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Global M-346 Fleet Reaches 100,000 Flight Hours

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The Italian Air Force M-346 prepared with a special tail paint scheme to celebrate the 100,000 flight hours milestone. (Photo: Alessandro Maggia)

Since 2015, 85 aircraft entered service in five countries and the fleet is set to expand with new aircraft already on order by new operators.

The global fleet of Leonardo M-346 Advanced Jet Trainers recently reached 100,000 flight hours flown since it first entered service in 2015. The important milestone was celebrated on November 30, 2022 during the M-346 Joint User Group, hosted this year by the Polish Air Force in Warsaw. Currently, 85 M-346s are in service around the world, but the fleet is set to expand even more with more air forces selecting the M-346 for advanced training and the multirole Fighter Attack variant of the aircraft to enable cost effective combat operations.

For the occasion, a M-346 received a special tail paint scheme with the silhouette four M-346 and the markings for the 100,000 flight hours of the M-346 AJT, while the rudder shows the roundels of the air forces of Italy, Singapore, Israel, Poland, Qatar and the logo of the joint Leonardo-Italian Air Force International Flight Training School. It’s interesting to notice the absence of Turkmenistan among the roundels and in the press release, however it might be due to the fact that the country operates the Fighter Attack variant and not the standard Advanced Jet Trainer. Moreover, Leonardo has never officially acknowledged the Turkmen Air Force as an operator of the Master.

“We are very proud to celebrate this important milestone, achieved by M-346 aircraft in-service with the Air Forces of Italy, Israel, Singapore, Poland, Qatar and the Italy-based International Flight Training School, a joint initiative between the Italian Air Force and Leonardo in collaboration with CAE,” said Dario Marfè, Leonardo director for Aircraft Commercial & Customer Service. “With 85 aircraft in service and 100,000 hours flown, the cutting-edge M-346 has cemented its position as the world’s best advanced jet trainer for today and tomorrow’s fighter pilots. At the forefront of jet training technology, the M-346 will continue to represent the best way to develop a fighter pilot’s skills for decades to come.”

Three Polish M-346 Bielik flying a formation training mission. (Photo: Polish Air Force)

Leonardo has been contracted to deliver more than 100 M-346 aircraft to major international air forces, including those of Italy, Israel, Poland, Singapore, Qatar and Greece, which is set to create an international training centre in cooperation with Israel. The M-346 is also the backbone of the Italian Air Force and Leonardo’s International Flight Training School (IFTS), where pilots from countries including Japan, Germany, Qatar and Singapore are training today. The IFTS is set to expand even more with the incoming move from Lecce-Galatina Air Base to Decimomannu Air Base.

“Hundreds of pilots have earned their wings on the M-346, equipping them with an outstanding level of knowledge, skills and experience and readying them to fly the most advanced frontline fighters,” said Emanuele Merlo, Leonardo director for Aircraft Trainers line of business. “This achievement has been possible thanks to great teamwork between operators, Leonardo and our suppliers.”

As we often reported, the M-346 brought many new technologies to improve the training of future 4th and 5th gen fighter pilots. Among those there are advanced simulations of radar, datalinks, targeting pods and all kind of sensors found on modern fighters which, coupled with high thrust-to-weight ratio, supersonic speed at high altitude and excellent maneuverability allow the pilots to develop all the skills they need before moving to the Operational Conversion Units.

The state-of-the-art Ground-Based Training System improve even more the value of the training provided, 5hanks to the two Full Mission Simulators and three Part Task Trainer synthetic simulators for emergency management training modules and more advanced training missions. These simulators allow integrated training scenarios between simulated and real aircraft, thanks to Live Virtual and Constructive (LVC) technologies which allow students on the ground to interact with pilots in the air during a training mission. The real and the virtual worlds merge into a single operational scenario in this integrated simulation environment, with up to 10 friendly and enemy aircraft able to interact as if they were all flying in the same patch of sky.

Let’s not forget that the M-346 is well appreciated also by the U.S. Air Force, which  was considering it for as replacement for the aging T-38C after multiple visits to Lecce-Galatina Air Base where officials were shown the characteristics of this advanced trainer. The Air Force also certified the training process of the Polish Air Force future F-16 and F-35 pilots with the M-346 as analogous to the training on the T-38 up to the IFF (Introduction for Fighter Fundamentals) level.

An Israeli M-346 Lavi during a solo training flight. (Photo: Israeli Air Force)

In the press statement released by Leonardo, representatives of the three major operators gave their comments about the experience with the aircraft, which you can find here following.

Italian Air Force, Commander of the 61st Wing, Colonel Vito Conserva:

“100,000 flight hours represents an extraordinary achievement for an equally extraordinary aircraft. The T-346A offers performance and technological characteristics that, together with its simulation systems, have allowed us, from 2015 to the present day, to achieve a significant increase in the quality of training for fighter pilots. This platform, together with the commitment displayed daily by the men and women of the flight school, has consolidated the 61st Wing as a centre of excellence in the training sector worldwide. It has also given us the opportunity to provide a unique offer globally, so much so that, in full synergy with national industry, we have succeeded in creating the foundations and shaping the International Flight Training School, a cutting-edge entity of which we are proud to be a part.”

Israeli Air Force, Col. Roman Kupershmid Head of Aircraft Department Israeli Air Force

“The IAF is excited to be part of 100,000 flight hours accomplished by the M-346 worldwide fleet, with more than 50,000 flight hours in our fleet and 8 years of successful flight academy courses qualification. We are glad to operate the M-346 advanced training aircraft. We will continue to work together with the Leonardo team and all industry partners to ensure the continuation of the fleet operation.”

Polish Air Force, 2d Lt Marlena Kuna, acting spokesman for 4th Wing of Training Aviation

“Recently Leonardo has delivered the last batch of the M-346 ordered. Thanks to this, the size of the Polish fleet is currently 16 aircraft, which is a full squadron of “Bielik”.

The first M-346 advanced jet trainers appeared in Poland in 2016. Since then, they have been used at the 41st Training Aviation Base in Dęblin to educate cadets of the Military Aviation Academy. The AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer) system, implemented in the 4th Wing of Training Aviation in Dęblin, is one of the most modern pilot training programmes in the world. It is worth mentioning here the certification of the training process for jet pilots, which was carried out by a team of pilots from the US Air Force in the 4th Wing of Training Aviation. The tests confirmed that the Polish system of training F-16 pilots on the M-346 “Bielik” is analogous to the American training programme on the T-38 up to the IFF (Introduction for Fighter Fundamentals) level. Thanks to this, the Polish Air Force became independent from the costly training of future pilots in the USA and gained the competence to educate them full-time in the country. It should be emphasised that equipping the 41BLSz (41st Training Aviation Base) with M-346 “Bielik” aircraft will make it easier in the future to perform flights on 5th generation aircraft, such as the F-35s purchased for the Polish Air Force.”

Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.





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