First Class of Pilots Earn their Wings on Pilatus PC-21
(Source: French Air and Space Force; issued Sept. 16, 2020)
(Unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
On Wednesday September 16, the first graduation ceremony for student pilots who completed their training on Pilatus PC-21 was held at the 709 Cognac-Châteaubernard "Commandant Ménard" air base. It was chaired by General Philippe Lavigne, Chief of Staff of the Air and Space Army (CEMAAE).

Since 1961, the Fighter Aviation School (EAC), until then stationed in Tours, has licensed 4,853 fighter pilots and 291 Weapons System Officer Navigators (NOSA). Its transfer to Cognac-Châteaubernard air base 709 marks a turning point in its history.

In 2016, the French Air Force initiated an ambitious program to modernize fighter pilot training, dubbed Fomedec (Formation modernisée et entraînement des équipages de chasse, or Modernized training and training of fighter crews).

It materialized in the summer of 2018 with the arrival of a new aircraft, the Pilatus PC-21. Now numbering 17, these aircraft are optimized for the training of future combat crews with a view to their assignment on modern weapons systems equipping the forces. The Pilatus PC-21 has now replaced both the TB-30 Epsilon at Cognac and the AlphaJet at Tours for the training of fighter pilots.

This transformed curriculum offers substantial financial savings thanks to a significantly reduced operating cost for the Pilatus compared to the Alphajet. It will end in particular with a new project called Mentor. Thus, the last phase of training, currently carried out on AlphaJet at Cazaux air base, will also switch to the Pilatus PC-21.

During Wednesday’s traditional ceremony, future pilots and combat navigators received their fighter pilot’s “macaron,” the French name for their insignia, from the hands of their sponsor. This highly symbolic act attests to their belonging to the family of fighter pilots or “wizzos,” or weapon system operators.


* Round in shape, the Air and Space Force fighter pilot's badge features a laurel wreath, two wings, all topped with a star.

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