Training: BAE looks at their flight training options | ADM Sept 2009

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In Project Air 5428, BAE Systems aims to join the dots in the ADF fixed-wing flying training process, from flight screening to operational conversion, and apply a similar approach helicopter pilot training in Air 9000 Ph.7.

Gregor Ferguson | Williamtown and Tamworth

BAE Systems Australia has unique insights into the ADF's pilot training needs.

Not only does the company run the ADF's Flight Screening and Basic Flying Training School at Tamworth Airport in regional NSW, it manufactured and now supports the Hawk 127 Lead-In Fighter (LIF) which prepares graduates from the training system at RAAF Base Pearce for fast jet conversion.

With Project Air 5428 in the offing (which was given 1st Pass Approval by Government as this edition of ADM went to press), the company aims to join all the dots between these fixed points.

It also plans to apply the same methodology to the ADF rotary wing training system in Air 9000 Ph.7, as well as implementing the Hawk LIF Capability Assurance Program (CAP) in Project Air 5438.

The company's experience with the Basic Flying Training (BFT) contract at Tamworth illustrates the savings available to Defence, as well as the challenges contractors face in satisfying a demanding customer, according to John Quaife, a former Air Commander Australia and now the company's General Manager, Aviation Solutions.

At Tamworth the company carries out Flight Grading for the ADF and Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), BFT for the ADF and Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) training for the Royal Brunei Defence Force - indeed, it is the only private sector organisation in the world to train military QFIs, Quaife told ADM.

The ADF is responsible for recruitment and selection of pilots; these are assessed by the ADF Pilot Selection Agency (PSA), also located at Tamworth, and BAE Systems puts 275 candidates a year through a two-week, 15-hour syllabus on the CT-4B piston trainer and the Mudry CAP10 aerobatic trainer.

After this a Joint Selection Board recommends suitable individuals for either single-Service training or for all Services.

A recommendation for Air Force meaning he or she is a potential RAAF fast jet pilot.

The BFT course trains up to 152 students a year in a 25-week, 64-hour syllabus on the CT-4B.

The company runs eight courses a year, starting at five-week intervals.

Army pilots do a further 38 hours on the Army Intermediate Pilot Course (AIPC), focussing on navigation and instrument flying, to prepare for the operational environment.

From Tamworth Army BFT graduates go to Oakey for rotary wing training and then operational conversion.

Currently, RAAF and RAN pilots go to 2 Flying Training School at Pearce for Advanced Flying Training (AFTS) to "wings" standard.

However, the introduction of the Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) in Air 9000 Ph.7 could see both RAN and Army pilots go direct from BFT to enter a new training system at Nowra with consequences for the BFTS syllabus and for 2 FTS numbers and throughput which haven't been fully explored as yet.

Tamworth history
BAE Systems Australia Flight Training at Tamworth took over the flight screening and basic flying training duties of the former 1 FTS at Point Cook in 1998 under a Commercial Support Program (CSP) contract.

Its fleet consists of 27 CT-4Bs, three CAP10s and two Piper PA-34 Senecas, all owned by the company.

The workforce at Tamworth is 65 company staff, including 22 QFIs, 39 AF staff, including 23 QFIs and the PSA has seven staff.

The BAE staff fly some 5,000 instructional hours each year in the BFT role and about 3,750 dual hours a year on flight screening.

The mix of company and ADF QFIs fluctuates mildly, but generally BAE Systems QFIs carry out all of the flight screening duties except for the final assessment sorties, while the majority of BFTS instructors are ADF personnel.

All QFIs undergo CFS testing and standardisation courses and are also required to meet CASA licensing requirements - the company takes responsibility for QFI conversion and CASA accreditation.

All civilian instructors have extensive experience with most being ex-military.

The Tamworth aircraft fleet flies 16,000 hours a year, including 2,000 at East Sale supporting QFI training at the RAAF's Central Flying School (CFS).

The aircraft are maintained to civil airworthiness standards by 19 engineers, who also undertake 18 engine overhauls, 13 major airframe servicings and two CT-4B main spar replacements a year.

This is all done in-house to guarantee quality and schedule performance.

The entire operation is subject to regular Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and RSAF take part in audits, and participates in Directorate General of Technical Airworthiness (DGTA) CT-4 airworthiness boards.

By comparison, Quaife says, to deliver the same number of flying hours and BFT throughput each year, 1 FTS required 37 aircraft and 100 maintainers.

The company is required to have 14 CT-4Bs available each day and routinely achieves 19.

AIR 5428
BAE Systems will submit a compliant bid for Air 5428, he told ADM, but points out that replicating Tamworth's favourable training environment at East Sale could require a $200 million infrastructure investment up-front: not only will new 1 FTS facilities and hangarage be required, so also will student accommodation.

The Tamworth operation is based on the former British Aerospace/Ansett joint venture established in 1993 to train airline pilots for the then-booming civil market.

Students are accommodated and fed to a high standard and the entire complex is owned by BAE Systems Australia, whose lease on the land at Tamworth Airport runs to 2032, with two 25-year options.

Replicating this infrastructure elsewhere would require a significant investment, ultimately paid for by the Commonwealth even if the facilities are erected and owned by a contractor.

Furthermore, Tamworth has excellent weather for flight screening and basic training, unrestricted air space, two main runways (one of them dedicated to the BFT role), two easily accessible satellite airfields at Gunnedah and Quirindi and, importantly, an Instrument Landing System (ILS), which is important for the Army AIPC course as well as for the RSAF flight grading program.

East Sale lacks the consistent fine weather and second runway and the fuel storage facilities for the Avgas used by piston trainers.

Tamworth illustrates the scale of the investment required in a new training school and the reduction in operating costs achievable through careful use of a contractor.

