Just like the real thing: three years after the "Lavi" (M-346) first arrived in Israel, the IAF upgrades its advanced training aircraft capabilities to prepare young pilots and WSOs. Some of the latest updates: external fuel tanks, live ammunition, and an updated program block
Eitam Almadon & Illy Peery
The "Lavi" (M-346) aircraft has ushered the IAF into a new era in terms of instruction, and has brought along an essential change in IAF fighter pilot and WSO (Weapon Systems Operator) training. Recently, the aircraft has been upgraded to include new features, upon the completion of a series of tests conducted by the IAF's Flight Test Squadron, which is positioned in Tel-Nof AFB. One of these features is an updated program block, which enables the aircraft to carry training munition and detachable fuel tanks.
The "Lavi" (M-346), manufactured by the Italian "Leonardo" company, is an advanced fighter instruction aircraft which replaced the "Ayit" (A-4 Skyhawk) and "Netz" (F-16A/B). The Italian aircraft is utilized by IAF Flight Academy Fighter Division cadets and its graduates in their Operational and Advanced Operational Training Course with the "Flying Tiger" squadron in Hatzerim AFB. These courses serve as an intermediate stage between the completion of their basic flight training and their integration in the IAF's operational squadrons. "We have clocked the highest number of flight hours on this aircraft amongst all of its operators around the world, and the experience we acquired allows us to highly improve the jet's influence on the our aircrew members' training process," said Lt. Col. Rotem, head test pilot at the Flight Test Squadron.
Updating the Program
The "Lavi" aircraft arrived in Israel with an empty configuration, devoid of external loads, and passed test flights conducted by the Flight Test Squadron in attempt to ensure that the aircraft was ready for full use, and that all of its systems were up to the IAF's safety standards. As part of the tests, the squadron's test pilots and engineers evaluated the factors influencing the aircraft's behavior. Amongst others, the difficulty level of the aircraft's operation was tested in complex scenarios such as air-air combat and attack maneuvers.
The aircraft's integration program included a gradual update of four avionics and configuration blocks upon their arrival in Israel. Program block updates are upgrades to the jet's capabilities, enabling a new flight configuration. After the block was heavily tested evaluation flights were performed by the "Flying Tiger" squadron.
"Alongside its upgraded avionics, the aircraft is so advanced that all of its functions are computer-based. Its program block also deals with its avionics and steering systems – which means that in order to develop a new flight configuration or equip the 'Lavi' with external loads, an update to the aircraft's program block was necessary," says Lt. Col. Rotem. "We later flew the upgraded aircraft, shared the information with the relevant factors, and released a debrief in order to enable the flight academy to operate the aircraft with the latest block."
More Fuel, Less Flights
Additional upgrades to the "Lavi" jet's capabilities are the ability to carry BDU-33 training bombs and detachable fuel tanks to prolong its flight time. Upgrades of this kind allow the IAF to maximize the training progress of its young aircrew members, as they play an integral part in bringing the "Lavi", a training aircraft, close to the technological level of the operational platforms which aircrew members will encounter in the IAF's operational squadrons.
The "Lavi" arrived with a configuration which allowed enough fuel for a 1 hour and 15-minute flight. The desire to extend the flight time created a need for external fuel tanks, which will allow extra time in the air. In training flights today, trainees' aircraft are often joined by an instructor's aircraft. Using external fuel tanks, the instructor's aircraft will be able to stay in the air for prolonged periods of time while trainees rotate, and many flights will be spared.
"Live ammunition will improve our training"
The "Lavi" has the ability to release bombs virtually, so that the only difference between the old method and the new is the sight of the bomb hitting the ground. New training bombs will raise the bar for the training of young pilots and WSOs. "The 'Lavi', like the IAF's operational aircraft, has a networked function capability, which enables parallel management of weapon systems in a number of aircraft, such as missiles and bombs. In terms of flight, it is reminiscent of the fighter jets used by the IAF. An addition of live munition will improve our operational training exponentially," says Maj. Omer, Deputy Commander of the "Flying Tiger" Squadron.
Soon: Networked "Lavi" Simulators
Fighter Division Flight Academy cadets and young graduates all train in the "Lavi" simulator, which is composed of four separate training chambers, in which they undergo many training sessions and emergency simulations. The Flight Test Squadron will soon conduct a test to examine the simulator's connectivity, which will enable the IAF to connect between the test chambers and bring with it the option for mutual training sessions for a number of aircrew members simultaneously.
The ability to simultaneously simulate the same mission is critical and inseparable from fighter pilot and WSO training, and as a result, an advanced, networked mission simulator is purchased along with the aircraft. "The simulator allows us to sit in a dome and see the action from a cockpit identical to a real one. It gives us the ability to fly in a formation of four on the ground, and train both pilots and WSOs. The FTS (Flight Test Squadron) will soon test the connected simulators, and enable the IAF to connect a number of simulator chambers for the purpose of mutual training."
"In the future, I see the 'Lavi' acquiring additional abilities which will drastically improve aircrew training. Abilities related to hardware and software," concluded Maj. Omer. Maj Omer added that they strive to join the IAF's operational networks, and by doing so, connect to the entire air force and perform joint training missions with the entire fighting division."