By Stefano D’urso
The first Leonardo M-346 Master advanced jet trainer for Greece flew for the first time with full Hellenic Air Force markings, from Leonardo’s plant in Venegono. Aviation photographer Tiziano Capenti captured the aircraft as it was returning from the test flight and kindly shared the photo with us.
The aircraft performed its first test flight in primer paint in late January, but it has now received a standard low-visibility livery with the HAF roundel on the fuselage and the Greek flag on the tail, accompanied by the tail number 250. The aircraft sports the Italian experimental serial CSX55277. Also, the outer leading-edge slats are painted in a high-visibility blue color.
As we reported in 2021, Greece is creating a joint international school with Israel at Kalamata Air Base, home of the 120th Air Training Wing. Elbit Systems has been selected for the creation of the school and will be in charge of the supply and operation of ten M-346 trainers, as well as the maintenance of the HAF T-6 Texan II fleet.
According to Greek media outlets, works are proceeding rapidly, with the construction of the first training building soon to be completed and the new logistics center and support for the T-6 trainer aircraft already operating. New soft shelters have also been built to host the M-346 fleet.
The goal of the project is to model the flight school at Kalamata after the Israeli Air Force’s flight academy, which is heavily supported by Elbit and uses the T-6 and the M-346, while also allowing other countries to send their pilots to be trained in Greece. The contract amounts to € 1.375 billion over 22 years, with the ability to provide more than 3,500 flight hours annually with the M-346 and an unspecified number with the T-6.
The HAF has been working for a total renovation of the training as new advanced aircraft like the F-16 Block 70/72, the Rafale and the F-35 join the fighter fleet, and thus replacing the obsolete T-2E Buckeye (of which 40 were bought and less than 10 are still operational) and restoring the T-6A Texan II (45 bought but with limited availability because the lack of support).
A timeline for the contract has not been disclosed yet, however the support for the T-2E is set to end in 2023, so it is likely that the new flight school aims to begin operations with the new M-346 by that timeframe. Greek medias reported that the T-2 will be replaced through the leasing of new aircraft, so it is possible that the new Masters will be owned and operated by Elbit instead of the HAF, although they will wear the national insignia.