Multinational Training for Fighter Pilots
BY STEFAN DEGRAEF and EDWIN BORREMANS
© 2004 FrontLine Defence (Vol 1, No 2)

Here at Cold Lake, Alberta, a “1on1” mission, flown by an Italian student, joined by a Singapore instructor pilot, versus an RAF-student and a German guest-instructor, flying Canadian Hawk-trainers over snowy Alberta, is a common sight. This multinational concept illustrates the multinational flying packages which are becoming so common in ­military operations today. Air forces around the world are faced with shrinking budgets, size-reductions, and government- and public opinion-imposed missions. These new missions, often linked to international peace support initiatives, greatly influence operational workloads. The need for military authorities to comply with these demands have forced various national air forces to focus on their core business, and investing significant assets into the remaining frontline mission-capable units.

One of the victims of this cost/benefit asset allocation analysis is the military flying training community. Traditionally, its operational structure is marked by the need to annually train a substantial number of pilots to staff the various frontline squadrons – this primary objective vanished at the end of the Cold War. Hit by the gradual downsizing of the various air forces, this outdated training structure became a cost/benefit dinosaur waiting to become extinct.

In the mid-nineties, Canada’s Depart­ment of National Defence (DND) was looking to replace its 30-year-old Canadair CL-41 Tutor training-aircraft, and to transform its outdated pilot-training structure.

DND needed international and commercial support to achieve its primary challenge to “produce a pilot with the required ­operational skills at the lowest possible cost.” In 1994, an industry-team, led by prime-contractor Bombardier Aerospace, initiated an official proposal to provide a contractor-supported jet pilot training programme. This ambitious programme, offering cost-effective, high-quality flying training, would require long-term foreign participation to achieve the fiercely-needed cost-effectiveness.

All credible commercial ‘products’ need international marketing to succeed… and soon afterwards, having quickly ‘attracted’ foreign participation, the ambitious NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) initiative was born.

International Expansion
Officially launched in November 1997, Denmark was the first NATO-country to commit (1998) to the NFTC-initiative, sending 120 student pilots through the various courses over a 20-year period. Soon afterwards (1999), the Royal Air Force committed to send 20 pilots per year, for a ten-year period, through a modified jet-conversion programme and the fighter lead-in training phase.

The Italian Air Force was third customer, sending three pilots a year for the whole programme.


Mjr Bernhard Thommassen of the German Luftwaffe is one of a number of instructor pilots from non-NFTC partnering air forces.

In February 2000, the Republic of Singapore Air Force became the first non-NATO air force to join the NFTC-programme, sending six pilots a year for 20 years to Canada.

Also in 2002, Hungary, in a ambitious attempt to match NATO’s standards as soon as possible after its entrance in the “Organization,” signed up to send seven trainees a year (for 17 years) through the NFTC programme.

Instruction Phases
NFTC offers participating air forces a three-phase training programme for their future fighter pilots using state-of-art software and equipment. After selection by their country (Phase I), students enter NFTC’s Phase IIA stage in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. During this stage, the basic training course for future jet, multi-engine or helicopter pilots, students will fly one of the 24 Raytheon CT-156 Harvard II (T-6A Texan II) turbo-prop training aircraft.

Streamed to become fighter-pilots, jet students enter the Phase IIB, while the remaining students move to in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba , to begin multi-engine or helicopter training.

The Phase IIB course introduces students to more dynamic flying profiles and basic fighter manoeuvering initiation. Having successfully passed Phase IIB, the students enter the “jet-arena” for Phase III. In this phase, advanced flying training and basic tactical instruction are taught on the BAE Systems Hawk CT-155.

Externally similar to the standard Hawk-trainers in service around the world, the CT-155 is the latest development of this well-proven training aircraft, with a modern cockpit and modern avionics. The installation of a heads up display, a coloured multifunction display, global positioning system/inertial navigation, and HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) controls make this “electric” Hawk a perfect lead-in training aircraft for future fourth generation fighter pilots. So far, 20 CT-155’s have been purchased for NFTC use with further options pending future expansion of participating air forces.

On successful completion of Phase III, students move to CFB Cold Lake, Alberta (one of Canada’s main fighter bases and home of the annual Maple Flag Exercises), for tactical lead-in training.

Phase IV – Cold Lake
To achieve NFTC’s main objective – to produce a pilot capable of entering an operational conversion unit directly after returning to his/her home country – 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron became NFTC’s Phase IV tactical lead-in squadron. Housed in new and well-equipped installations at Cold Lake, the unit uses the vast and almost unrestricted airspace and training areas around this air base to give advanced tactical lead-in instruction to their multinational students.

Superimposed on a map of Europe, Cold Lake’s 700,000 sq.km, training area stretches from the western coast of France to Slovakia in the east, and from Denmark in the north to northern Italy in the south.

The main mission of Phase IV is to develop the tactical flying skills, judgement and awareness of the students by fine-tuning and implementing the skills, tactical experiences and knowledge acquired during Phase III. In total, 40 missions (49 flight hours) will be flown by the students in the Hawk CT-155’s during basic fighter and air-ground missions.


All ground servincing is performed by civilan-contracted personnel.

Similar to the previous phases, intensive use is made of computer-assisted learning techniques, ranging from laptop PC’s containing the entire course syllabus, individual lesson plans and reference material, to the “dreams come true” Hawk Flight Training Device (FTD) Simulator. This simulator is capable of accurately replicating all missions, flying environments and aircraft operating characteristics, making it an invaluable training-tool for both students and instructors. In total, 13.2 hours will be logged in the FTD.

