Reportage at High Altitude: Spotlight on the New Aermacchi M-345
Shooting air-to-air pictures and videos, in other words photographing and filming an aircraft from another flying aircraft, is no easy task. It takes careful preparation, meticulous planning with every single detail taken into consideration, an attention to all aspects relating to flight safety and an acute ability to capture the right moment. Indeed, light conditions, the positions of aircraft in flight and weather conditions often change in an absolutely unpredictable way. It gets even harder when you put together aircraft with very different characteristics, like the C-27J tactical transport aircraft and the M-345, M-346 and MB-326 trainer aircraft.
This is exactly what Leonardo’s Aircraft Division team experienced and through their words below we can better understand and appreciate the complexity of obtaining that perfect shot.
“We are on board the C-27J. Start-up, taxiing and runway entry are very quick. As we gain altitude, we immediately encounter strong turbulence. A few minutes later, we are at the established meeting point for the photo and video shoot: the M-345 trainer, which took off soon after us, has arrived. We get ready, the rear ramp and main cargo door are opened, we stay between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, the temperature is -12°C! The M-345 approaches and prepares to carry out the first scheduled manoeuvre. We execute each of the manoeuvres with quite some difficulty given the exceedingly strong turbulence encountered at our flight altitude. But the strong wind has cleared the air, giving us excellent visibility for the photo and video shoot.
The M-345 makes a turn over the Alps
After an initial session dedicated exclusively to Leonardo's new trainer, an M-346 joined us, along with a special guest in the form of the MB-326, one of the few flying aircraft of its kind left in the world, featuring the high-visibility colours of the Air Force's 1960s and 1970s Flight Schools. It is a unique formation that brings together a glorious past with a present full of satisfying achievements guaranteed by the M-346 and a successful future with the new M-345 aircraft, for a Company that has been designing and producing high-performance trainer aircraft for the past 60 years.
Although the flight turned out to be far more demanding than expected because of difficult weather conditions, once the reportage is over we land with not only a great sense of satisfaction, but also with beautiful photographs and spectacular video footage of the new M-345 trainer.”
A unique formation representing the past, present and future of Leonardo trainer aircraft
M-345: The Trainer for the Pilots of the Future
The new M-345 represents the latest generation of Leonardo trainer aircraft, perfectly suited for covering the entire pilot training syllabus, from basic to advanced missions.
The aircraft is fitted with simple and basic on-board systems that require a minimum amount of maintenance and are able to guarantee maximum safety and reliability. The result is a highly efficient trainer aircraft powered by a turbofan engine, but with purchase and life-cycle costs comparable to those of turboprop trainers and also boasting better performance compared to the latter.
The M-345’s structure was built making extensive use of composite materials
The prototype for Leonardo's new two-seater trainer made its first flight at the end of December 2016 under the command of Quirino Bucci, Project Test Pilot Trainers, who expressed his deep satisfaction at the outcome, "The aircraft behaved perfectly, meeting the expectations of the design parameters while showing excellent performance. The engine in particular demonstrated a superior capacity to react to speed changes, which is a fundamental characteristic for basic training aircraft".
The M-345’s structure, realised making extensive use of composite materials, is built to fly a lot, with an operating life of up to 15,000 hours. The non-afterburning Williams FJ44-4M-34 engine guarantees substantial thrust, keeping fuel consumption low and features a modern digital control system.
The M-345 flies over Lake Como
The student pilot and his instructor sit on latest generation Martin Baker Mk.IT16D ejection seats inside a comfortable cockpit, fully equipped with sophisticated instrumentation including, amongst other things, three large LCD multifunction displays - very similar to the kind of equipment future pilots will find in front-line fighter aircraft.
The Italian Air Force is the launch customer of the new M-345, with which it will complete the process of renewing its fleet of trainer aircraft, alongside the M-346 Master, produced by Leonardo and intended for use in the advanced and pre-operational phases.
An Integrated Training System
Based on its 60-year experience in the pilot training sector, Leonardo's Aircraft Division has created an integrated training system that is able to easily move pilots up from the basic trainers to latest generation fighter aircraft.
The optimal balance between real flying experience and appropriate simulation brings costs down without compromising the quality of training, allowing the new M-345s to generate a greater number of training missions compared to the aircraft currently in service.
One of the simulators of the M-345's integrated training system
The M-345 was conceived right from the start as the heart of the advanced integrated training system, which includes all ground-based training aids, including a complete mission simulator and an integrated system for logistical support.
The presence of the on-board Embedded Tactical Training Simulation (ETTS) system based on that offered in the well-proven M-346 aircraft is fundamental. This system is capable of simulating the most appropriate tactical scenario based on training needs, making allied or enemy forces appear, simulating the functioning of on-board sensors that are not actually present or of weapons. Pilots are immersed in an environment known as LVC, which seamlessly combines flying aircraft (Live), flight simulated aircraft (Virtual) with other virtual allied or enemy forces (Constructive).
The complete team of Aermacchi trainers. From left to right: the M-345, the M-346, the MB-339CD and the MB.326… 60 years of training excellence!