Training NATO’s Finest

Royal Canadian Air Force CT-155 Hawk


The sun rises at 15 Wing Moose Jaw as a Hungarian instructor and his Canadian student walk to their Harvard II, soon followed by two Singaporean trainees for solo flights on the Hawk. The first few of around 100 sorties to take place every single day at NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) are about to begin.

I spoke with Wing Commander colonel Alex Day. A lot has changed since he was trained here as a pilot. “Twenty-five years ago, when I came through here, it was a completely military operation. We had our [CT-114] Tutor aircraft, military aircraft which we [only] use for the Snowbirds now, maintained by military technicians and the entire operation was supported by military people. That had the inefficiencies that any military unit conducting a training operation has, such as the increased overhead required to maintain the military people with their qualifications and skills.”

“When the Tutor was retired as a training platform we partnered with Bombardier Military Aviation Training (BMAT) to create the NFTC construct. By centralising a lot of that service support function, they were able to find a lot of efficiencies that the military could not find. The base is pretty much the same and what we actually train the pilots to do hasn’t changed too much. It really is the support construct [that makes the difference].”

“The aircraft are great. I’m flying the [CT-156] Harvard and it’s a great, high-performance airplane, but docile enough so that brand new students can be confident enough in operating it. I only got here last summer, so I haven’t completed the flying instructors course yet, but I hope I can find enough time to get that done. It’s a simple airplane to start, but it’s got some advanced features on it that allows the new concepts that we want to teach pilots.”


Royal Canadian Air Force CT-156 Harvard II


”The [CT-155] Hawk is really well suited as a lead-in fighter [trainer] between the Harvard and our fighter world. It’s got advanced performance in comparison to the Harvard, not as capable obviously as the F-18, and again it’s a good airplane. It serves us well. The Bombardier team does an excellent job providing the resources on a daily basis.”

Apart from Canada, countries to have used the program comprise Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. The nature of NFTC allows countries to train their future pilots without having to acquire (additional) training aircraft themselves or worry about support personnel or aircraft maintenance. They simply pay for the amount of students being trained. A great concept in times of shrinking European defence budgets one would think, but the amount of foreign students has actually decreased over recent years.

“We have definitely seen decreases over the past four, five years as country’s defence budgets shrink. We will have to see if this is going to be a long-term trend or if things turn around as economies hopefully start to expand again. It is hard to say, but we continue on and we deal with those countries on an individual basis to make sure we can provide them the quantity and quality of training they desire.”

“[The program] is expandable, so if a country comes in and we determine that the program needs additional instructor pilots, there is a formula that for every x number of students we need them to provide y number of instructor pilots. Right now, Canada has taken advantage of the fact that there has been a reduction from other countries, by expanding our own pilot throughput. That may last another few years. There is obviously room in the program itself for other countries to come in.”


Royal Canadian Air Force CT-155 Hawk


A full report appeared in several magazines, including in Global Aviator: