By Arun Sivasankaran
If he is worried as he watches a student pilot prepare for an emergency landing due to a technical snag in the aircraft, Scott Greenough, CAE’s Director of NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC), isn’t showing it.
Over the course of the next few minutes, Greenough anticipates, with unerring accuracy, the pilot’s moves until the aircraft makes a safe landing. “Emergencies happen; it is how you deal with it that matters,” he tells a group of reporters who are on a visit to Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, one of the two NFTC program sites in Canada – Cold Lake, Alberta being the other – where fighter pilots in the making are provided basic, advanced, and lead-in fighter training as part of a comprehensive pilot training program.
The Canada Department of National Defense (DND) program, which is run by CAE, provides training not just to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots but currently also to those from Singapore and Hungary. The program, in which countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, UK, Australia, UAE and Belgium have participated in the past, is one among the military training contracts that CAE has bagged, in Canada as well as internationally, over the last decade and a half.
While the RCAF provides the flight instructors and bondholders own the aircraft, CAE is in charge of managing most other aspects of one of the world’s premiere military pilot training programs. The training support services provided by CAE include academic and simulator instruction, upgrades and maintenance on flight simulators, and a range of other support services required to run the program.
The Canadian company, which acquired Bombardier’s military aviation training unit when it took over the program in October 2015, is in charge of the maintenance of the CT-155 Hawk and CT-156 Harvard II (T-6) aircraft used for flight training, aircraft fatigue management, aircraft engineering services, airfield maintenance, refueling, fitting and maintenance of aircraft life support equipment, ejection seat training, as well as crash and fire rescue. CAE’s NFTC contract was to end in 2021 but has since been extended until December 2023. There is also an option for an extension until December 2024.
Getting the Basics Right
Providing the pipeline for the NFTC program is the Contracted Flying Training and Support (CFTS) program in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, where KF Aerospace manages the primary flying training program for 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (3 CFFTS). Young men and women aspiring to be RCAF pilots begin their journey to earning wings at the facility. Under the CFTS program, student pilots are provided primary and basic pilot flying training as well as helicopter and multi-engine training. KF Aerospace’s contract, which began in 2005, will expire in 2027
Under the contract, KF Aerospace offers primary flying training on the Grob G120A (Phase one) and some elements of Phase II training, also on the Grob. After most student pilots go to Moose Jaw for Phase II basic flying training and Phase III advanced flying training on the T-6, pilots destined for multi-engine aircraft and helicopters return to Portage for advanced multi-engine or rotary-wing training. The company owns the 39 aircraft that is used to train the pilots, including King Air C-90B, Bell 206 Jet Ranger, Grob G120A, and Bell 412CF Outlaw, two hangars for maintenance of the aircraft, as well as the simulators on which the students train.
While KF Aerospace provides the flying instructors for phase one and two for the CFTS program, the RCAF uses its instructor pilots to train students on the Multi-Engine and the Helicopter training programs. According to Peter Fedak, Contracted Flying Training & Support (CFTS) Site Manager, KF Aerospace, a maximum of 155 students start phase one on the Grob, with ten moving on to Phase two on the Grob. The contract allows for a maximum of 57 rotary and 34 multi-engine students per year.
We have 75 to 125 students on an average at the facility at any one time,” says Lt. Col Marc-Antoine Fecteau, Base Commandant, 3 CFFTS. “Students spend an average of two years here on the program. A pilot gets 200-250 hours of training on an average before they complete training.”
Kicking into a Higher Gear
The pace and intensity of training picks up considerably at NFTC.
“We get approximately 125 students a year from Phase one in Portage,” says Greenough. “After phase two, which is 90 hours, they go through selection based on academic performance, flying test performance and simulator performance. About 80 percent of the students go back to Portage and do multi-engine and rotary training while the rest destined for fighter aircraft stay here in Moose Jaw and go to Phase Three, an advanced course on the Harvard with more complex tasks. Students get their wings at the end of phase three, with most of them going on to do 50 hours on the Hawk and a few becoming instructors.”
