News articles

Skip to content

RAF students fly solo at NATO flying training school

Two students have become the first RAF pilots to fly solo at the International Flight Training School (IFTS) in Italy.

T-346 aircraft taxiing in Italy

Having graduated from basic flying training on the Texan T1 aircraft under the United Kingdom Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS) earlier this year, the two pilots have started their Lead In Fighter Training (LIFT) at the ITFS in Decimomannu, Sardinia.

T-346 aircraft taking off

Launched in 2020, the NATO Flight Training Europe (NFTE) High Visibility Project is a multinational initiative to link up and coordinate military flying training resources across member states. The UK joined NFTE at the NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels on 11 October 2023 when the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps, signed an amendment to an existing Memorandum of Understanding.

“Access to alternate flying training systems across Europe, which NFTE membership gives us, not only enables us to address periodic fluctuations in demand but also delivers the flexibility for us to increase our support to NATO.
Crucially this will deliver greater resilience to the RAF frontline, UK defence, and all of our NATO partners. It is essential that we work together to get the very best out of the assets we have.”

Air Commodore Sharrocks
Head of UK Military Flying Training

The IFTS training is a joint enterprise between the Italian Air Force, Leonardo and CAE utilising the twin engine Aermacchi T-346 Master aircraft. Following their first solo flights on the T-346 the first two trainees have now progressed to flying air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training sorties.

On successful completion of the course in May 2024 the trainees will be posted to the Typhoon or Lightning front line Operational Conversion Units. A total of 12 RAF pilots will train over a three year period.

T-346 aircraft in their hangars

Becoming a participant in NFTE will balance out demand across NATO, increase efficiency of training systems, and deliver costs savings. Membership will also bolster opportunities for NATO partners to train in the UK when spare capacity allows.

Training overseas is however, nothing new for RAF pilots; for a number of years students have trained at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Programme in Texas.