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Leonardo, Textron tout M-346 as ‘no drama' option for navy's next jet trainer

Leonardo has teamed with Textron Aviation Defense to offer the M-346 jet trainer for a US Navy requirement. (Aermacchi Spa)

Leonardo has teamed with Textron Aviation Defense to offer its M-346 jet trainer for the US Navy's (USN's) Undergraduate Jet Training System (UJTS) programme. The service's current jet trainer, the T-45 Goshawk, entered service in 1991 and has experienced numerous technical issues in recent years. In September 2023 the USN released a request for information for the UJTS.

Textron Aviation Defense will serve as the prime contractor for the project, Tommaso Pani, senior vice-president for marketing and strategic campaigns – Leonardo Aircraft Division, told Janes during the Navy League Sea-Air-Space 2024 global maritime exposition in National Harbor, Maryland, in April.

The advantage of the M-346 is that it is in service with several countries, including Israel, Italy, and Poland, as well as the International Flight Training School (IFTS) at Decimomannu Air Base in Sardinia, Italy. Eleven countries are part of that programme, including Canada and the UK, noted David Kindley, Leonardo US' director for trainers, airlifters, and special mission campaigns. Many of these pilots are making the transition directly to the F-35. About 80 pilots go through the school annually, he said.

The IFTS offers an integrated syllabus, where pilots learn the basics on a simulator before flying a live aircraft, Kindley said. Completing basic familiarisation and other tasks in the simulator first ensures that costly flight hours are being used for more advanced learning. This provides better value than spending valuable flight hours on basic procedures, he said.

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