-training and rehearsal, while still being advanced enough to include simulated basic radar use.

There are then two Full Mission Simulators (FMSs), which are not full-motion, but provide motion-cueing in the seat. Apart from the lack of full motion, the realism is absolute: the simulators are treated like real aircraft, and the students only enter them while wearing full flying gear. The dome-screens can project accurate imagery reproducing any part of the UK, thanks to a complete mapping database.

The rate of live flying to simulator in the Squadron is roughly at a 50:50 balance point, overall, with wild differences in the various phases of the instruction: instrumented flying is taught up to 80% in the simulator and just 20% in flight, while air combat training is 90% done in flight.

Flying missions are carefully planned through Hawk Advanced Mission Planning Aid (HAMPA) with briefings held in five Virtual Briefing Rooms.

The beneficial effect of simulation is measured in an improvement in success rates: on the Hawk T1, up to 10% of the students would fail their course, while less than 0.5% of students fails the new generation course, a very significant improvement.

A permanent contractor presence is on the base to ensure continuous availability of the simulators and electronic systems, and the instructors are all former servicemen chosen among the most experienced. 

The Hawk T2 (Advanced Jet Trainer) delivers much improved training thanks to its avionics, and in particular thanks to built-in emulation capabilities. Although the Hawk AJT can be fitted with external stores and real weapons, training is only done with emulation, which ensures huge savings. The Hawk T2 has an advanced cockpit with HUD, moving map display and navigation displayed on three Multi Function Displays arranged in the same pattern found on Typhoon.

Emulation steps in to give the student what the Hawk actually does not have: it emulates stores and weapons, threat warning system and synthetic radar. All of it can be linked in real time to other Hawks to provide realistic, immersive training.

The trainer in the back seat can inject simulated threats in the equation in any moment, in order to make things complex for the student. 

The Hawk T2 on delivery was only programmed to deliver generic MRAAM and IR missile emulation, plus HUD indications for cannon fire. Basic, generic air to ground weapons were also emulated. By the end of 2012, however, Ascent has been given clearance to train the students at SECRET level, with the introduction of specific emulation of AMRAAM, ASRAAM and Paveway IV employment.

The core training course is classified RESTRICTED, and continues to use generic weapon simulation, so that this course can continue to be offered to foreign countries wanting to have their pilots trained in the UK. IV Squadron will have a small surplus of capacity due to the cuts the RAF suffered in 2010, and will be able to take on a number of foreign students even after 208(R) Squadron eventually disbands.

The students don’t use these weapons for real in the course, but fly their delivery and launch profiles, and get accurate digital emulation. Thanks to the HUD recorder and to HAMPA, full debriefings can be carried out after landing, for maximum training effect. By the end of the training course, pilots fly Multi-Role sorties which include low-level flight towards a simulated land target to be hit with Paveway IV. On the way in and out, the student must face simulated threats including enemy interceptors, which are countered with simulated AMRAAM use. AWACS communications is also incorporated in these complex training sorties. 

The new hangar with the Hawk T2s
The Hawk T2 could be armed with gunpod, external fuel tanks, missiles and guided bombs, but in its training role it normally only carries a ventral fuel tank, and uses digital emulation to triain students in weapons employment.

Hawk AJT and related simulation equipment are also Night Vision Goggles and Air to Air Refuelling capable, so there is potential for further downloading of training events from the OCU squadrons to IV Sqn. Considering the savings that this would enable, it is likely that in the near future this possibility will be exploited.

29 Squadron, OCU for the Typhoon fleet, expects to be able to shorten its own courses and cut flying hours because of the higher capabilities students have when they arrive coming from the Hawk T2 courses. Some 65% of OCU training is now delivered via simulation, and the RAF aims to improve the ration in serving frontline squadrons (25% simulation, 75% live flying) to aim to the same 50 : 50 ratio promised by the F-35.

In order to achieve this result, the RAF is planning to buy more Typhoon simulators: currently there are four in Coningsby (two Full Mission Simulators and two Cockpit Trainers) and two in Leuchars (will transfer to Lossiemouth along with the aircraft) and the idea is to purchase a further four (2 for Coningsby, 2 for Lossiemouth) and link them all together for large virtual training scenarios.

The Typhoon Training Facility in Coningsby, meanwhile, will be fully staffed by industry personnel by the end of this year: BAE will hire and supply instructors, chosen from ex-servicemen with experience. The civilian, ex-military instructors will benefit from greater stability, and from the lack of additional tasks that they would have if they were RAF personnel.

