• ADF pilot candidates will no longer be screened in an aircraft under AIR5428. (Department of Defence)
    ADF pilot candidates will no longer be screened in an aircraft under AIR5428. (Department of Defence)

by Philip Smart

The Australian Defence Force will cease screening potential pilot candidates in aircraft and move to simulator-based assessment under the new AIR5428 flying training program.

Under AIR5428 the Flight Screening Program will move to RAAF Base East Sale where students will be assessed in Flight Training Devices (FTDs); high-fidelity flight simulators that provide visual and tactile cues without moving.

“These are high fidelity flight simulators but do not have a motion-base (i.e. they do not move like a Level D airliner simulator might),” a Defence spokesperson said. “The field of view of our RAAF PC-21 FTDs is 300 degrees horizontally and sufficient vertically to permit any flight training sequence to be undertaken in the FTD, including visual landing patterns, aerobatics, spinning and formation flight.

“Physical sensation is provided by a rumble seat to emulate airframe buffet and a G-suit to emulate (somewhat) the feeling of pulling Gs.”

Pilot candidates are currently screened through a two-week course at the BAE Systems Training Academy at Tamworth, NSW, which includes 10 flying hours in a Pacific Aerospace CT-4B basic trainer aircraft.

Candidates are assessed on their rate of learning, ability to respond to instruction, motivation and maturity, before fronting an officer selection board for assessment of suitability for entry in to the Australian Defence Force pilot training system.

Under the initial $1.2 billion, seven-year contract signed in December 2015, the AIR5428 project is designed to harmonise Australia’s basic military flying training across army, navy and air force. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin will provide overall project management and integrated ground-based training technologies, with Pilatus supplying 49 PC-21 trainer aircraft, ground based training equipment and through-life engineering and airworthiness support, and Hawker Pacific providing maintenance services and fleet support.

Advances in training simulation and the flexibility of the Pilatus trainer mean the ADF pilot trainees will dispense with a basic trainer aircraft and begin practical flight training on the PC-21. The PC-21 aircraft will replace both the PC-9 fleet, which has been in service since 1988, and the CT-4 aircraft currently used for basic training and flight screening.

Defence believes use of FTDs permits repeatable training sequences at low risk in flight screening and enables a more equitable screening of candidates.

“We screen for both motor skills and cognitive capacity and the FTDs will permit this screening to perhaps an even finer level of discrimination than the CT-4B,” said Defence in a statement. 

The ADF plans to screen up to 270 pilot candidates per annum at East Sale using the FTDs. The FSP FTD assessment sequences are expected to evolve from those currently used in the CT-4B-based FSP.

“Defence and industry analysis of the AIR5428 pilot training system has shown that it is the most efficient and cost effective way for the ADF to train pilots for advanced 4th and 5th generation warfighting platforms.”

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