The ADF’s new fixed-wing pilot training system being delivered under Project Air 5428 was due to begin training the first ab initio candidates in on schedule in January, shortly after this issue of ADM closed for press.
Forty-nine Pilatus PC-21 turboprop trainers are being acquired under Phase 1 of Air 5428, also known as the Pilot Training System, representing the ‘Live’ element of a new and holistic Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) training system. By the end of 2018, Pilatus had delivered 24 aircraft to Australia from their production line at Stans, Switzerland.
The PC-21s will replace the civil-owned PAC CT-4B Airtrainers operated by BAE Systems Australia at Tamworth in the basic flying training role (under the ADF Basic Flying Training School), and Pilatus PC-9/As at 2 Flying Training School at Pearce in the advanced flying training role. The aircraft will also replace the PC-9/As at the Central Flying School (CFS) at East Sale, also with the Aircraft Research and Development Unit at Edinburgh and 4 Sqn at Williamtown.
An industry consortium, led by Lockheed Martin Australia and known as Team 21 were announced the winners of the Air 5428 Phase 1 competition in March 2015, but by the first half of 2018, there were persistent rumours circulating within defence industry that all was not well with the program and that it was significantly behind schedule.
However, in a similar way to the methodology used during the development of the Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS, or JP 9000 Phase 7), a collaborative approach to the problem, led by Lockheed Martin, CASG and AFTG has managed to recover schedule to the point were courses were scheduled to begin in January 2019 as planned.
ADM spoke with Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies, Commander Air Force Training Group (AFTG), Air Commodore Glen Braz and Acting Group Business Manager for CASG, Shane Fairweather, towards the end of last year to find out more.
The need for a new pilot training system
By the mid-1990s it was apparent that high performance modern military aircraft, with glass cockpits and complex mission systems, would require a new approach to pilot training, if the ADF did not wish to deal with gaps between basic and advanced flight training and then conversion to future operational types.
It was also realised that the traditional methods of pilot training, involving hours of classroom work some simulator flying and a significant number of hours in a real aircraft was not necessarily the best way forward. Advances in synthetic training aids capable of delivering enhanced fidelity, would reduce both cost and risk by making many elements of the training continuum easily rehearsed and repeatable and this philosophy, like that of HATS, forms the basis of Air 5428.
Air Marshal Davies notes that discussions with his counterparts around the world on the subject of training involved the concepts of simulation, mission rehearsal and platforms further along the developmental path, to allow candidates to operate modern aircraft types.
The PC-9/A was first introduced in the late 1980s to replace the jet-powered Macchi MB326H, but it is no longer relevant in the modern world of glass cockpits and complex mission systems.
“We were flying a really good aeroplane in the PC-9/A, performance and reliability-wise, and it had done a fantastic job training our pilots, but probably for Mirages, C-130H (Hercules) and P-3B (Orions). And it was that sort of training paradigm, we had no simulation, no mission rehearsal and we had no way to modernise within that construct,” AIRMHSL Davies said.
“So, as the PC-9/A began to age and, although it has been a successful aircraft, it is at the end of its useful life (and) it was time to change.”
He added that while aircraft performance was a factor, a good, holistic training system was sought.
“We have a fantastic aeroplane (in the PC-21) with a pedigree that we understand, from a company that has delivered a quality product, and a training system partner in Lockheed Martin, who now understand exactly what we want, what we are contracted for, and they are delivering it.”
Training project gestation
Air 5428 began in the early 2000s, with the ultimate goal of delivering a system which would train pilot candidates from Air Force, Army and Navy, from initial flight screening through to their delivery to an operational platform and prepae them for the next generation of aircraft along the way.
When Air 5428 was first conceived, Australia had not made a decision in favour of the F-35 to replace the ‘Classic’ Hornet (and F-111) and so trying to determine what the ADF exactly needed from its future pilot training system was somewhat problematic.
“We had to understand what the training continuum would be for an, at the time, still aspirational post Classic Hornet fighter fleet. What would that look like? We still hadn’t made a Joint Strike Fighter decision at that point,” AIRMSHL Davies recalled. “So, it took us a while to understand that leap from PC-9/A to PC-21 and the Air 5428 training continuum was a significant jump to get us to the right place to be able to make any future decision on whatever aircraft type we went to. It has been a pretty involved conversation over a long time.”
First Pass approval eventually occurred in August 2009 and the original schedule called for the first ab-intio pilot’s course to commence at the beginning of 2015, however delays both within Defence and at government level resulted in a Request For Tender (RFT) to industry finally being released during 2013.
Responses were received from two industry teams - the aforementioned Team 21, which comprises Lockheed Martin Australia, Pilatus and Hawker Pacific, and a group led by BAE Systems Australia, together with Beechcraft and CAE, who offered a solution based on the Beechcraft T-6C Texan II turboprop training aircraft.
