Turning a New Page

Text and photography by Erik Bruijns, Lex de Kort, Fred van Peursem and Gijs ten Velde
With more and more air forces introducing new 4th and 5th generation aircraft, there is also greater need for modern ways to train future pilots.
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The M-346B provides a wide range of modern tools from performance to avionics. This enables the pilots to get prepared for their career in an even better way - Erik Bruijns
Over the past year, the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) has been hard at work to prepare their main training base at Kalamata in the south of the Peloponnese for this change. With new facilities for personnel and aircraft, a new complex for simulators, and the arrival of their brand-new Alenia Aermacchi M-346B trainer, the Hellenic Air Force is ready to train their student pilots and deliver higher standards than ever before.
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Flightline activity at 362 squadron is high with the first student pilots only flying the M-346 for a couple of weeks - Erik Bruijns
History

The 120 Pteriga Ekpedefseos Aeros – PEA (Air Training Wing – ATW) was established in March 1970 as the 120 Air Training Group. From May of the same year, the first training squadron was equipped at Kalamata with the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars. The following month, flight training commenced. Originally established in 1957, this 361 Aircraft Training Squadron was at the time part of the 112 Combat Wing operating from Elefsina. In 1962, the training squadron was reassigned to the 114 Combat Wing at Tanagra, and eventually, in 1974, it was renumbered and became the 362 Advanced Training Squadron “Nestor.” In 1971, another squadron was integrated into the 120 ATG: the 360 Jet Training Squadron, which was formed in 1963 and also operated from Elefsina as part of 112 CW. This squadron was renumbered in 1974 to 361 Basic Training Squadron “Mistras.” 361 squadron flew the Cessna T-37C Tweet.
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Early morning departure of two Texan IIs. With almost 25 years in service these aircraft are still going strong - Erik Bruijns
Part of one of its largest acquisition programs, the Hellenic Air Force placed an order for 40 North American T-2E Buckeye advanced trainers to replace the aging T-33s. The deal was signed on 17 June 1974, and the 120 ATG received the first Buckeyes in 1976. The new aircraft would be part of two squadrons: 362 Advanced Training Squadron “Nestor” and 363 Advanced Training Squadron “Danaos,” which was previously based at Larissa. With three training squadrons combined, the 120 ATG was officially renamed 120 Air Training Wing in August 1977. In the late '90s, an additional 12 older T-2Cs were integrated into the existing squadrons, coming from US Navy surplus. These were mainly used as attrition replacements or for spare parts. With an additional eight T-37Bs arriving in 1978 from the US and ten from the Royal Jordanian Air Force in 1988, the T-37 operated until 2002 as a small, economical, twin-engine jet trainer aircraft. August 2000 saw the introduction of the first of 45 new Beechcraft (at the time Raytheon) T-6A Texan IIs. The final aircraft was delivered in May 2003, and the aircraft took over the duties of the T-37 within the 361 squadron. With many new aircraft, the decision was taken to establish a new squadron. On 22 February 2006, the 364 Air Training Squadron “Pelops” stood up as the fourth squadron within the 120 ATW. To complete the transition to the new training wing, from March 2006 onwards, all four squadrons received the generic Air Training Squadron - ATS (Mira Ekpedefsis Aeros – MEA) designation, not using the Basic or Advanced designation anymore.
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A line up of three T-2 Buckeyes on the main ramp at Kalamata. These have not flown since December 2023 - Erik Bruijns
With the arrival of the first two M-346B Masters on 17 May 2023, the T-2 Buckeyes were gradually phased out, as Col. (P) Faldamis, 362 squadron commander, explains: “362 ATS was chosen to do the transition from the T-2 to the M-346. In the summer of 2023, the squadron already suspended the main activities for the training courses and personnel from the two T-2 squadrons were merged into 363 ATS to keep operating the T-2. In September of 2023, 362 ATS started up their operations again with the arrival and training of the first six Instructor Pilots.” During a tragic accident that happened on 27 December 2023, a T-2 was lost during a mission. The accident happened close to Kalamata Air Base. This accelerated the retirement of the T-2 in active service with the HAF, and the fleet has not flown since. The introduction of the M-346 into the syllabus of the advanced training course has since been the main goal for the 120 ATW. It also caused the 363 ATS to be deactivated, with the 362 ATS now being the sole responsible squadron for advanced training for new pilots with the HAF.
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This T-2 looks still operational in April 2024. Unfortunately the retirement was accelerated at the end of 2023 and the activities of 363 squadron were stopped completely - Erik Bruijns
The Path to Becoming a Fighter Pilot