Phase IV begins with Basic Fighter Manoeuvre (BFM) training during which the student learns the perception and handling of closure rates and angle problems which are vital for a smooth tactical manoeuvering and weapons employment. Two solo and eight dual missions are flown during these offensive and defensive manoeuvering missions.

Students then progress to the more demanding (and realistic) air combat manoeuvering (ACM), integrating a ‘third party’ into the ‘fight scenario’. These mission profiles (1vs2 and/or 2vs1) emphasize radio discipline, mutual support and coordinated mission-execution. To direct these ‘2vs1’ scenarios, an on-board instructor manages the ACM to achieve the pre-planned learning objectives by the students. Students also learn to work with Ground Control Intercept operators. Missions are all flown at medium-to-high altitudes. Before switching to air/ground-typed missions, two low level awareness training missions are flown.

Once proficient with air/air combat tactics, students learn air/ground weapon delivery procedures and techniques. Since the on-board avionics of the Hawk can simulate the carriage and dropping of almost all NATO air/ground weapons, no training bomblets are dropped during these missions. However, students are presented with all data, and target and weapon symbology during the actual training mission, and various delivery tactics (level flight, pop-up, poor weather and 30 degrees dive) are taught at this stage.

The most breathtaking module of Phase IV is the ‘Air-Surface Tactics’ section, combining everything taught at Cold Lake. Students use their low-level and formation flying skills to “attack” a ground target, defend their aircraft and/or formation against “bandit(s)” (flown by instructor-pilots), and safely return to their home-base.

Eventually these missions will be flown as a ‘four ship’ formation (the standard attack-formation in modern warfare scenarios), attacking one of the targets also used by the Maple Flag-participants.

To avoid unnecessary stress, NFTC’s operating procedures at Cold Lake are identical to those at Moose Jaw. During the simulated attack scenarios, students use the ‘Maple Flag’ target-identification data-bank (location, visual characteristics, etc.). The proximity of the Air Combat Manoeuvering Range, some 40 km away, enables maximization of the available flying time, by making a high number of passes possible.

During all training missions, a special Air Combat Manoeuvering Instrumenta­tion (ACMI) pod is mounted on the wing-tip of the Hawk aircraft. The ACMI relays aircraft and tactical data, enabling real-time viewing of the actual ‘aerial fight’ on the big screens in the main debriefing room or on a individual computer by the students.

In contrast to the other four NFTC air forces, the Royal Air Force sends students directly to Phase IV of the programme to train new pilots for its future fourth generation fighter aircraft by using the modern avionics of the Canadian CT-155s. The RAF students are recent graduates from 208 Squadron at RAF Valley, flying first generation Hawk T-1A’s. A special conversion course (including 17 hours of simulator training) introduces these RAF students to the new technology and cockpit of the Hawk CT-155s. Other difference from the Britain-based RAF course is the Canadian ban on dropping live-ammunition. However, sufficient weapon-training is simulated by flying in the FTD simulator or by the on-board avionics during actual training missions to compensate.

Instructor Course
As always, the overall success and outcome of a training programme largely depends on the quality and motivation of the instructors and staff. All participating air forces contribute to this effort by sending experienced instructor pilots to Canada, joining their Canadian (civilian) colleagues.

NFTC instructors (including an increasing number of guest-instructor originating from non-NFTC countries), begin their training at Moose Jaw. The amount of flying and instruction time (up to four simulator and 11 flying missions) varies with the level of experience and proficiency of each instructor candidate. The second part of the course is taught at Cold Lake. This Instructor Upgrade Programme includes six simulator missions and 29 “live” flying missions, including seven check rides. Before graduation, these new instructors must also learn how to operate the FTD Hawk-simulator.


ACMI relays aircraft and tactical data, enabling real-time viewing of the actual 'aerial flight'.

Most of the flying instructors are provided by Canada, but each participating air force provides ‘national’ instructors in proportion to the number of their students in each training phase. To complement these NFTC instructors, instructors from various other countries are invited to join the NFTC squadrons. Originally intended to compensate for instructor-shortage, nowadays foreign pilots are invited in a deliberate attempt to benefit from their field experience, and as a marketing tool and for the future of the NFTC programme.

In 2002, NFTC instructors included three Lufwaffe-instructor pilots, all former Tornado- and/or MiG29 pilots, a Finnish and a Swedish air force pilot. In addition, having recently phased out or re-evaluated their training assets, other air forces such as France, Switzerland, and Norway, are willing to send instructor pilots to the NTFC.

NFTC’s Future: Enter the Europeans?
Simultaneous to the formal kick-off of the NFTC programme, representatives of the Chief of Staff of most European air forces began preliminary discussions about the possibility of introducing an Europe-wide training system for their pilots. This idea was developed within the Advanced European Jet Pilot Training (AEJPT) Working Group formed by the European Air Chiefs Conference, gathering the chief-of-staffs of 17 air forces.

This multinational working group brainstormed on the definition of a preliminary set of operational requirements for a common European training system, including the aircraft- and ground-based training elements. In November 2001, nine nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formally launch the AEJPT feasibility study phase.

Although various important decisions, including choice of aircraft and training locations, still need to be made, the consensus for international cooperation is omnipresent. Nevertheless, it will take time before this European pilot training center will be operational.

Until then, offering a well-equipped and proven training programme, at competitive rates, using state-of-the-art technology, and open to customized training needs, the NFTC Staff is well on his way to achieve its ambition of attracting other air forces into the NFTC-community which will result in an optimal cost/benefit operational organization.

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Stefan Degraef and Edwin Borremans are a freelance photojournalist team from Belgium.
© FrontLine Defence 2004

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