Kym Bergmann / Canberra and Tamworth
A clear blue sky, an azure swimming pool, gym, the gentle buzz of light aircraft arriving and departing, everything neat and clean, attentive smiling staff. Could APDR have been transported to a resort for the ultra-rich in the Seychelles or perhaps near Bora Bora? In our dreams. In fact the location is the Tamworth Flying School – operated by BAE Systems – and while it is not actually a tropical paradise it is in fact very pleasant.
Flying training started taking place at Tamworth during the Second World War, partly because of the town’s exceptionally good weather and surrounding gentle terrain – as we observed on a BAE Systems flight from Newcastle. The aircraft was piloted by the exceptionally calm AVM John Quaife (retired) – himself a former air combat instructor and acknowledged subject matter expert in the field of training. He is now the BAE Systems General Manager Aviation Solutions and he leads a section of the company that has strong prospects for further growth.
The school itself is very busy and the company is making a number of changes to it as a consequence of winning an extension to its Basic Flight Training contract in May this year. With a value of $86 million over the next six years – with the possibility of six one year extensions after that – the contract will see BAE Systems provide basic flight training for up to 167 ADF candidates per year. In addition, the company has separately won work with the air forces of Singapore, Brunei and Papua New Guinea.
The most prolific aircraft in use is the venerable CT-4, which is being upgraded on base to meet contemporary crash worthiness requirements. At the moment the company operates 27 of these aircraft with a further 3 to enter service shortly and despite being of different ages all will have exactly the same configuration. In a small and modern facility, the company is able to perform a complete range of engineering tasks, up to and including the rebuilding of the aircraft’s engines – resulting in considerable savings. Bucking the trend of outsourcing work, the company has found that for a number of reasons – principally the management of quality control – it is better off keeping things in house.
Tamworth Airport is a busy regional centre and to ensure that flying can take place as scheduled in the nearby training area the company uses a second parallel runway. Trainee pilots can also use a second airfield, some 30 kilometers away, which remains unmanned except during exercises. During the visit about 10 CT-4s were flying at any one time and according to tour guide and former South African Air Force Pilot Pierre Steyn this was a quiet day – sometimes all of the school’s aircraft are aloft at the same time so that trainees gain experience as quickly as can reasonably be managed.
After an initial screening process managed by the Pilot Selection Agency at Tamworth to determine whether or not applicants are suitable for flight training the successful candidates then become the responsibility of the Basic Flying Training School (BFTS). BAE Systems provide instructors as do the ADF who share the Flight Screening and Basic Flying training instructional duties. The Flight Screening Candidates then go through a further set of tests involving actual flying for 15 hours divided across ten sorties of which two are assessment rides and simulation work. This process takes around 12 days. Those who are successful then get paneled to attend a Basic Flying Training course no matter whether they plan careers in the Air Force, Army or Navy they all spend the 25 weeks in intensive training made up of 63 hours of flying in CT-4s as well as a great deal of classroom work. The course is a Monday-to-Friday business, though many weekends are spent on study. After completing the basic course, Air Force and Navy pilots move to Pearce in Western Australia to continue advanced flying training on PC-9s, The Army students attend an additional Intermediate Pilot Course, in Tamworth, flying 38.8 hours before they are off to Oakey in Queensland to begin flying helicopters.
The standard of accommodation on base is good, with students having their own small and comfortable room with ensuite and balcony. There are seven separate dormitories and everything is in easy walking distance. The gym is being further upgraded under the Interim contract and if the lunch we experienced is anything to go by the catering is excellent – especially the rum & raisin ice cream. The base is in the process of receiving military standard security fencing – presumably deemed a necessity by Defence in case the local cows stampede or if the crowd at the annual Tamworth country music festival runs amok.
During the visit, John Quaife used the opportunity to discuss the AIR 5428 Fixed Wing Pilot Training project and dispel some myths about the position of BAE Systems. The company has teamed with Raytheon and they will offer the T-6C ‘Texan’ as a replacement for the PC-9. It has been widely assumed that the offer will also include the CT-4, but Quaife says this will depend entirely on the content of the RFT. Similarly, he says that while he personally believes that Tamworth should continue as a training centre, if Defence takes a different view then the bid will be structured to reflect that.