There are five phases for new pilots to go through before they can become a pilot with one of the operational squadrons of the Hellenic Air Force. Each pilot will start their path with the 360 Air Training Squadron at Tatoi-Dekelia for the initial evaluation and screening process. Part of the screening process is the elementary flying lessons of the cadets, which will last for three months. They will start flying in the Italian-made Tecnam P2002-JF, a two-seat, single-engine, low-wing light aircraft. A total of 12 aircraft were delivered between October 2018 and June 2019. The Tecnams took over from the Cessna T-41D Mescalero, of which the first example was delivered in 1969. For several years, both types delivered the elementary training flights to new cadets until the retirement ceremony of the T-41 in December 2022. Each cadet will fly up to 16 training sorties and log around 19 hours in the air.
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Lt. Col. Tsioumas. The Italian flag next to the Greek flag shows the commitment to the bilateral cooperation when it comes to training - Erik Bruijns
Once the pilots are advancing to the second phase of their pilot training, they will move to 120 ATW at Kalamata for their initial training phase. Lt. Col. Tsioumas, 364 squadron commander, explains: “The young pilots will start flying on the T-6 of 361 and 364 ATS, where they will fly around 48 sorties with 60 hours of flying. During this initial phase two, the pilots will focus on their knowledge and skills for basic flight procedures, meteorology, jet aerodynamics, aircraft systems handling, and decision making. We are making use of dedicated flight simulators to help the pilots with their skills. This gives us a combined course providing the sorties that have to be flown in the air with sorties flown in the simulator.” The percentage of students that successfully finalize the second phase is high, as Lt. Col. Tsioumas continues: “Due to the screening of pilots in phase one, we have always had a high rate of success in phase two. Depending on the skills of the students, we can adjust the flight simulator sorties to increase the hours there, which will add to the success of the graduation rate. On average, we get between 30 to 40 students coming through in phase two, but this will depend on the class. This is of course linked to the need of the air force and the availability. The main difference at the moment between 361 ATS and 364 ATS is the way we provide the training. 361 ATS will provide the course in Greek, whereas 364 ATS provides the training in English. Since 2008, we have had a close cooperation with Italy in a bilateral exchange, and since that year we have had Italian pilots running the training course here in Kalamata. Within each squadron, we are working with 15 to 20 instructor pilots. These instructors are coming from the frontline squadrons and perform their tasks as an instructor for a couple of years before moving back to a frontline squadron again. This way, we get the most out of our instructors and provide real-life feedback into our training. Experiences and new tactics are directly fed back into the training of young pilots, which prepares them better for their future tasks.”
Continuing within the second phase, the students will start the basic training phase. Continuing flying on the T-6, the student pilots will now continue their training for another five months. In this stage, they will fly fewer training sorties, around ten flights, accumulating around 13 flying hours. During this basic training phase, the pilots will further improve and work on their knowledge and skills acquired in the initial phase. The objective is to improve the pilots’ information handling and situational awareness during a flight. This means a lot of focus on Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) training, where the pilot needs to be able to file an instrument flight, evaluate weather conditions, and can efficiently move through areas of differing airspace. This means a lot more training in the classroom, which incorporates Computer-Based Training (CBT) and logging hours in the flight simulator. Finalizing the second phase will coincide with the completion of their second year in HAF service. Upon completion of the second phase, the new pilots go back to Tatoi to finalize their theoretical education. After the pilots finish this part of their education, they swear an oath and become official HAF officers. With the introduction of the M-346B, the whole 120 ATW has seen a change in the way they train pilots, as Lt. Col. Tsioumas elaborates: “Many changes have been applied to the syllabus over the past year. The change from T-2 to M-346 is quite big, which has seen an overall redesign of the way we provide training. To maximize the training path, we redesigned the syllabus based on the previous one. Changes, for instance, have been made to the type of sorties we fly. Sorties like tactical formation are now incorporated to better prepare the pilots for their next phases. With the digital display that we have in the T-6 as well as the good flight simulators, we have a good step to climb towards the M-346B. The feedback we get from our students is that the transition from the T-6 to M-346 is very good. There are obvious differences when moving from a turboprop to a jet engine aircraft, but with the help of our ground-based training system, we are able to have a smooth transition. With all the tools that we have, like computerized training and simulators, it is made easier for them to progress to the next phase.”

