In 1970 Hellenic Air Force estabilished a dedicated training Wing at Kalamata air base, in south of Peloponnese, and until now this unit continues to provide flight and ground training for new crews. The beginning of the effort to produce new fighter pilots began with the T-33A, and in 1976 it has been replaced by the T-2E Buckeye.
Kalamata is home of 120 Training Wing, structurated on 361, 362, 363 and 364 Air Training Squadron (MEA Mira Ekpetheusis Aeros), and by the SSTS Sea Survival training School. 361 and 364 Mira use the T-6 Texan, since 2001, while 362 and 363 Mira operate the T-2E for their missions.
The trainig for the young Hellenic pilot is divided in four phases:
- Basic flight training at the Hellenic Flight Academy in Tatoi.
- Ground school and contact training with the T-6
- Ground school and contact training with T-2E
- Air-to-ground training.
120 TW is responsable from phase 2 of the training.
Young pilots arrive to 361 ore 364 Squadron and start their path. Lt. Col. George Tzelepis, Commander of 361 Squadron tells “Here the young pilots flying the T-6 cover the initial and basic stages and employ both computer-based training systems and hands-on flying. This stage takes around 120 flight hours, where students learn flight procedures, maneuvers, aicraft systems handling, standardization, adherence to flight safety rules and decision-making, increasing the ability and skill of flight and the safety procedures”. The students have access to the flight simulators at Kalamata.
Once the phase 2 is acomplished, the students who passes that phase move to phase 3 and 4, geared toward the advanced and operational aspects respectively. This means to fly with another type, the T-2E Buckeye. Here the training is split into ground- and air- based elements involving flight simulators, computer-based training systems and hands-on flight hours in the aircraft.
The whole process takes around 100 hours. Lt. Col. Vergos Angelis, Instructor of 362 Squadron, explains that “in phase 3 the pilots are separated in the group who will become transporter or helicopter pilots and who will become a fighter jet pilot. The group that will produce fighter jet pilot, start to familiarize with the aircraft, learning how to handle it, and later after few flight hours, thay learn to fly in formation, IFR flight in medium and low altitude. The phase 4 includes the training for air-to-air mission and air -to-ground mission, such as interception, dog fight, CAS, attack several targets and avoid ground defense systems.”
Depending by the results of single pilot, later they are assigned to the entire flight lane of Hellenic Air Force. Pilots who achived the best score, will move to the fighter jets Squadrons, F-16 C/D Fighting Falcon, Mirage 2000 or F-4E Phantom. Pilots assigned to fighter jest stays in Kalamata around others 60 flight hours, in phase 4, training in advanced weaponary and combat flying, including air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, plus 15 simulator missions.
Actually, in 120 TW there are 22 instructors, three of them from Italian air force and 15 students, five of them from Italian air Force. Co-operation with Aeronautica Militare (Italian air force) began in August 2009 and comes in the form of a long-term reciprocal arrangement that benefits both parts. In this scenario, Hellenic and Italian instructors and young pilots can share experiences and tactics.
In 120 TW there are two mainteinance Units responsable of the efficency of T-6 and T-2E. The mainteinance sections carry out the majority of tasks, including engine mainteinance. Additional airframes and spare parts for T-2s have been obteined by US Navy after the retirement of T-2C from american service in 2015. Some of the advantages of the Buckeye is to be robust and easily mainteinable and easy access to the engine.
During its career in HAF, seven T-2 were involved in accidents. In 2018 two aircraft were lost, with the lost of one pilot. It is assumed that currently only five aircraft are operational and the 10 aircraft received from US Navy are mainly used as source of spare parts.
The future of the air trainig in Greece is still not certain. The most possible jet that can replace the T-2E is rapresented by the Leonardo M 346, but the limitations by financial challenges will play the most important role, and until the last moment, the T-2E will continue to provide the platform for the new Hellenic fighter pilots.
Aknowledgments: Col. Petros “Caiman” Doualptsis; Lt. Col. Konstadinos Gkoumatsis; Lt. Col. Emmanouil Kampanarakis
Article and images: Andrea Avian