RCAF PILOT TRAINING: CAE and KF Aero team up to help produce wings.
Canadian skies have long been accustomed to the drone of diving, twisting aircraft as student pilots and teeth-gritting instructors practiced manoeuvres over prairie and forest. The Second World War saw a massive effort known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan where numerous bases across Canada hosted British, (including Europeans from occupied countries), Australian, New Zealand and Canadian trainees to deliver over 160,000 pilots and aircrew to Allied airforces. Weeks of class room instruction and hands on practice on rudimentary Link mechanical simulators led the student pilot to actual air time in single-engine Flarvards and De Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes. Graduates went on to fly Hurricanes, Spitfires, Lancasters and sundry other aircraft in world-wide theatres of war.
Today's aircraft are, of course, orders of magnitude more powerful and complex than the fighters and bombers of previous wars. To prepare pilots today more sophisticated training techniques and technologies are available. Thirty-year old fighter jets aside, the RCAF has every intention of being at the leading edge of pilot training. For decades the world's air forces possessed the instructors and equipment to turn out pilots and aircrew to their own specifications. Since military pilots were tasked with missions no commercial airline pilot would dare attempt with a fuselage full of paying customers, it was assumed that the military itself should bear all the expense and requirement of producing its pilots. Years of peacetime budget restraint though inspired a reconsideration. What is it about becoming a pilot that is common to any airforce or airline? Could that not be hived off and handled by private companies who are good at it?
Public/private partnerships don't always have a good reputation, (think hospitals and toll roads), but many 'hotel services' on military bases were being handled by private companies by the 1990's. It was a natural progression to wonder what else could be handled by contractors and still deliver the excellent final 'product'; an RCAF pilot.
Bombardier was one of the first in Canada to take advantage of the expanded opportunity when in 1992 they took over then Canadian Forces Base Portage and commenced with the first iteration of an alternative service delivery programme. Then in 1998, Bombardier won the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program to support the training of next-generation fighter pilots. In the mid-2000's the public/private partnership for RCAF pilot training was further extended under the Contracted Flying Training and Support (CFTS) program run by KF Aerospace. Both programs were managed and run successfully for years until 2015 when Bombardier decided it wanted to focus more on its core businesses. That brought in CAE, a company that knew and focused on training, to the NFTC program and CAE formally acquired the NFTC from Bombardier in October 2015.
CAE, beginning as Canadian Aviation Electronics in 1947 out of a small hangar outside Montreal, is a global Goliath in training and simulation. Their 9,000 employees world-wide operate in 35 countries at over 160 locations. They not only train pilots on just about any type of aircraft, but they also have simulators to train groundcrew, emergency responders and medical professionals. When a professional operating in an environment with a high consequence of failure, such as a pilot, needs to be trained, simulation is a safe, cost-effective way to do so and no company in the world has mastered this niche quite as well as CAE has.
KF Aerospace began life in 1970 as an aircraft maintenance and leasing company. In 2005 they were awarded the CFTS contract and operate the programme out of the campus-like Southport Airport, (formerly CFB Portage-la-Prairie) in Manitoba. It is this base that first hosts all would be RCAF pilots and begins their multi-year journey to full qualification.
It is widely held that air forces and their civilian counterparts are facing shortages of experienced and qualified pilots. In some cases, this is occurring in specific categories: regional carriers who offer lower wages and rougher working conditions than main carriers are struggling to fill the cockpit. For the RCAF the picture is more complex. Governments demand that particular aircraft carry out missions at different times and rates. Afghanistan created a sudden need for qualified Chinook pilots while Mali is a different mission altogether involving Griffons, Chinooks and CC-130J Hercules transports. CF-18 pilots are being tasked to Eastern Europe on NATO patrols, while the CH-148 Cyclones are getting ready to support the Royal Canadian Navy. All the while, transport pilots continue their pace of missions in Hercs and Globemasters. Given that any of these pilots require years of training before joining operational units, it becomes a very tough proposition to know how many pilots, of what type, are going to be needed at any time. Add the fact that Canada is always starting from a relatively small base, it means that qualified instructors have to be available to train pilots as well.
