VENEGONO, Italy --- The first M-346 advanced trainer in the industrial pre-series configuration made its official first flight yesterday, flown by Alenia Aermacchi Chief Test Pilot Olinto Cecconello.
The aircraft, identified as LRIP00, took off at 19.15 from the Venegono facilities of Alenia Aermacchi, a Finmeccanica group company.
Upon landing, Captain Cecconello expressed his satisfaction about the aircraft. «Compared to the two M-346 prototypes, the flying controls of LRIP00 are even more representative of a fifth-generation aircraft. This gem will offer a 20% performance improvement over the two prototypes, mainly due to the lower weight and the related ability to carry additional fuel, the improved outward visibility and the optimized pilot/aircraft dialogue, in part through an electronic check-list."
The first pre-series M-346 simultaneously bears witness to and reinforces the great maturity of the program that - thanks to the intensive development work performed on the two prototypes - has led to the optimization and industrialization of the design.
The first flight marks the beginning of the production phase of the M-346 programme, which will see the introduction of an extremely advanced production line designed by Alenia Aermacchi based on the digital manufacturing process.
The design effort for the baseline industrial configuration aircraft has concentrated on structural optimisation, with additional benefits in terms of improved maintenance. The goal has been achieved through a different spacing of wing spars and fuselage frames, together with a wider use of composite and titanium parts.
Together with the integration of the new main landing gear and the standardization of general mission systems, this has brought about a considerable reduction in the empty weight, in the order of about 700 kilos.
With this flight Alenia Aermacchi has shown the world market the great strength and vitality of the M-346 programme, in accordance with the time schedules announced earlier.
Two M-346 will be soon ferried to the United Kingdom to participate in the Farnborough Air show 2008 where between 14-20 July the pre-series aircraft will be displayed in the static area of the Finmeccanica Pavilion (0E1/2).
The M-346 is the only new generation advanced/lead-in fighter trainer currently available in Europe. The aircraft is designed to train pilots to fly future combat aircraft and is well suited for every phase of advanced and pre-operational training, to reduce the hours flown on more expensive aircraft. In order to improve training effectiveness and reduce operating costs, the M-346 embodies the latest “design-to-cost”, maintainability and production optimization concepts with high performance and a human-machine interface representative of those of new generation military aircraft including the Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale, F-16, F-22 and the future JSF.
The M-346 is engineered with innovative design solutions. The aircraft has a full authority quadruplex Fly-by-Wire control system which – together with the optimized aerodynamics - allows the aircraft to remain fully controllable at angles of attack over 35° degrees. With this technological achievement, Alenia Aermacchi confirms its ability to autonomously design and manufacture advanced aircraft with Fly-by-Wire controls. This, combined with the twin-engine configuration and thrust/weight ration close to 1, translates into safety levels unattainable by its competitors. The M-346 also integrates digital avionics with the ability to simulate sensors and threats in flight. These characteristics and its performance make the M-346 the world’s leading tactical pre-operational training aircraft.
In December 2006 the M-346 achieved the speed of Mach 0.96. In January 2008 the second M-346 prototype successfully carried out in-flight refuelling tests in collaboration with the Experimental Test Unit (RSV) of the Italian Air Force, using a Tornado equipped with a buddy pod.
In February 2007 the M-346 was short-listed by the United Arab Emirates for its new training competition. Furthermore, it is in the evaluation phase in Singapore for its Fighter Wings Course (FWC) Program, which aims to replace the current fleet of advanced trainers. In April 2007 the M-346 underwent an initial three-week assessment by the Italian Air Force Test Centre at Pratica di Mare, obtaining high appreciation from Italian Air Force pilots.