Doing the RCAF’s Bidding

Contact Our Team

For more information about how Halldale can add value to your marketing and promotional campaigns or to discuss event exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities, contact our team to find out more


The America's -

Rest of World -


It’s more than 600 kilometres, as the Canadian Goose flies, from Moose Jaw to the nearest major cities of Winnipeg and Calgary, more than 2,500 km from Ottawa, making the vast open spaces of Saskatchewan and Alberta ideal for unhindered flight training. Beth Stevenson visited Moose Jaw on behalf of MS&T to check out NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC), which uses more than 700,000 km2 of airspace.

The NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) was established in 2000 to fulfil the air training needs for both the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and select allied nations. CAE took over management of NFTC at 15 Wing Moose Jaw and 4 Wing Cold Lake from Bombardier in October 2015, since when the contract end date has been extended from 2021 to 2023, with an additional option included for it to continue to 2024. Between 100 and 115 pilots are trained per year.

Ab initio training for all types takes place using a mix of classroom and live training, namely on the CT-156 Harvard turboprop and jet-powered CT-155 Hawk at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, although there are a number of variations to the training depending on the aircraft type that students will end up allocated to.

CAE provides classroom-based ground schooling of 10 weeks, incorporating some online tutoring, which is followed by three weeks of simulated basic flying in a fixed flight training device (FTD), which includes learning the procedures and checklist protocols.

“In general, our contracts are structured so that industry provides most of the infrastructure, if not all; they provide the aircraft, the simulators, the ground-based instruction, aircraft maintenance, facility maintenance, and all the air traffic control at Moose Jaw,” explained Col Denis O’Reilly, commander of 15 Wing Moose Jaw.

The Canadian government provides the flight instruction, however, and there are some 130-135 instructors working in support of NFTC across both locations, supporting CAE in delivering the tutoring.

Under the contract with the Canadian government, NFTC also trains international students at the facilities, having had 15 other nations in addition to Canada train there at some point since the capability was launched, and modifications to the syllabus can be made accordingly to meet the criteria of guest nations.

“The training standard comes from the RCAF, and all of the participating nations have a similar training standard,” said Scott Greenough, director of the NFTC for CAE. “Singapore has a slightly different syllabus to meet their needs, so we can adapt the syllabus specifically to a country, and for the most part, when these guys get their wings, they get Royal Canadian Air Force wings at the end of this.”

Grounding in the Grob

Training begins on the Grob G120A at the Contracted Flying Training and Support (CFTS) facilities at Portage La Prairie in Manitoba under the remit of KF Aerospace (see sidebar, “CFTS Has New FTD, Considering VR, AR”) before students are moved to Moose Jaw to train on the Harvard under NFTC, ahead of being allocated an aircraft type.

They will then carry on with the Harvard at Moose Jaw if they are going to be fighter pilots, before moving on to the Hawk at the same site to gain their wings, ahead of carrying out fighter lead-in training with 419 Squadron at Cold Lake in Alberta.

“The only additional training prior to going into their operational training units is bridge training within the NFTC
programme,” stated O’Reilly. “We download a lot of stuff we’d generally have to do on the Hornet down into the Hawk so that the chance of success when they hit that higher, faster, more aggressive aircraft with more weapon systems to manage is increased. It is great bridging training for them.”

If students are to become rotary-wing pilots they will re-join CFTS and train on the Bell 206/412 after carrying out Harvard training at Moose Jaw. If allocated multi-engine aircraft, they will train on the Beechcraft King Air, also at CFTS.

O’Reilly explained that from there students will end up at an operational training unit for the aircraft they will end up flying. The balance of the different types that the RCAF operates has remained consistent overall, and therefore the training levels and allocation of students to the different types does the same, though the level of capability within each category changes over time.

Getting a Feel with FTDs

Basic skills such as starting the aircraft are covered in the FTD training, which according to Greenough eliminates time being wasted when students get to the live aircraft, as well as saving on fuel.

The students also get a feel for steering the aircraft, and Greenough explained that the students are only getting exposure to 14 hours in the live aircraft at this early stage, so this time has to be utilised well, with 70 minutes spent in the FTD during each training sortie at this phase.

NFTC has two legacy FTDs for the Harvard, and a third that was upgraded and delivered back to the school at the end of November, with the other two set to follow and to be delivered back to restart training by June 2019. This includes a visual upgrade from CAE’s Maxvue to the current Medallion 6000 standard, as well as the inclusion of more traffic patterns into the system, and the introduction of a Sony laser projector.

Additionally, there is one Hawk FTD at Moose Jaw and one at Cold Lake that are also due to be upgraded by the end of 2019 and March 2020, respectively, as all of the devices are the same age, so due a common upgrade.

The ejection seat training at Moose Jaw is an important element of the schooling at NFTC that has dedicated simulated aircraft to practice in, CAE says, in order to ensure that, should a pilot ever have to vacate the aircraft, they do so safely.

Whole-Syllabus Instructors

As the RCAF strives to keep the capability at NFTC relevant, a number of modifications have added layers of innovation to the training, including addressing a notable shortage of pilots within the air force.

“We didn’t throw more money or more energy into this. What we did is do some innovation to increase pilot production,” O’Reilly explained.

For example, the school introduced instructor training development, moving toward providing them the ability to inclusively teach the whole syllabus, but in a phased way.

“If you are [an instructor] on a Harvard, you might be a helicopter pilot, you might be a Herc pilot, and the last time you flew a Harvard you were a student at the time,” he explained. “We need to bring them to a level whereby they can teach the whole syllabus, but it’s a bit of a wasted effort at the beginning when they are not familiar with the aircraft.”