Ahead of the withdrawal of the Tranche 1, which includes a great share of the 2-seater Typhoons, the RAF is also experimenting whether times are mature for doing away with the 2-seat. F-22 and F-35 notoriously don’t have a twin-seat trainer variant, and Typhoon in future might follow, as the trial activity “Pandora’s Buzzard” has demonstrated that pilots can fly their very first Typhoon sortie solo, without need for an instructor in the back, even after receiving a 100% simulator OCU course.

Now, such an extreme approach is unlikely to catch up anytime soon, but much reduced need for 2-seaters and live flying are pretty much ensured: better training aircraft in earlier phases of training, and greater use of simulation appear to be the way forwards. 

Simulation will also be key in the F-35 training. A OCU squadron for the F-35B force is planned to stand up around 2019 in RAF Marham, and an Integrated Training Centre will be built on the base to house the simulators and training aids. The UK hopes to train foreign F-35 personnel at the centre, and a preliminary agreement is in place with Norway. 

A great overview of the Typhoon OCU training is available online here.

Other training and training support squadrons

In here I want to include an overview of the remaining air training units, which aren’t or are only partially touched by UK MFTS, and which deliver operational training support.

208 Squadron, RAF Valley: part of No 4 Flying Training School at RAF Valley, 208(R) Squadron flies the legacy Hawk 1. Initially, it was thought that a short transition course on the Hawk T1 would be needed for pilots coming from the Tucano, to soften the move from it to the glass cockpit, advanced Hawk T2 trainer, but it has actually been proven that such a passage is completely unnecessary, and by the end of 2012, with the Hawk T2 fully established in service, british pilots training became the task of IV Squadron, with the T2.

208 Squadron was on the edge of being disbanded, and for all the year its manpower dropped in preparation to the end of the unit, but it was given a last minute reprieve as part of a contract signed with Saudi Arabia for the training of RSAF crews, which began with a first course in February 2013.

208 can so continue to deliver its services, including some training for Royal Navy pilots destined to tours on Super Hornet in the US or Rafale in France, and personnel destined to the Tornado GR4 line. Typhoon students all move through IV Squadron to exploit the greater capabilities of the Hawk T2.

But for how much longer will 208 be around? The survival of the squadron goes against the mechanisms of the UK Military Flying Training System contract, and is justified as “irreducible spare capacity” in the legacy training fleet. As the MFTS kicks fully into gear, however, the training fleet will be restructured to much more tightly conform to the national, british requirement, diminishing significantly the room available for International Defence Training (IDT). As is noted in the RAF Airpower 2014/15 yearbook, the incoming reduction in IDT capacity might mean savings in financial terms for the training fleet, but has negative consequences on the capability of UK Defence to actively engage with foreign partners (british flying training being a very successful engine of international cooperation) at a time in which, formally, “soft power” and “forward engagement” are the buzzword. Not a very coherent line of action.

Some negative effect could also be experienced when it comes to military aerospace export, as the offer of british flying training has, in the past, proven to be an effective tool for making the british offers more attractive on the market.  

The Saudi deal that kept 208 Squadron alive is temporary in nature: it is an interim solution for the Royal Saudi Air Force, which needed a gap filler ahead of the standing up of an adequate training pipeline in Saudi Arabia with the 22 Hawk AJTs that the country purchased. In 2012, ahead of the final agreement, the estimated length for the pilot training arrangement was 3 years. By 2016, in other words, it might be over. Saudi Arabia will begin receive its Hawk AJTs in 2015.

100 Squadron, RAF Leeming: flying from RAF Leeming with the Hawk T1/1A, 100 Sqn serves in a mixed target facilities role (the closest to USAF Aggressor squadrons the RAF gets), supports exercise and training activities and provides dedicated aircraft in support of the Joint Forward Air Controllers Training and Standards Unit, which is also based in Leeming and is the only NATO and US Joint Services accredited schoolhouse in UK Defence to train Joint Forward Air Controllers.

The question for the future of this squadron is the same question facing the Red Arrows and 736 NAS: what after Hawk 1? For now, it seems that the OSD of the Hawk 1 has been moved to the right again, out to 2020, in order to gain time for a decision on the way forwards. A further purchase of Hawk T2 might or might not be the solution to the problem.

736 NAS, RNAS Culdrose and RNAS Yeovilton: recommissioned on 6 June 2013 and first deployed to RAF Lossiemouth for exercise Joint Warrior in October the same year, the squadron is a maritime aggressor unit equipped with 14 Hawk T1. The Squadron is based in Culdrose, with a detachment in Yeovilton. 736 NAS was formed from an amalgamation of the Yeovilton Hawkdet (formerly Naval Flying Standards Flight (FW)) and the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit, a unit of civilian contracted pilots provided by Serco Defence and Aerospace which flew Hawks in simulated air and missile attacks against Royal Navy ships in pre-deployment training. 

