Will the Patrouille de France structure the training of French fighter pilots?

With 50 performances each year, including an international part, the Patrouille de France is, today, one of the most appreciated symbols of the French. Since 1981, she has been flying the Alpha Jet training aircraft, which has long been the workhorse of advanced training for French fighter pilots.

Since replaced by the PC-21 in this training mission, today there are only a few dozen Alpha jets left within the Air Force, distributed between the Patrouille de France, in Salon de Provence, and the 3/8 operational transformation squadron in Cazaux.

In service for more than forty years, the Alpha Jet is now reaching its age limit, and its replacement must be anticipated, in particular within the PAF, which carries with it many symbols, including for what concerns the technological excellence of French industry.

It is precisely these symbols, but also the needs highlighted by the training of Ukrainian pilots in the Air Force pilot course, as well as the constraints linked to the specifications of the Patrouille de France, which govern this training program. replacement of the French Alpha Jet, probably much earlier than previously envisaged by the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

The Air and Space Force has removed the Alpha Jet echelon in fighter pilot training.

From December 2016, the Air and Space Force received the first PC-21 Pilatus leased from the British Babcock associated with Dassault Aviation, for the training of its fighter pilots, as part of the FOMEDEC program (modernized training and differentiated training of fighter crews), on air base 709 in Cognac.

PC-21 Air Force Cognac
Even with a cruising speed of more than 300 knots, the PC-21 does not offer the same performance and behavior as an advanced training aircraft like the Alpha Jet. On the other hand, it has an HMI close to that of French military aircraft, and costs much less to implement.

This new program, intended to reduce the training duration of its pilots by one year, through an overhaul of the curriculum, replaced the fighter pre-specialization, until then on TB-30 Epsilon, after initial training on the Grob , and the hunting specialization on Alpha Jet, on air base 705 in Tours, through unified training combining 60% flight hours on the PC-21 Pilatus, and 40% flight hours on simulators.

This transformation should make it possible to accelerate and improve training, the cockpit of the PC-21 and the simulators being much closer to those that freshly macarooned pilots will encounter, on Rafale or on Mirage 2000.

The final transformation, carried out in Cazaux by the 3/8 Côtes d'Or squadron, finally allows young pilots to train directly on weapons planes, and to carry out initial training in firing munitions, before to join the operational squadrons.

Beyond these educational and technological advantages, the most important justification for this new training course is economic. Indeed, an hour of flight of the PC-21, a recent turboprop aircraft, costs only €1500, 5 times less than the €7500 per flight hour of the Alpha Jet, a light twin-jet which marks the weight of its 40 years of service.

The great services rendered by the Gadgets of 3/8 Côtes d’Or, in the training of Ukrainian pilots

Praised by the general staff of the Air and Space Force, this new training course has generated certain reservations, notably from the pilots themselves. Indeed, although efficient, the PC-21 remains a turboprop aircraft, with behavior and speed much further from those of weapons planes than were those of the Alpha-jet.

Alpha Jet Cazaux
The Alpha Jets, in Cazaux, are used for the operational transformation of fighter pilots. Beyond initial training missions, the device offered an economical and effective platform for maintaining the skills of officers on seconded missions.

These reservations seem to be gaining credibility in recent months in the context of the training of Ukrainian fighter pilots, provided by France. The few Alpha jets still in service within the 3/8 Côtes d'Or, fill an obvious void in the training curriculum.


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