Dedicated Helicopter Trainer For Army Aviation Unit: Is It Feasible?

Prior to 2005, as part of the Malaysian Army Aviation Unit or Pasukan Udara Tentera Darat (PUTD) plan to established the nucleus of pilot cadre to manned its fledging rotary wing fleet, several selected candidates from various Army units have been sent either to the RMAF’s PULATIBANG 1 and PULATIBANG 2 or to foreign helicopter flying training center such as at Oakey, Australia and Fort Rucker, USA to undergone military helicopter pilot training.

PUTD trainee pilots undergoing training at Fort Rucker with US Army’s TH-67 Creek

As most of the helicopters used by these flying training centers are mostly of dial and gauges cockpit, it seems that such practice are suitable during that period of for PUTD’s 10 Allouette Mk III helicopters which were previously operated by the RMAF.

PUTD received 10 SA 316B Allouette Mk III from the RMAF. They were subsequently replaced by 11 AgustaWestland A-109LUH

With the introduction of 11 A-109LUH helicopters as replacement for the Allouettes, there has been an apparent need for the unit to introduce glass cockpit flight training to its pilot trainees as early as possible as the A-109LUH uses digital cockpit and are more technologically advance than the outdated Allouettes. Hence, a contract has been signed between the Government and civilian owned Integrated Aviation Academy which saw Army pilots being sent to the academy’s campus in Sultan Azlan Shah Airport in Ipoh, Perak to undergo military helicopter flying training along with other pilot trainees from BOMBA and the RMN.

PUTD trainee pliot along with RMN’s CUT trainee pilot inside an Integrated Aviation Academy’s EC-120B Colibri helicopter

Ab initio flight trainings were initially conducted on CTRM Eagle 150B side by side trainer aircraft before proceeding to the Eurocopter EC-120B Colibri helicopter. Nevertheless, the Eagle 150B was subsequently replaced by Cirrus SR 20 basic training aircraft acquired by the academy sometime in 2009-2010.

The academy’s CTRM Eagle 150B

EC-120B used for PUTD helicopter training

While indeed the program could be regarded as a success with the Government being able to reduce cost significantly in terms of aircraft procurement and development of associate facilities to accommodate and support the aircraft, there is still an apparent risk in which if not being deal appropriately, could cause disruption of the supply of qualified pilots which could hamper the state of readiness and the capability to conduct an around the clock operation as dictated by the nature and characteristic of military doctrine.

Unfortunately though, the MMEA has had to learn the hard way after a contract signed between the academy and the Government for the training of the agency’s trainee pilots was terminated due to the academy’s non performance. Such problem has severely impacted the operation and state of readiness of MMEA’s Air Operation Branch to perform aerial surveillance as well SAR effort across Malaysia’s vast territorial waters. It is said that MMEA’s problem could only be solved by next year when all of the trainees initially sent to Ipoh will complete their internal training which was conducted by the unit’s contracted pilots.

Although contractualisation of military training service has shown a certain degree of success in Europe such as the Defence Helicopter Flying School in UK and HeliDax in France, having possesses own training asset may well suited the requirement of army aviation units in this region as it promote flexibility as well as ensuring the continuation of pilots supply, essential for these units’ day to day operations. Army Aviation units such as the RTA Army Aviation and PENERBAD have been operating their own training aircraft and helicopter for many years with great success.

UK’s Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) AS 350 Squirrel which is used for basic training of RAF, FAA and Royal Army Aviation Corp’s trainee pilot

Impressive line of HeliDax EC-120B at its training center in Pau

French Army’s ALAT trainee pilot at HeliDax

The RTA for example now uses 16 Enstrom 480 and 40 plus S-300 helicopters for basic helicopter training before successful candidate being sent to other types of helicopter such as the Huey, Mi-17 or the Blackhawk. The same goes to PENERBAD. The Indonesian has adopted two stage training whereby Sikorsky S-300 were used for ab initio pilot training before trainees are to proceed to EC-120B for advance training. From here, successful PENERBAD flyers are sent to various units flying the NBo-105, NB-412 or the Mi-17.

RTA Army Aviation’s Enstrom 480 similar to those operated by Japan’s JGSDF Army Aviation

PENERBAD’s S-300 helicopter

EC-120B operated by PENERBAD

In the case of PUTD, considering that it currently operates 11 A-109LUH, a small number of training helicopters such as the Robinson R-66 or the Enstrom 480 is sufficient enough. As new generation training helicopters are equipped with digital avionics, progression between two different might be straight forward. These helicopters could be co-located in Kluang AAF together with the existing fleet as well as sharing common infrastructure available at the airfield hence there will be no need for construction of new facilities in order to support this new aircraft. Such practices have been implemented successfully by the RTA as well as the PENERBAD with their respective Don Muang and Pondok Cabe army aviation centers.

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