This phased approach to learning the syllabus would provide instructors with the ability to teach the basic parts of the course over the first six months to a year, and then fly with a more senior instructor to learn advanced syllabus manoeuvres, so as to then be qualified to teach them at a later point.

“The overall savings were that we managed to get instructors to the line twice as fast, and we wasted a lot less resource later on trying to introduce advanced manoeuvres to instructors where it was too soon in terms of where they were in their proficiency,” O’Reilly explained.

An additional modification introduced a block training syllabus that NFTC has replicated from an EU-NATO joint training programme in the US, which allows for the training to be monitored throughout the course.

This serves to increase student confidence, and decreases attrition rates for the programme, avoiding long, linear learning in favour of being able to alter any areas that need addressing along the way.

“It allows more focus in the hours, rather than what was a more prescriptive training plan to follow certain training manoeuvres along the syllabus,” O’Reilly noted. “That has allowed us to use the hours more wisely.”

Grob G120A primary flight trainer.
Image credit: CFTS.

Editor’s Note: Two Major Canadian Competitions

The Royal Canadian Air Force wants a new fighter. But that’s several years away, at best, so the Canadian government has begun taking delivery in Cold Lake, Alberta of used Australian F/A18s which are as old as the 1980s vintage RCAF CF18 fleet that needs to be replaced. (A decision slammed by the country’s Auditor General)

The retread Aussie Hornet purchase followed the failed notion to purchase Boeing F/A18E/F Super Hornets, scuttled when the American OEM convinced the US Trump Administration to slap a 300% tariff on Canadian rival Bombardier’s C-Series passenger aircraft.

The current soap opera began when the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau backtracked on the previous Conservative government’s decision to acquire Lockheed Martin F35s. Except Canadians are still paying millions to remain partners in the F35 programme.

In further irony, it was the Chrétien (Liberal) government who had signed on to the F35 programme in 1997, committing an initial $10 million for an invitation to the banquet, Canada has spent close to half a billion; to keep its place at the table since.

The F35 is one of four likely candidates to be bid this May, along with the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, and the Super Hornet, though the latter must contend with a new procurement wrinkle known as “the Boeing clause” – Canada plans to assess a company’s “economic behaviour” leading up to the competition. The RCAF wants 88 new fighters for a budget of CA$16-19 billion (US $12-14B) with contract award in 2021 and first deliveries by 2025.

Meantime, the training community is gearing up for the related Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) project – formerly the Future Pilot Training System – another on-again, off-again, for the moment on procurement. In December, winnowing expressed interest from 84 companies, a shortlist of qualified suppliers was published:

  • Airbus Defence and Space
  • Babcock Canada
  • BAE Systems
  • Leonardo Canada
  • Lockheed Martin Canada
  • SkyAlyne Canada Limited Partnership

FAcT will encompass NATO Flying and Training in Canada (NFTC), currently provided by CAE in a contract that expires in 2023; Contracted Flying Training and Support (CFTS), provided by Allied Wings, expiring in 2027; and training for air combat systems officers and airborne electronic sensor operators presently performed in-house by the RCAF in Winnipeg.

CAE and KF Aerospace (part of Allied Wings), have formed the SkyAlyne Canada joint venture to pursue the FAcT contract. Lockheed Martin Canada has teamed with L3 MAS, an in-service support integrator for the RCAF. – Rick Adams

CFTS Has New FTD, Considering VR, AR

At Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, about an hour’s drive west of Winnipeg, KF Aerospace operates the Contracted Flying Training and Support (CFTS) training centre under a 22-year deal that started in 2005. KF’s “Allied Wings” partners include Bluedrop (formerly Atlantis), Canadian Helicopters, and Canadian Base Operators.

CFTS encompasses ground school, simulation and in-aircraft primary flight training (the selection phase for all Canadian pilot candidates), basic training for multi-engine and helicopter (advanced clearhood, instrument, formation, navigation, night) and advanced multi-engine and helicopter training.

Last year, KF took delivery of a $6.5 million Level 7 flight training device (FTD) for the Bell 206 from Frasca International. The FTD incorporates a 220-degree field-of-view visual display, and six degrees of freedom (6-DoF) cueing and vibration systems, as well as SimAssist software which provides automatic instructor assistance during the early phases of helicopter training.

Peter Fedak, now KF’s site manager for the CFTS, got the go-ahead to find a suitable simulator when he was LCol Fedak and commandant of the flight school from 2012-14. His scouts found what Frasca now calls the HTD. “We sent two students [to Illinois]. They’d never flown helicopters before, and they did two weeks of pure basic simulator training. When they came back, after two trips in the helicopter they were good for solo.”

Fedak said CFTS would like to bring in virtual reality or augmented reality training capabilities. “But the Air Force really has to embrace it as well,” he said. VR and AR are “truly a way to go for the future to maximize the learning time of the student. Not necessarily taking away flying hours but how can you augment so that the hours you do in the aircraft are truly used for their full potential.”

Fedak does not think the training programmes necessarily hinge on the choice of Canada’s new fighter aircraft. “It's just another example of advanced technology. The CH148 Cyclone is very advanced. The foxtrot model Chinook that we operate is incredibly advanced. The C17J model Herc. The new fixed-wing search-and-rescue project, the C295 from Airbus. You look at the cockpits of those aircraft and you don't have to wait for a future fighter to realize you need advanced training to be prepared for those aircraft. Your training program has a lifespan that's going to potentially outlast some of your operational platforms.”

Originally published in Issue 1, 2019 of MS&T Magazine.


More events

Related articles

More Features

More features