The Hawkdet remains as a 736 Detachment in Yeovilton, and the tasks of the FRADU have been all taken over by the new, uniformed squadron. The Hawks simulate enemy fighter aircraft attacking the ships, or high-speed sea-skimming missiles which are fired against ships to allow the crew to train in the procedures to avoid and reduce the damage caused.

The pilots also fly missions for the students of the Royal Navy School of Fighter Control. Fighter Controllers are responsible for controlling and guiding the friendly fighter assets assigned to a group of ships.

In a similar role, the aircraft are also tasked to support the training of RN Observers in the Airborne Early Warning role for 849, 854, and 857 NASs. These missions involve airborne fighter control, as well as the identification of ground targets.

736 NAS hopes to in future serve as an Aggressor squadron in support of training, particularly for the F-35B when it comes. Again in support of the F-35B force build-up, 736 NAS will provide an invaluable holding unit where pilots coming back from exchange in the US or France on F-18s and Rafales can continue to fly and stay up to date, while also refreshing UK maritime methods ahead of the passage into Joint Lightning Force.

115(R) Squadron, RAF Cranwell: 115(R) is tasked by the Central Flying School with the conduction of the flying stage of the training course for new Qualified Flying Instructors (QFIs). The squadron runs two courses, Main and Refresher, which are meant respectively to prepare new instructors the first, and to re-qualify instructors which are switching aircraft type or have been away from teaching for too long. The squadron basically trains the trainers that will then serve in Elementary Flying Training squadrons (16(R), 57(R), 703 NAS, 674 AAC). The squadrons does this on behalf of the Central Flying School in RAF Cranwell, which is the RAF’s primary institution for the training of military flying instructors, for testing individual aircrew, audit the Flying Training System, give advice on flying training and provide the RAF Aerobatic Team. Established at Upavon on 12 May 1912, the Central Flying School (CFS) is the longest serving flying school in the world.

115(R) Squadron employs the Grob G115 Tutor T1. The squadron is transferring this year from Cranwell to RAF Wittering.

Joint Services Air Tasking Organisation JSATO: JSATO is a small organization with HQ in Yeovilton which tasks the aircraft and systems employed in support of air training. They are in particular associated with the fleet of 14 Dassault Falcon DA-20 provided under contract by Cobham Aviation Services to support advanced training exercises.

6 DA-20 are based in Durham Tees Valley International Airport, and have the primary mission of supporting RAF exercises. A second flight of 6 DA-20 flies from Bournemouth, primarily tasked with Royal Navy training. A further 2 aircraft are held in reserve as part of the contract, and resources from the two flights can be mixed to provide service to RAF or RN in any moment.

The DA-20 modified for JSATO service is a crucial element in combat training as it delivers Electronic Warfare and radar jamming to complicate the work of fighter jet pilots, AWACS operators and radar crew on ships and helicopter AEW of the Navy. 

The aircraft is fitted with a powerful ESM suite located in a fairing under the fuselage, and can carry up to 4 pods under the wings which give it a series of capabilities, including that of electronically impersonating fighter jets (such as Su-27 and Su-30, for example) with their sensors and armament.

To do that, the DA-20 carries an Air Threat Radar Simulator; an I/J band jammer to disturb interception radars; an E band Jammer to disturb AWACS and a Rangeless Airbone Instrumented Debriefing System (RAIDS) to interact with other aircrafts in training and deliver accurate, detailed mission debrief after landing.

The aircraft also has an ALE-40 chaff dispenser so it can defend itself like a real combat aircraft, adding further realism.

A part of the aircraft are fitted with Real Time Monitoring System, which takes information via the RAIDS network and allows the crew to serve as Range Training Officer, monitoring the exercise as it happens.

The DA-20 has a crew of 3: a captain, a first officer and an EW Operator. Usually, Cobham hires ex-servicemen to serve in these roles in the JSATO fleet.

The DA-20 puts ships and aircraft, including Sentry E-3D and Royal Navy Sea King ASaC helicopters, in the condition to train realistically and face the disruption of electronic warfare and jamming, while extensively simulating the radar and armament capability of enemy attack aircraft. The DA-20 of course is not a fighter jet, but it brings the electronics to bear, supporting the Aggressor squadrons (100 RAF and 736 NAS) who deliver the kinetic part of the training with the Hawk.

The Hawks do the maneuvering, and the DA-20 cloaks them indirectly to turn them into missiles and enemy fighters. The combination is pretty potent, and comes at an affordable price.

Under the contract, Cobham is to provide 3500 hours of flight in support of RN training, 2500 hours in support of the RAF and 500 contingency hours each year.