CAE and KF Aero seem undaunted by this. Both companies have years of experience tailoring business models and equipment to what their military customers need. CAE has what Joe Armstrong, Vice President and General Manager, calls "full training systems integration" capabilities. "We have the experience and expertise to analyze the training needs and requirements, develop a comprehensive and integrated live-virtual-constructive training solution, and then support the entire training enterprise for the long-term," said Armstrong.
At Southport, site manager for KF Aero, Pete Fedak explained that the private company role in flight training is to handle logistics and maintenance, ensure aircraft are available as required by the end-user, (i.e. the Canadian government), and free up the RCAF to graduate pilots and aircrew at a pace that will close any gap in operational needs in future. The pilot candidates, (the contract calls for up to 155 per year to enter training), are recruited by the military and pass basic training as any recruit would. Phase I of the training under the CFTS program occurs at Southport. Successful candidates go on to Phase II in Moose Jaw under the NFTC program. For Phase III training there is a break with multi-engine and rotary-wing pilots heading back to Southport under the CFTS program and fighter pilots staying in Moose Jaw for Phase III training. Those selected to become fighter pilots ultimately continue onto Phase IV training in Cold Lake also under the NFTC program.
The corporate participation in RCAF pilot training, however, does not forego the need to inculcate a military ethos among the candidates. This really is not a concern of many, though, as CAE and KF Aero employees have a lot of military experience in their ranks. Fedak, and his counterpart in Moose Jaw, CAE's Scott Greenough, are both retired Lieutenant-Colonels and former training school commandants. Their experience and knowledge from uniformed days give them an edge in fulfilling contract requirements at the same time as they try to offer better ways of moving forward. As Fedak said, "The RCAF has the final say in deciding what they want. I have opinions from my experiences and we discuss those in an effort to make RCAF pilot training as efficient and effective as possible."
For its part the RCAF is accommodating their student stream in more flexible ways. A soldier or sailor can be made ready for operations within a year, but any pilot takes 3-4 years. Not only is there an inevitable failure rate among recruits, but this long training period is bound to encounter life changes that may impact a promising pilot. The answer is block training.
LCol. Marc-Antoine Fecteau, commanding officer of 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School in Southport, says the training at his school is hard, but it needs to be. Recruits do classroom study before moving on to desktop and life-size simulators and there is monitoring and feedback at every stage. Although 3 CFFTS gets motivated candidates it doesn't mean they all become pilots.
"You can become a pilot or something else," he says. "You are investing in each person and the longer it goes, the more expensive it gets. There is a buffer for failing a particular block. If you fail one activity you can still move on to succeed at other training and go back to succeed at ones you failed before. Everybody gets to fail two 'flights' before a decision is made. No one fails until we say they fail."
Colonel Denis O'Reilly, Commander of 15 Wing in Moose Jaw and Military Director of NATO Flying Training Canada (NFTC), is justifiably proud of the accomplishments of the training programme he oversees. 15 Wing is responsible for both 3 CFFTS in Southport and 2 CFFTS in Moose Jaw, as well as the Snowbirds aerial acrobatic team. They work hand in glove with CAE (Moose Jaw SK and Cold Lake AB) and KF Aero (Portage le Prairie MB) and graduated 107 pilots this year in addition to 115 in 2017 and 116 in 2016.
"I'm excited about the future," he said. "Industry will always surprise you. You give them the 'what' and they work out the 'how'," says Col. O'Reilly.
Col. O'Reilly's command also provides the interface that informs the contractors where the operational requirements are shifting. He said that Phase II candidates don't know where they are going to end up yet. "There are career managers for each community--fighters, Auroras, Griffons--and they receive feedback from these streams to determine whether we need to open up that pipeline or close it."
Both Fedak and Greenough explained that the aircraft fleets they manage can be made ready daily, and are managed to support RCAF pilot training over the life of the respective CFTS and NFTC contracts. They aren't worried about replacements or what new aircraft might be acquired by the RCAF in future. They graduate pilots able to fly jets, multi-engine props, helicopters and transport planes.