As noted, Team 21 was declared the winner of the competition in March 2015, with prime-contractor Lockheed Martin responsible for overall project management and the delivery of integrated ground-based synthetic training aids and courseware.
To accommodate the new training structure, flight screening and basic flying training would relocate from Tamworth to East Sale, while the advanced portion of the fixed wing course would continue to be delivered at Pearce.
At the time of the contract announcement, then-Defence Minister Kevin Andrews predicted that from 2019, the (yet to be named) basic flying training organisation at East Sale would have an annual intake of up to165 candidates and increase the numbers of pilots graduating from courses from the then current average of 77, to around 105 per year.
“The new pilot training system will enable us to use the latest in simulator technology that can be adapted to student needs and different learning styles to allow students to progress through training faster,” AIRMHSL Davies noted at the time of the announcement.
Following contract negotiations, the $1.2 billion acquisition contract was signed by the Commonwealth and Lockheed Martin Australia in December 2015 and included 49 PC-21 aircraft, seven flight simulators (five to be installed at East Sale and two at Pearce), updated courseware for students, which would be delivered in a modern learning environment, and an initial five years of support.
This new training paradigm will include the use of simulators in undergraduate pilot training for the first time in the history of the RAAF.
“We used to ask our pilots to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture, (with) some diagrams drawn on a white board, sit an exam – pass or fail – study a particular flight in the pilot training syllabus, sit in there with an instructor and then go an fly it – pass or fail,” AIRMHSL Davies explained.
“It’s almost incongruous now to sit in a dark room in your chair, practising reaching for a particular switch or instrument. That’s how we were expecting young candidates to come into the ADF, learn to fly and then transition to aircraft like the KC-30A, C-17A or P-8A, which have some of the most modern avionics in the world. To expect them to do that is almost bizarre.”
Air Marshal Davies adds the new system will induct more candidates, progress them through their training at a faster rate and to a higher standard than before.
“It’s not necessarily about flying a better circuit or a more accurate instrument approach – those standards will remain, we’re not changing them - but, while a student is doing that they are also doing mission rehearsal, they’re aware of other aircraft while they are flying that instrument approach. They will have that situational awareness they will need when they fly that type of mission and we’re building that in from the start.”
He also says that another valuable outcome of the new system is its ability to differentiate between the learning rates of individual candidates.
“There are going to be some phases of training where some students will just read through the course material and be ready, where others will sit in the Part-Task Trainer (PTT) and debrief their last mission to themselves, debrief it with a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) and debrief it with their fellow trainees. I don’t care if they spend another three or four hours in the mission debrief to understand what they didn’t get right and apply those lessons next time, that’s gold,” he said. “I think this is a great opportunity for someone who, in the old system, might have reached a point where we couldn’t give them another two weeks of flying to get them there (because) they’ll be behind the rest of their course. We don’t have to do that anymore, we’ll be able to use those synthetic training aids and courseware to get them to the standard we require.”
A further difference between the old and new systems is the fact that flight grading – taking young women and men off the street and judging their ability to pass the stringent flight training course and become a military pilot – will be done using synthetic training aids, rather than the current system of providing a certain number of hours in a basic training aircraft.
Commander AFTG, AIRCDRE Glen Braz says he is comfortable with taking candidates off the street and grading them using computer-based technology in lieu of time in a real aircraft.
“The Royal Air Force (RAF) has a long history of doing that and we’ve leveraged their data set. Singapore and Germany also do it that way (and) the science is strong,” he said. “We haven’t seen it translate through our system yet (because) it’s too early, but we didn’t make the decision flippantly.”
The 49 PC-21 aircraft being delivered under Air 5428 Phase 1 are essentially the same as the baseline aircraft now in service with a number of countries around the world, including France, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Australia’s aircraft have the same powerplant as the baseline aircraft, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6A-68B, but the major difference lies in the avionics fit required by Air 5428. This avionics suite is enhanced to reflect modern navigation practices – for example, the increasing use of GPS data rather than reliance on ground-based navigation aids – but Australia’s aircraft also have an autopilot as standard and minor enhancements to the way information is displayed in the tandem cockpits.
One of the features of the avionics suite is what AIRCDRE Braz refers to as ‘dial up complexity’, where the information accessible by, and displayed to, the student can be varied according to the appropriate stages of their training.
“It is an impressive aircraft, the (Air 5428 development) team love flying it and it brings a very noticeable step in what we can deliver, but it does it in such a way that we are very confident with the way it fits into our training system,” he said. “So, when you asked if we were comfortable taking young folks off the street (and) putting them into a new training system with the PC-21 as the aviation element for the first time, yes we are. It has been designed from the get-go and it is delivering.”
