Key.Aero gained privileged access to the Irish Air Corps and flew with its Flight Training School in the Pilatus PC-9M. Here, we present a spectacular sortie involving aerobatics and low-level flying and speak to the squadron's members to explore the crucial role that the FTS plays
“The PC-9M is an excellent training platform in producing graduate pilots,” says Cmdt Edward Snowdon, when asked by Key.Aero about the Flying Training School and its use of the Pilatus PC-9M. “This high-speed advanced aircraft demands the student pilot to always operate at their peak performance. It requires precise handling, superior airmanship, and excellent situational awareness. Hence it produces a highly-skilled graduate pilot in all these areas.”
*WATCH THE 360° VIDEO BELOW, DON'T FORGET TO CLICK AND DRAG TO MOVE THE VIEW AROUND!*
Cmdt Snowdon admits ab-initio training in the PC-9M may be seen as a difficult task but is achieved “through the integration of the PC-9M flight training device (FTD) which allows the aircraft to be used as a primary trainer.”
Based at Baldonnel, the Irish Air Corps’ Flying Training School (FTS), as one of three schools of the Air Corps College, delivers the military training and education programmes necessary to meet the planned needs of the force and the developmental requirements of its personnel.
The squadron operates a fleet of eight Pilatus PC-9M turboprop trainers. The roster since entering service has surpassed 20,000 hours of flight time and is maintained by the IAC. Depending on human resource strength, heavy maintenance is sometimes contracted off-island to Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. The school also comprises a permanent staff of eight qualified flying instructors (QFIs) – including School Comdt/Chief Instructor, CFI and CGI – and technical staff to maintain and dispatch the fleet daily.
A simulator, regarded as the ‘ninth aircraft’ was purchased along with the eighth airframe and was provided by Pilatus. The manufacturer employed Elite Simulation Solutions to support it with creating and delivering this product. The sim allows a large portion of emergency training to be completed in a safe and controlled environment as well as the ability for students to become more proficient in instrument flying.
As the PC-9 is an ab-initio trainer, the students have no flying experience prior to their first PC-9 flight. The sim allows the student to build the required proficiencies prior to commencing flying training in the real aircraft. The simulator sorties begin initially focusing on conducting checks, procedures and radio telephony, and conclude with a proficiency check to clear the student to fly in the front cockpit of the PC-9.
Once flying training commences, the sim sorties focus on handling emergencies and this phase concludes with a pre-solo check. After solo the sim sorties continue to focus on further emergencies and introduction to instrument flying. The remaining simulator training includes a elementary handling test (EHT) check, instrument flying progress test (IFPT) check, instrument rating test (IRT) check and basic handling test (BHT) check.
The roles of the FTS is training ab-initio and instructor pilots, weapons and combat training, although the IAC do not maintain a QRA capability, they do hold this ability and skillset through conducting annual weapons and combat training only to the IAC’s QFIs.
The school also performs celebratory flypasts and air show displays. The FTS in its current form, was established with the acquisition of the PC-9M in 2004. FTS, and the PC-9M fleet replaced the SIAI Marchetti SF-260 from the Basic Flying Training School (BFTS) and the Fouga CM-170 Magister from the Advanced Flying Training School (AFTS) and thus both schools were amalgamated.
In the realm of ab-initio pilot training (Wings Course students), all aspects of pilot theoretical knowledge, PC-9M aircraft technical type, PC-9M/Martin Baker CH11A egress, land and sea survival training, elementary, basic and advanced flying training (visual flying, general handling and aerobatics, instrument flying, night flying, navigation and formation flying. These elements are covered in the wings course, type conversion and instructor course.
The future of FTS will be as per its past; to continually adapt to the international best practices of military flying training, in terms of equipment, techniques and procedures, to guarantee the highest calibre and quality of graduating student. In addition, the FTS will continue to maintain a combat capability for the Irish Air Corps as well as carrying out its ceremonial and display functions, as tasked.
After February’s release of the Report of the Commission on Defence Forces, the lay out the future of performing weaponry operations is seen in level of ambition (LOA) 3 of report which recommends: “Air combat and intercept capability through the acquisition of a squadron of combat aircraft, pilots and support personnel to provide organic intra‐theatre mobility based on tactical transport helicopters to support overseas deployment of air assets.”
The future of the PC-9M within the IAC is said by many IAC personnel that “it will remain what it is doing for the time being”. But after the defence commission release and if the highest level of ambition is achieved (LOA3), will it maintain its ‘trainer role’ as it is, or will it be training fast jet combat pilots?
In addition, The PC-9M is due to be replaced in the next decade, will this programme be split in two? Looking for a training platform that those trained on it can move on to perform fast jet combat operations, or will Ireland go for a similar platform to the PC-9M and use it for two purposes: training its student pilots but having a small attack/defence capability. Having a QRA capability gap, the procurement of fast fixed wing combat aircraft would be a vastly different scenario of operations to what the Corps has been used to in the past decades.