After classroom and simulator training, candidates begin their primary flying training in a composite fuselage Grab G120 from Germany. It's a piston-powered with a top speed of 320 km/h, retractable landing gear and a two-seat cockpit. Graduating from basic flight training moves you up in one of two streams: Advanced Flying Training III in the propeller driven T-6 Harvard II or to Advanced Rotary or Multi-Engine flying training. Southport handles the latter stream while jet-bound graduates move on to Moose Jaw. If you show extraordinary powers of concentration and dexterity you will be moved up to the BAE Systems Hawk jet trainer and then to CF-18s. Approximately 80 per cent of successful pilot recruits flow to rotary and multi-engine and will be aircrew for all RCAF helos and transport planes. The remaining approximately 20 per cent are destined for the fighter community.
Being inveterate smart-asses, the assembled journalists were constantly trying to catch out corporate and military officials for their opinions on new training craft or which new fighter jet Canada should be pursuing. LCol Fecteau explained he would "rather they [students] be brought into an environment where they can become a pilot", and not be concerned with whatever aircraft they may or may not have to deal with.
CAE at Moose Jaw is presently putting the 18-year-old Hawks through a Fatigue Life Improvement Program (FLIP), that will see the planes stripped to frames and rebuilt to 'factory spec'. Greenough says the planes "haven't been this disassembled since they were built!"
His maintenance personnel, overseen by former RCAF technician Douglas Meltz, have a "pit crew mentality" to keep aircraft in service. "That's how you do about 125 sorties in 10 1/2 hours every day," Greenough said.
This pace, with aging aircraft, is a testament to all the private companies that are applying Col O'Reilly's dictum to the flight line. Given the 'what', they come up with the 'how'. CAE and KF Aero are the prime contractors and engage companies to provide refuelling, snow removal, catering and accommodations. Aside from OEM suppliers like BAE Systems, Pratt and Whitney and Rolls Royce, there are major subcontractors like ATCO Frontec, Canadian Helicopters Ltd., Beechcraft, Bluedrop, Canadian Base Operators, and SERCO, among others, that service the CFTS and NFTC programs.
On the shuttle from Winnipeg airport to Portage, Joe Armstrong asked the scribes: "How do we get young people engaged in aerospace?" Since we had all left our youth many years behind, we could only surmise what barriers were possibly restraining any young Canadian from jumping into this exciting field. We suggested that RCAF, CAE and any organisation involved in aerospace and defence should approach the education system early and make it clear to young people looking for a goal in life that boundless opportunities are available. Canadian education has to shed its snooty attitude to trades and encourage youngsters to see engineering, applied sciences, machining and crafting high-tech gadgetry is still the wave of the future. As for becoming a pilot or aircrew in the RCAF; the hours are long, the commitment is profound and the reward is inspiring. What's not to like?
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
Caption: ABOVE: A pair of BAE Hawk jet trainers fly in formation over Moose Jaw SK. CAE manages all aspects of pilot training on behalf of the RCAF and its international students at the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) here. RCAF sets requirements, syllabus and supplies student pilots, (COURTESY CAE)
Caption: LEFT: LCol (ret'd) Scott Greenough of CAE. A "pit crew mentality" keeps the planes in the air as required, (COURTESY CAE)
Caption: ABOVE RIGHT: The Colonel O.B. Philp, CM, DFC, CD Building in Moose Jaw. (COURTESY CAE)
Caption: RIGHT: Col. Denis O'Reilly, commander 15 Wing, is justifiably proud of his RCAF pilot training program and support from industry. (RCAF)
Caption: LEFT: KF Aero President Tracey Medve warily awaits instructions in "egress" procedures. CAE instructor Mario Deschaies (right) uses the stuffed fish on the dash to correct student pilots who don't follow instnjctions precisely.
Caption: ABOVE RIGHT: The military ethos remains integral to flight training for the CFTS and NFTC. This is a memorial gallery at the Col. O.B. Philps Building in Moose Jaw. (author photo)
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|Title Annotation:||EYE ON INDUSTRY|
|Publication:||Esprit de Corps|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2018|
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