The first aircraft performed its initial production test flight at Stans on July 21, 2016, just seven months after contract signature and, together with the second aircraft, it had arrived at East Sale in time to be displayed at the 2017 Avalon Air Show. The pair were formally handed over to the RAAF in June 2017, following a period of testing and verification under local conditions.
Of the 49 aircraft on order, 22 will be based at East Sale, 20 at Pearce with 2 FTS (along home to flight training for Sinagpore - see below), three will go to ARDU to support aerospace trials and testing and four will relace the PC-9/A(F) in the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training role with 4 Sqn at Williamtown.
The aircraft at East Sale are being delivered in a special colour scheme for flying with the RAAF’s ‘Roulettes’ aerobatic team, which current Defence Minister Christopher Pyne described as a “visually striking 21st Century image” at its formal launch in November and, while it is arguably best described as ‘interesting’, ADM will leave it to readers to form their own opinion.
While the PC-9/As currently flown by the Roulettes are modified with an internal smoke generation system the PC-21s will use a podded system, installed on the aircraft’s underwing hardpoints and controlled by switches on the pilot’s Hands On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) system.
Significant capital works have also been undertaken at both East Sale and Pearce to accommodate the new pilot training system, with work at the former base also including new facilities for 1 FTS (formerly School of Air Warfare), responsible for training RAAF Air Combat Officers and Navy Aviation Warfare Officers (AvWOs). See box for more details on these works.
With the first aircraft arriving in Australia in early 2017 and further deliveries of PC-21s occurring at a regular rate, Air 5428 Phase 1 was initially ahead of the schedule called for to begin the first ab-initio course. However as mentioned earlier, by early 2018 there were signs that not all was well with the project and some observers were predicting significant delays to the commencement of training.
Air Marshal Davies acknowledges the problems, but he says the remedial action by Defence and industry has now put the programme back on schedule, albeit with the loss of the ‘buffer’ provided when it was originally ahead. This has resulted in the cancellation of plans to conduct what AIRMHSL Davies calls a “mini-beta course” which would have helped to de-risk the first student’s course.
“We did the right homework to understand what we wanted, began the process with selection of the right aircraft and training system, but we discovered probably about 18 months ago that what we expected of a fifth-generation training system was just a little bit skewed from what Lockheed Martin and Pilatus saw as their deliverable,” he explained.
Air Marshal Davies adds that the following 12 months was spent in discussions between CASG, AFTG and industry to ensure that everyone was on the same page.
“It wasn’t until about 18 months ago that we started to understand that some pieces of the training courseware, some pieces of the simulator fidelity, were just not quite at the standard we wanted them to be, so we have made some adjustments,” he said.
“We were hopeful of perhaps running a mini beta course, (where we would) put a couple of students, or indeed a couple of instructors, and run them through a course. We would like to have done that in September or October 2018, just to set us up for January and iron out a couple of wrinkles, (but) we won’t be able to do that.”
A small number of QFIs have been through the proposed ab-initio course as “students” however and the results have given the project confidence that the first ab-initio course will begin in January 2019.
While acknowledging that the differences in interpretation of the requirements has placed pressure on the schedule, AIRMHSL Davies congratulated Lockheed Martin for the realisation that it had to bring more resources to bear and he thanked all parties for their collegiate response to solving the problem.
“I think we are a pretty demanding customer. We have high expectations (and) we have a demand for a level of fidelity that I believe we need,” he said. “It wasn’t a failure, it was really a different level of appreciation of what it is we’re asking for.”
From a CASG point of view, Shane Fairweather also praised the remediation process.
“We contracted Lockheed Martin to come up with a fifth-generation training system quite deliberately and that’s their contractual commitment,” he detailed. “They are honouring that commitment and they have really leant forward to deliver.”
Fairweather also draws parallels between where Air 5428 was and the position JP9000/7 also found itself in about 12 months before delivery.
“We applied a lot of lessons we learned on HATS. We had a choice, we could have banged heads or we could have sat around a table and co-operated our way through it, which is what we have done,” he explained. “As you know Boeing Defence Australia and CASG won the ADM Essington Lewis Award for HATS (in August 2018) and they were probably in a worse position at the same point in time as Air 5428.”
“Working with both Army and Navy stakeholders, the HATS team in both Boeing and CASG managed to overcome an internal delay of almost 12 months to deliver a much needed, streamlined capability to the ADF on time,” according to the award citation. “The program is an example of what can be done to avoid a Project of Concern listing when both parties work together with an outcome driven focus.”
The rotary-wing HATS and the fixed-wing Air 5428 projects have been developed in parallel from the outset and Air Commodore Glen Braz describes the synergies between the two training systems.
“We’ve looked across the aviation system and these two programs were designed to integrate effectively. That’s been through a few iterations and has matured to where it is now,” he said.
“We’re very comfortable with where it is now, the HATS maturity provides us with a great baseline to now build the rest of the system.”
This article first appeared in the February 2019 edition of ADM.