Military Flying Training in the UK
Dec 13, 2018

“On time and on budget” is music to the ears of both procurement managers and suppliers around the world, and is key to any long-term supply relationship. That was the case with Airbus Helicopters’ latest major program to supply helicopters to the United Kingdom for its Military Flying Training System (MFTS), a contract that facilitates the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in preparing aircrews for eventual assignment to frontline squadrons.

In a FrontLine interview, Ian Morris, Vice-President of Defence at Airbus Helicopters in the UK acknowledged that the program timeline was incredibly tight but confirmed that the company was able to deliver new helicopters – on time and on budget – in just under two years.

The MFTS is operated by Ascent Flight Training Ltd (a 50/50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Babcock International Group) to stream aircrews from basic training to fixed and rotary-wing programs. The latter takes place at two Royal Air Force bases, RAF Shawbury in the Shropshire region of England’s West Midlands, and RAF Valley on the Welsh island of Anglesey. Together, they constitute the Defence Helicopter Flying School.

H135 (Juno HT.1) United Kingdom Military Flight Training System. (Photo © Crown)

Having won the contract with Ascent in May 2016 to supply 29 H135s (Juno HT.1) and 3 H145s (Jupiter HT.1), Airbus Helicopters began deliveries that year, and had fulfilled its delivery commitment by April 2018.

One of the main imperatives for MFTS is to provide Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, and Army Air Corps aircrews with training that is an effective lead-in to front-line operational rotary wing platforms. As such, aircrews need to be well-prepared to operate on multi-engine helicopter platforms equipped with complex avionics suites and sub-systems.

With a larger cabin, increased range, and equipped with a hoist, the three H145 aircraft will be used to train aircrew selected for training in maritime or mountain operations, particularly for search-and-rescue (SAR) training.

Both the H145 and H135 platforms are versatile and ideally suited for training missions. According to Morris, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Jordan, Japan, Switzerland, and now the RAF, all operate the H135. “There are H135s involved in military training in one form or another all around the world.”

The H135 has a well-documented low life cycle cost (referred to as DOCs and DMCs) that is competitive with single engine platforms, and when compared to other twin engine airframes in its category.

With a proven operational availability rate greater than 90%, the H135 is considered a dependable aircraft, which means long-term savings. “Despite higher initial costs of a twin-engine helicopter versus a single engine, operational costs are much closer and the added safety a twin-engine could avoid the costly repairs or replacement of a single engine helicopter damaged during a training exercise. Furthermore, all UK frontline helicopters are multi-engine aircraft, so pilots’ re-training burden will be reduced as they already have multi-engine experience,” says Morris.

H135M Swiss Air Force Training. (Photo: Céline Simonpaoli)

In the UK MFTS program, both aircraft are equipped with Helionix advanced avionics. The H135 helicopter is ideally suited for ab-initio training. Its combination of high safety standards plus advanced technologies – such as FADEC (full-authority digital engine controls), First Limit Indicator, 4-axis autopilot, and intuitive glass cockpit – allow reducing the pilot trainee’s workload in the cockpit while increasing safety and mission efficiency by focusing mainly on basic helicopter handling.

“We now have the Xbox generation coming into the military and managing the Helionix system, and 4-axis autopilot from a full glass-cockpit, comes naturally to them”, says Morris. “As air awareness builds, you can remove facilities to enable them to work in a degraded situation while at the same time knowing exactly how to work all the functions on a 4-axis autopilot.” The inference is that these pilots-in-training should have little difficulty when confronted with a complex aircraft that has been kitted out with a glass cockpit, digital autopilot, and other equipment such as the FADEC used on all UK frontline helicopters.

The similarities between the H135 and H145’s Helionix suite, sub-systems, and almost-identical cockpit layouts, serve to minimize the type conversion training time. Also, with one of the lowest operating costs of its category, the H145 combined with the H135 provide significant synergies to the MFTS program.

The MFTS regimen is designed to train 286 students each year, with Ascent providing the instructors, a quarter of whom are civilian ex-military and the rest active military on loan from the MOD.

“As the Aircraft Service Provider, Airbus’ job is to meet the Ascent flying programme; typically, 19-21 aircraft available daily.” A typical flying day at RAF Shawbury is 0800 to 1700 – and this stretches to 0230 during the summer when students work with night-vision and electro-optics technologies. “We generally look to get six sorties out of a line so, on average, will deliver between 120 and 140 training sorties per day.”

Following the selection of the SA 341 Gazelle in 1973 for the Navy, the Army, and the RAF Central Flying School (helicopters), and choice of AS350 Squirrels for the Defence Helicopter Flying School in 1997, the entry into service of the H135 Junos and H145 Jupiters in 2018 marks 45 years and three generations of Airbus Helicopters’ aircraft providing continuous military flight training in the UK.

Ken Pole is a contributing editor at FrontLine Magazine.