The course syllabus for the ground-based training system (GBTS) and flight training is prepared by the RCAF. “The RCAF is the primary customer of the NFTC program, but all the participating nations have similar training standards,” says Greenough. “Singapore has a slightly different syllabus; they only fly the Hawk here and do their T-6 training in Australia. While we have adopted the block approach with academics first, simulators next and then flight training, some nations have their own way of doing it. We can adapt the syllabus to meet the requirements of a participating nation.”
The NFTC trainer fleet includes 22 CT-156 Harvard II and 17 CT-155 Hawk aircraft, with eight Hawk aircraft used by students in Cold Lake. While 17 Harvard II aircraft are used five times per day for 85 sorties, the Hawks are used for 40 sorties daily, 20 of them in Cold Lake. While the Harvard II aircraft fly 800 hours per year, the Hawks fly 320 hours.
Fatigue Life Improvement Program (FLIP)
The more than 200 CAE employees that are part of the NFTC program include 140 technicians, all with military experience, who work on ensuring that the Hawk and Harvard aircraft, which are 18 years old, do not break down. Each aircraft undergoes a major maintenance every 400 hours.
“These are high performing planes; they do a lot of acrobatics and a lot of unusual altitudes,” says Greenough, a former F-18 pilot. “The students are pretty hard on the airplanes. We have significant programs in place to monitor and manage the fatigue on the airplanes.”
The Harvard II aircraft does not need as much maintenance as the Hawks. “Because of the nature of its speed, we monitor the Hawks quite a bit,” says Greenough. “The students learn to fly the Hawk here and fight with it in Cold Lake. The Hawks do 40 sorties a day, 20 of them in Cold Lake.”
The Fatigue Life Improvement Program (FLIP), which is series of 13 modifications made to every aircraft in the Hawk fleet, improves the life of the aircraft by 35 percent. The aircraft is disassembled, with much of the work being done on the tail and where the wings meet the fuselage. “For effectively the cost of a new airplane, you get to extend the life of an entire fleet by 35 percent. We are halfway through the FLIP program,” says Greenough.
Armstrong is confident that the aircraft will last until the end of the contract. “You can extend life on airframes,” he says. “These fleets are still in use around the world. It is not as if there is parts shortage.”
CAE’s shift in strategy over the past decade, from being primarily a business selling flight simulators to becoming a training systems integrator, has produced results, says Joe Armstrong, Vice President and General Manager, CAE Canada. “We still design and manufacture some of the most advanced synthetic training equipment, but we have moved away from just being a provider of flight simulators and now provide more comprehensive and turnkey solutions as a training systems integrator. The NFTC program is a perfect example of our full range of capabilities,” says Armstrong.
“We have no restrictions now as we have access to the full breath of media possible, in courseware, simulation, live instructors, classrooms, all the way to live assets – aircraft and otherwise – that can be integrated together to produce a balanced training program,” says Armstrong. “As a company entirely focused on training, we are platform agnostic. We can use any aircraft, any simulator, any courseware media or training media. We think that is a fantastic differentiator because we are focused on a partnership with the end-user to produce what they need – a prepared, high-quality pilot.”
With the RCAF having to deal with a shortage of around 275 pilots, there is an increased focus on ensuring more quality pilots graduate. In the past three years, both the CFTS and NFTC programs have been delivering at record levels, according to Colonel Denis O’Reilly, Commander of 15 Wing Moose Jaw and the RCAF official responsible for overseeing both programs. As many as 116 pilots graduated in 2016 and 115 in 2017, a substantial increase from about 95-105 pilots a year not so long ago. Part of the pilot production rate increase can be attributed to innovations in the training syllabus as well as optimizing the use of both military and civilian instructors.
In May 2018, the two companies that deliver all phases of pilot training to the RCAF strengthened their partnership by forming SkyAlyne Canada Inc., a 50/50 joint venture between CAE and KF Aerospace. SkyAlyne was formed not just to look to improve current aircrew training but also with an eye on Canada’s Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) program contract, expected to be awarded in the early-2020s.