Leonardo handed over its first two T-345A jet trainers to the Italian Air Force on December 22 – kickstarting the delivery of 18 examples to the service.
Based on the M-345 but designated the T-345A in Italian service, the platform has been sourced under a modernisation effort and will gradually replace the air force’s fleet of Aermacchi MB-339 jet trainers, which entered service in 1982. In doing so, the aircraft will also be adopted by the country’s national aerobatic team, the Italian Air Force’s Frecce Tricolori (Tricolour Arrows), which currently fly the MB-339. Italy has so far ordered 18 examples of the T-345A but has a requirement to procure a total of 45 aircraft for the air force.
Marco Zoff, managing director of Leonardo Aircraft, said: “Building on our heritage and expertise in jet trainers, the M-345 will allow our customers to achieve a significant improvement in training effectiveness while at the same time reducing operating costs. This first delivery to the Italian Air Force is a key milestone, the result of a long-standing and productive team working closely together with the operator.”
Leonardo states that the M-345 has been designed to meet both basic and basic-advanced jet training requirements for its customers. In Italian service, the T-345A will complement the already-established M-346 advanced jet trainer/lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT), which is used to train pilots to fly current and next-generation fixed-wing combat aircraft.
The company boasts that the M-345 benefits from the “technology developed for the M-346, which includes a ‘Live Virtual Constructive’ capability. This allows aircraft which are flying live training missions to incorporate simulated ‘friend’ or ‘foe’ elements into scenarios, allowing the pilot to be exposed to the full range of possible operational situations.
The Italian Air Force’s acquisition of the new aircraft is an important step forward in the modernisation of its fleet, with the M-345 replacing the MB-339A in [the] air force’s second and third military pilot training phases,” the firm added.
Leonardo’s M-345 is powered by a single Williams FJ44-4M-34 non-afterburning turbofan engine, which has been optimised for both military and aerobatic use. The aircraft’s glass cockpit follows the same architecture as those employed by frontline fighters. It features hands on throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls and a three-colour touchscreen multifunctional display (MFD). The aircraft’s heads-up display (HUD) is also mirrored on a fourth screen in the rear seat of the cockpit.
The M-345 has been designed with a long life-cycle and a two-level approach to maintenance in mind, which Leonardo states is aimed at “eliminating the need for expensive general overhauls.” It also features a health and monitoring usage system (HUMS) to help lower overall life-cycle costs.
The platform also features an on-board training simulator, with the company boasting that it comes with a number of benefits. “M-345 pilots are able to plan manoeuvres before live training, allowing for higher efficiency during flight. Trainees are also able to fly formation with other pilots in the air and those training on the ground in simulators, via a real-time data-link. The aircraft’s mission planning and debriefing station (MPDS) allows trainees to analyse the missions they have just flown,” Leonardo adds.