An onboard education: The world's top trainer aircraft

The need to prevent crashes as a result of pilot error has led to a huge market for jet trainers. As the world's air forces seek the means to educate trainee pilots accurately and effectively, airforce-technology.com looks at the leading trainer aircraft around.


As the cost of aircraft rapidly spirals, it is important that potential pilots receive the necessary training to avoid costly crashes.

Although simulators and classroom education can provide the knowledge, the common perception is that there is no better training than in a cockpit.

For this end, the role of the trainer aircraft has become increasingly important. Aircraft that can be adapted to exhibit the dynamic features and flight manoeuvrability of advanced attack jets at a fraction of the cost have become sought after, as demonstrated by the US Air Force's recent spate of Super Tucano acquisitions.

Super Tucano

"Having been entered into a competition for the award of a 100 counterinsurgency aircraft contract in 2009, Brazil signed a defensive pact in order to open negotiations for the acquisition of 200 aircraft for use by the US."

Manufactured by Embraer at a cost of between $9-14m an aircraft, the Super Tucano was introduced into service in 2003 having made its maiden flight in 1999. Although currently used by Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, the US has recently expressed an interest in exporting the aircraft.

Though it is used primarily to fulfill flight training and light attack capabilities, the US has been exploring the potential of the aircraft in a counter-insurgency role.

Having been entered into a competition for the award of a 100 counterinsurgency aircraft contract in 2009, Brazil signed a defensive pact in order to open negotiations for the acquisition of 200 aircraft for use by the US.

Coming in a one pilot / one student configuration, the Super Tucano's maximum speed is 367mph, with a cruise speed of 232mph and its avionics system meets MIL-STD-1553 standards.

An all-glass cockpit is fully compatible with night vision goggles, and an advanced mission computer can be used by the pilot during flight.

The aircraft has come to be recognised for its high levels of survivability, a benefit of its high speed, small radar and visual signatures and overall agility.

Critical systems redundancy and Kevlar armour protection around the cockpit enhance the aircraft's survivability further.

Yak-130 combat trainer

After being selected as the winner of the Russian Federation Air Force's trainer competition in 2002, the Yak-130 has also been marketed for export.

The trainer was eventually inducted into service with the Air Force at the military pilot training academy in July 2009, 13 years after its maiden flight. Russia received the first four aircraft between February and April 2010, with a further five delivered in April 2011.

The trainer is of a classical swept-wing and empennage monoplane design, constructed of light alloy and carbon-fibre, with Kevlar armour fitted to engines, cockpit and avionics compartment in order to protect from enemy fire.

The aircraft boasts an all-digital cockpit, the first Russian aircraft to receive such an avionics suite, which can be adapted to a customer's specific requirements.

The aircraft and its Avionica fly-by-wire flight control system can be adjusted to match the stability and 'controllability' characteristics of a number of aircraft, including the MiG-29, F-15 / 16 / 18 and Mirage 200, as well as future fighters, such as the F-35. The pilot selects the software model using the Yak-130's on-board computer, while the system can also be forgiving to allow cadet pilots to acquire skills in their own time.

Hawk

Manufactured by BAE Systems, the Hawk series of flight trainers has been made famous by its use in the UK Royal Air Force Red Arrows aerobatics team.

"Of the four variants, the Hawk 60 and 100 are more explicitly used as training aircraft."

Since its entry into service in 1976, more than 800 aircraft have been ordered and exported across the world to countries including Dubai, South Korea, the US, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

Of the four variants, the Hawk 60 and 100 are more explicitly used as training aircraft. The Hawk 60 variant offers air combat manoeuvring and weapon conversion training.

The aircraft is highly spin resistant, whereas its low-speed handling provides the student pilot with minimal trim-chances when the flaps and gear are retracted or extended.

The Hawk 100 series provides lead-in fighter training as well as navigator and weapons system operator training, while it can also be used as a ground attack fighter. The nose of the 100 has been re-profiled in order to accommodate additional sensors and avionics systems, including forward-looking infrared (FLIR).

MiG-AT advanced flight and combat trainer

The MiG-AT advanced flight and combat trainer first flew in 1996, having been developed by RSK MiG in collaboration with European companies including Safran, Turbomeca and Thales Avionics.

It is part of a complete combat trainer system that comprises simulators, computerised classrooms, task-based simulators and interactive video training.

The aircraft can exhibit comparable manoeuvrability to a range of combat aircraft, including the MiG 29, Su-27, F-15 and Rafale.

Avionics and weapons systems onboard the aircraft can be installed according to the user's operational requirements.

The MiG-AT's fly-by-wire system prevents the trainee pilot from carrying out manoeuvres which exceed critical flight conditions and pilots can train in manoeuvres in ground attack, interception and combat manoeuvres.

The aircraft also incorporates onboard simulators for a range of weather conditions and ground / air scenarios, providing the trainee pilot with a complete training programme.

Guizhou JL-9

"The first prototype of the JL-9 made its maiden flight in 2003 and five aircraft entered into service in 2006."

Designed and manufactured by the Guizhou Aircraft Incorporation of China, the Guizhou JL-9 was constructed in order to fulfil the People's Liberation Army Air Force's (PLAAF) need for a jet trainer that matched the capabilities of its new generation aircraft.

In order to save time and construction costs, the JL-9 was derived from its forerunner aircraft - the JJ-7 jet trainer - and included a number of redesign features.

A redesign of the forward fuselage was completed and an FIAR Grifo S7 pulse-doppler fire-control radar was inducted into the solid nose radome.

The first prototype of the JL-9 made its maiden flight in 2003 and five aircraft entered into service in 2006. The aircraft is now being used to train pilots for operations aboard the Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-11 and Sukhoi Su-27SK aircraft.