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A close look in the office. The HUD is a big step up from flying in the T-6 and gives the pilot vital information in order to focus on the task at hand - Erik Bruijns
The students will now move on to the M-346B. This will mark the start of phase three and phase four of their training. In this next phase, the advanced phase, the young pilots will join 362 ATS where they will fly the brand-new M-346B. Col. (P) Faldamis explains: “We started our first class of students with the ground course at the end of January of this year. These students started flying on the M-346 in the beginning of April. We are well prepared and are now looking at maximizing the syllabus. Phase three is more or less an extension of the second phase. The students will make the transition to the jet aircraft and focus on the same tasks and refining their skills within their new environment. Sorties they will fly in this phase include formation flying, tactical formations, four-ship low level, and they are also being introduced to air-to-ground attacks. At the end of this first class, we will of course do a review to see what we can do better and what would have to be modified. Currently, we are looking at the duration of this first class. It will all depend on the availability of the number of aircraft, which is determined by other tasks that we have. Since this is our first class, we do not want to be in a hurry. We need to make sure that students get the most out of the training and we don’t want to rush them. We don’t have any feedback yet on how they are doing and how they are able to take it all in. We need to go at a steady pace. This also gives us the ability to work a lot with the simulator where we currently are looking at a ratio of one flight hour in the jet versus one hour in the simulator.”
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A member of the ground crew is in charge after the flight. Visual checks are done to ensure the aircraft is safe to go out for another training flight - Erik Bruijns
At the end of phase three, the young pilots are very familiar with the concept of a jet aircraft and will start to shift their focus to their first front line assignment during phase four, as Col. (P) Faldamis continues: “During phase four, the students will perform more or less the same type of sorties they will perform when operating in the frontline squadrons. These include Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFM), Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM), and Air Combat Tactics (ACT), all in different forms, and we also focus on low level flights. The M-346B has a lot of capabilities to meet the demands for these types of missions, so the level of training depends on the student’s capacity to comprehend everything and expand their skills. Our aim is to start slow and we gradually add complexity when we see they can perform well so we can take it to the next level.”
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Two M-346 Masters taxi back to the flightline after a morning mission. Multiple missions are flow per day to keep up with the need as new students have just started their training - Erik Bruijns
Besides providing a path for the young pilots, there is also a need to train instructor pilots who are vital in providing the right level of training, as Col. (P) Faldamis continues: “Our instructor pilots are all new to flying the M-346. We have a mix of pilots coming directly from the frontline squadrons as well as pilots that have been in Sheppard in the United States or Lecce in Italy working there as instructors. This gives us a good mix of pilots that provide good input for the training course and the syllabus. Currently, we have around 20 instructor pilots but this will increase over the coming period. The development of the syllabus is a never-ending story. Once we go through all the steps, we will find weaknesses which will then be pointed out so we can make the changes needed. We do have an agreement with the Italian Air Force for over 15 years where we are currently sending instructor pilots over to Italy. These are flying the Aermacchi MB-339CD but we do not have any cooperation at this moment with the International Flight Training School at Decimomannu, where the Italian Air Force is flying the M-346. This might change in the future as it could help in optimizing the way we operate the M-346, but we are currently focusing on our own syllabus.”
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Five M-346Bs are currently in operation with 362 Air Training Squadron for the advanced training phase of the Hellenic Air Force - Erik Bruijns
Where a pilot will start their career depends on the selection of aircraft they will fly, as Lt. Col. Tsioumas explains: “After the second phase of their training path, the pilots are selected to fly fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, or helicopters. This depends on the needs of the air force as well as the skills of the pilots. Only fighter pilots will continue in Kalamata for the next phases. When entering the operational squadrons as a fighter pilot, the pilots will fly the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II, Dassault Mirage 2000, General Dynamics F-16, or Dassault Rafale.” Now the pilots are in the fifth and final phase of their training. Once they finalize the fourth phase at Kalamata, the new fighter pilots will transition to their frontline units for the operational phase at one of the main bases within Greece. Here, they will join the Sminos Metekpedeusis – SMET (Operational Conversion Unit – OCU), where they will learn how to fly the specific fighter aircraft they have been assigned to. Once this conversion has been completed, the pilot is now considered Limited Combat Ready and will continue on active duty with his/her unit.
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As a training aircraft the M-346 comes very close to a fighter jet. Being able to fly such an aircraft at the beginning of their career benefits the students later on - Erik Bruijns
T-6 Texan II

