Farnborough Air Show

Ascent Flight Training

 - July 19, 2022, 4:50 AM
The Beechcraft Avenger T.1s that are already part of the MFTS will train many more rear aircrew in an expansion of the system. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The provider of the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) is calling for bids to support its expansion. The Future ISTAR and Rear Crew Training System (FIRCTS) program will train aircrew for the P-8 Poseidon ASW; the RC-135 Airseeker (River Joint) and Shadow (King Air) SIGINT aircraft; the Protector UAS; and the Merlin and Wildcat helicopters. 

Ascent Flight Training, a partnership between Lockheed Martin UK and Babcock International, wants to select companies to provide ground-based synthetic training aids, and to support the fleet of four aircraft that are already in MFTS service. These Beechcraft King Air 350s, designated Avenger T.1 in the UK, have only been used to date to train Royal Navy observers for the Merlins and Wildcats. The current contract to support them ends soon.  

The FIRCTS entails adding live sensors to the Avengers, including radar, EO/IR, and AIS, plus airborne emulation of electronic warfare sensors and a datalink. The ground synthetics will include more of the same, plus a ground control simulator to train Protector UAS crews. Ascent is holding an Industry Day next week, to which it hopes to attract “organizations of all sizes and areas of expertise.”

Since the MFTS began in 2012, it has trained about 400 instructors and graduated about 800 aircrew to date, on seven types of aircraft numbering 110 in total. The fleet now averages 27,000 flying hours per annum. The system attracted some bad publicity last year, when a report by the UK National Audit Office (NAO) claimed that there had been shortfalls in training enough aircrew. The report cited several causes, including the availability of aircraft and the recruitment process, criticizing both the MOD and Ascent.

The RAF admitted that it had failed to foresee the growth in the numbers of aircrew required, but also blamed Ascent for “teething problems” when introducing new training aircraft. A senior officer told the UK Parliament’s Defence Select Committee that the backlog was now under control.