The Royal Air Force (RAF) has conducted the first test flight of its new advanced training aircraft, the Beechcraft T-6C Texan T.1 at RAF Valley, Anglesey, in preparation for the fleet to take over from the Shorts Tucano T.1 in training the next-generation of RAF fighter pilots.

The flight took place at the base in North Wales on 22 February and is a major milestone in the evolution of the UK’s Military Flight Training System (UK MFTS) programme, in which £1.6 billion (GBP) has been invested in fixed-wing training aircraft.

The programme has seen a complete overhaul of the UK’s training aircraft fleet, with the introduction of the Grob G.120TP Prefect T.1 and Embraer Phenom 100 in recent years. The programme has also seen the sourcing of Airbus Helicopters’ H.135T.3H Juno HT.1 and H.145M Jupiter HT.1 aircraft, which replaced the Squirrel HT.1 and Griffin HT.1 in the Defence Helicopter Flying School role at RAF Shawbury, Shropshire.

Beechcraft T-6C Texan T.1 [Reg: ZM323 ‘323’ (N2824B)] of the Royal Air Force/ Affinity Flying Training Services taxis to depart RAF Fairford after being on static display at RIAT 2017. Image – Khalem Chapman ©.

The Texan T.1 is set to replace the RAF’s ageing fleet of Tucano aircraft, which have been providing basic fast-jet training to RAF pilots for thirty years, entering service in 1989. This training is currently provided by 72 Squadron (nicknamed “Basutoland”) at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire. The base is set to be closed in the next few years, with basic fast-jet training being relocated to RAF Valley.

The UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) new, modernised pilot training for the Royal Air Force, British Army Air Corps and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm is being supported by Affinity Flying Training Services, which supplied and will maintain the aircraft used to train next-generation pilots, preparing them for frontline operations.

Next-generation fighter pilots for the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 and RAF/ Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm’s Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft will transition through the Texan II as they train to fly the UK’s current frontline fighter force. Fast-jet pilot trainees will begin start their elementary flight training on the Prefect T.1, move onto the Texan T.1 and then end their training on the RAF’s BAe Systems Hawk T.2 aircraft before moving to operational conversion units for the Typhoon or Lightning.

“It’s crucial that our fighter pilots of the future train on the very best equipment before reaching the front line to protect UK airspace at home and defend our interests abroad.”

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew

When speaking of the Texan T.1, Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said: “It’s crucial that our fighter pilots of the future train on the very best equipment before reaching the front line to protect UK airspace at home and defend our interests abroad… The introduction of the Texan T1 into one of NATO’s most advanced Fighter Pilot training programmes demonstrates the RAF’s commitment to investing in world-leading technology to maintain a military advantage over our adversaries.”

Wing Commander Chris Ball, Officer Commanding for the Texan Integration Squadron at RAF Valley said: “The Texan is the ideal lead-in trainer to the Hawk T.2 advanced jet trainer that they will fly here at Valley.” 

Shorts Tucano T.1 [Reg: ZF485 ‘485’] of the Royal Air Force’s 72 Squadron (nicknamed “Basutoland”) taxis to depart RAF Fairford after being on static display at RIAT 2016. Image – Khalem Chapman ©.

In total, ten Texan T.1s will replace the RAF’s Tucano fleet. The last aircraft was delivered to RAF Valley in December 2018. The Tucano is set to be replaced by the Texan from 2019 but no set out-of-service date has been announced for the type.

The Beechcraft T-6C Texan II first flew in 1998 and the UK has joined Argentina, Canada, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand and the United States in operating the type in a training role. The aircraft has a cruising speed of 320mph (515km/h), a range of 884 nautical miles and a maximum altitude of 31,000ft (9,400 metres).

By Khalem Chapman [25/02/2019]