It's not clear whether the RAAF has costed the operation at 2 FTS and developed any expectations for potential savings, but the cost to the service of its current training system isn't solely a matter of paying for flying hours and classroom instruction.

At present, BFTS and AFTS aren't properly integrated. Bottlenecks in the system and fluctuations in demand for pilots at Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) and squadron level mean students can spend a lot of time waiting for the next step of their training to begin.

In 2009 one pilot course finally graduated from 2 FTS over two years after most of its members started training at Tamworth.

Including the time spent on initial officer training and then on operational conversion, it can take up to four years (in the worst case) for a pilot to become operational on a frontline squadron; if you then include instructor postings and other jobs, there's a real danger that the service isn't getting the productivity it needs from its current training system, nor the return on the investment it makes in young pilots on an 11-year engagement.

Integrating BFTS and AFTS means portions of each syllabus could be shifted ‘up' or ‘down', or combined and streamlined; there's an opportunity to create the most productive blend of aircraft, simulator, Cockpit Procedures Trainer (CPT) and classroom training.

The integrated system must focus on airmanship and flying skills: formation flying, low-level flight, day and night VFR and IFR procedures, navigation, Situational Awareness (SA), circuit handling skills and ‘edge of envelope' skills - aerobatics.

At 2 FTS the focus naturally sharpens on tactical skills.

Single aircraft type
For BAE Systems, the strong financial case for a single aircraft type throughout must be balanced against the reality that the first 25 hours or so of flight screening and basic training are where the dropout rate is highest.

It makes no sense to use expensive, advanced turboprop or jet trainers at this stage.

Further down the pipeline, at 2 FTS, the training syllabus must take into account two key factors: the skills the pilot needs to enter operational conversion; and setting a pace for trainees that accommodates differences in learning rate and style.

Should 2 FTS train all students to a common standard or stream them early to prepare then for Lead-In Fighter (LIF) or multi-engine/multi-crew environments?

The RAAF's preference seems still to produce a pilot "suitable to enter the fast jet training system"; it would appear LIF and multi-crew pilots will still be streamed after graduation.

With that in mind, the LIF syllabus at Pearce (79 Sqn) and then Williamtown (76 Sqn) needs to be optimised to front-load as much of the tactical training task as possible, before students start burning serious money flying a Hornet.

The LIF syllabus needs to include tactical situational awareness, intercept geometry, basic fighter manoeuvres, exploiting the full flight envelope, g-tolerance and weapons introduction.

So the AFTS syllabus needs in turn to prepare students for this environment without being too LIF-specific.

Historically, the RAAF's pilot training pass rate has remained remarkably consistent at about 55 per cent, according to Quaife; it could be raised by slowing the pipeline and giving each student more time, but all air forces have learned there's a balance to be struck between accommodating the needs of individual students, and achieving optimal productivity from the training system.

Tinkering with the system over the years hasn't really changed that historic pass rate, and it's likely that any sustained increase in the numbers graduating from 2 FTS will need to come at the Flight Screening and BFTS stages: more students entering the system equals more graduates.

The ultimate test of whether or not the new integrated pilot training system is working will be the pass rate at the Hornet OCU - and it might take up to three years before a problem with the training process is identified, and longer still before the RAAF can be confident this
has been corrected.

So the service is likely to adopt a conservative
approach.

Like its rivals, BAE Systems hasn't disclosed much detail of its likely approach to Air 5428.

It does have considerable insight into the training requirements, as well as the essential business aspects of operating a military flight training school, including ‘reach-back' through its parent company to the technical and business knowledge built up carrying out all-through training Royal Saudi Air Force aircrew on a mix of PC-9s and Hawk Mk65s.

The company told ADM it is leaning towards a single-type flying training solution for Air 5428, but hasn't disclosed the aircraft type it would offer, nor the blend of aircraft, synthetic and classroom training it suggests.

However, to make this economical it also proposes an extended Flight Grading and Basic Training introduction syllabus based on the New Zealand-built fully aerobatic Falcomposite Furio LN27 RG lightweight trainer which was displayed this year at Avalon.

Students will graduate from this to the single-type trainer.

The BAE Systems future training concept aims to significantly reduce overheads by building on the successful partnering model currently employed at Tamworth and avoiding the requirement for any significant infrastructure investment to be a component of Air 5428.

Not only is there a significant infrastructure investment cost in relocating the flight screening and BFT functions from Tamworth, the cost to the local economy of shifting this major aviation activity from the area would be massive.

Contract issues
Meanwhile, he faces another challenge: the current BFTS contract expires in December 2011.

It has been extended once already and no further extensions are possible under new rules introduced with the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which requires that all defence contracts above a certain value go to open tender.

The RAAF Training Group invited expressions of interest in July for the provision of Interim Flight Screening and Basic Flying Training Services; this closed 13 August and a restricted RFT is expected this month, closing in January 2010.

The ITR states a contract period of about six years, through to the introduction of the new basic flying training capability under Air 5428.

It also specifically states that the Interim BFT contract is quite separate from the BFT component of Air 5428.

Given the significant investment required, BAE Systems would seem to have the power of incumbency on its side; it is moot whether it would be worth anybody's while trying to wrest this contract from BAE Systems, while trying simultaneously to prepare a bid for Air 5428.

But mindful that it took some time for the original contract to settle down to the satisfaction of both parties, Quaife isn't complacent.

He told ADM the company has developed a very compliant and robust response built on its solid performance over the past decade, but incorporating proposals for improvements to the current system that would enhance effectiveness and lower cost.

What about Air 9000 Ph.7?

Quaife believes the strongest synergies with Air 5428 are at a business level.

Having a single company doing both contracts would simplify the interface between the two training systems.

But he has declined to disclose further details at this stage.

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