The Beechcraft T-6 Texan II is a single-engine turboprop aircraft built by the Raytheon Aircraft Company (Textron Aviation since 2014). Based on the Pilatus PC-9, the T-6 is a more modified trainer, which was initially designed for the United States Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) and replaced the T-37 in US service. The first flight of the T-6A was on 15 July 1998. With the T-37 having flown for many years in HAF service, they opted for the same path as the United States did for their replacement basic trainer. The delivery of the new trainer consisted of 25 standard T-6As and 20 T-6A-NTA models. The New Trainer Aircraft (NTA) has the possibility to be fitted with six underwing hardpoints, which gives it the capability to carry rocket pods, gun pods, external fuel tanks, and bombs for a limited ground attack role. The T-6A is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT-6A-68 turboprop engine proving 1100 shaft horsepower (shp) and has a climb rate in excess of 3,300 ft/min (1,000 m/min). The maximum cruise speed of the aircraft is 310 mph (500 km/h) with an altitude ceiling of 31,000 feet (9,500 m). The cockpit was designed with the digital cockpit setup preparing the new pilots from an early stage of their training with the look and feel of modern fighter aircraft. The T-6A makes use of Smiths Aerospace multi-function active matrix LCDs. In addition to this, the cockpit is pressurized, has Martin-Baker Mk.16 zero-speed zero altitude ('zero-zero') ejection seats, and a canopy fracturing system.
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The T-6 is used for the second phase of pilot training within the Hellenic Air Force. Around 20 aircraft are used by two squadrons - Erik Bruijns
Currently, around half of the fleet of T-6As is operational with the two squadrons. A replacement due to the introduction of the M-346B is, however, out of the question, as Lt. Col. Tsioumas explains: “One of the main differences is that the T-6A does not have the HUD, which is a big advantage when moving onwards to the jet. The rest of the structure and what the pilot gets to use in the cockpit are very similar to each other in the way they are being used. For what we need the T-6A for in the second phase, the aircraft is performing very well and the tasks are all done without any problems. The intention is to have the means to fly. The more aircraft we have, the more hours we can produce for training within the syllabus. We are currently looking at bringing additional airframes back into operational service, which will give us additional capacity to perform our tasks.”
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The harsh summer sun is kept away by sheds that protect the T-6 from the elements. All operations are taking place from these sheds - Erik Bruijns
M-346B Master

The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master is a twin-engine transonic advanced jet trainer and light combat aircraft. Originally co-developed with Yakovlev as the Yak/AEM-130, the partnership was dissolved in 2000, after which Alenia Aermacchi proceeded to separately develop the M-346 Master while Yakolev continued work on the Yakovlev Yak-130. The first flight of the M-346 took place on 15 July 2004. It incorporates a full-authority quadruplex digital fly-by-wire flight control system, which was developed by a collaboration between Teleavio Marconi Italiana and BAE Systems. The M-346 uses the Honeywell F124 turbofan engine, which is a low-bypass turbofan engine and has a maximum thrust of 6,250 pounds of force (lbf). With the optimized aerodynamic configuration of the aircraft, it provides full maneuverability and controllability at a very high angle of attack (in excess of 30 degrees). This allows the M-346 to effectively mimic the flight performance of various fighter aircraft or to progressively increase difficulty levels, thus raising the effectiveness of the training, as Col (P) Faldamis explains: “As a training aircraft, performance-wise the M-346 is very close to a fighter jet. It is an amazing jet to fly. In terms of avionics, it is even better than most of the fighter jets. What we get in the training package is what we see in the fighter jets. This enables us to have students that are really early in their career being exposed to a really high-performance aircraft with a lot of additional features that will help them in preparation for after their graduation. We can train them in utilizing the performance of the aircraft, but also to enhance their skills in task management and how they can prioritize the information they get during the mission. This will save a lot of time later on when they join their frontline squadrons.”

A digital avionics system modelled on its counterparts on board the latest generation of military aircraft makes the M-346 suitable for all stages of advanced flight training. The aircraft’s glass cockpit is representative of the latest generation cockpits and is compatible with Night Vision Goggles. It has three color LCD multifunctional displays, a head-up display (HUD) for both front and rear pilots, and an optional Helmet-Mounted Display (HMD). A voice command system is also present which is integrated with functions such as the navigation system. The communication systems include VHF/UHF transceivers, an IFF transponder, and a Mid-air Collision Avoidance System (MIDCAS) as well as a Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS).

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An instructor pilot climbs out of the M-346 after a training sortie. The pilot is about to follow while ground crew performs the initial checks after the flight - Erik Bruijns
A total of ten M-346Bs are on order with a total of five delivered as of April 2024 under a Government-to-Government agreement between the Hellenic and Israeli Defense Ministries, with Elbit Systems undertaking the creation of an International Flight Training Center at 120 ATW Kalamata. The aircraft are equipped with Elbit Systems’ integrated virtual avionics that simulate combat and flight scenarios in order to bring the training experience of the pilots to the highest level. In cooperation with Elbit Systems, new training facilities have been completed at Kalamata, and within the first half of 2023, the advanced flight simulators as well as ground and fleet control and communication systems were established. Col (P) Faldamis elaborates: “At the moment, we are looking at new aircraft arriving at a rate of two every six months. For us, we see it as a huge opportunity to shift the training and move forward. We have just started our first class with most of our facilities ready. The syllabus is ready for the next step to take the squadron to an even higher level and prepare our pilots in the best way. Currently, we do not train any foreign pilots, but that is something we are looking into for the future. We are in a really good position to succeed in that. We have the expertise and the knowledge to provide training that will be preferred by other air forces.”