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AFM February: Cold Lake – where fighter pilots are made

Photo: The area north of Cold Lake is very scarcely populated, making it ideal for all types of air-to-air and air-to-ground training. Serial 155219 leading this two-ship formation is one of the 22 CT-155s ordered; a first batch of 20 was delivered between July 2000 and August 2001, followed by a further two in August 2004. Dirk Jan de Ridder


The NATO Flying Training in Canada programme was launched in 2000 and 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron became responsible for Phase IV training – the last step before the cockpit of a frontline fighter. Dirk Jan de Ridder investigates the unit in the February issue of AFM.

Lieutenant Colonel (LCol) Colin ‘Moose’ Marks is the first 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron commanding officer (CO) to have originally been trained on the Hawk as part of NFTC’s fighter lead-in training (FLIT) programme. He explained what students get to do during their short time with the squadron: “The syllabus is a building-block approach. There is two to three weeks of ground school training and then they go right into dogfighting. We start with the basics, 1-v-1 basic fighter manoeuvres and then into 2-v-1. After that we move into the ACT [advanced combat tactics] phase and, once that’s complete, the air-to-ground phase where they’ll do an academic bombing pattern. After that, we put it all together and they will do a self-escort strike phase. They take themselves out to the combat training area, push out on time, fight their way in, drop bombs and fight their way out, followed by a thorough debrief where the instructors reconstruct the mission and highlight all of the critical lessons learned.”

A couple more switches to turn and this Canadian student will be ready to go. The Hawk’s cockpit becomes considerably more cramped once pilots don their exposure suits for winter flying. Dirk Jan de Ridder

With some 2,300 hours on the Hornet, both at CFB Bagotville and Cold Lake as well as with the US Navy on the ‘legacy’ and Super Hornet, the CO knows exactly what his students need. And the requirement has changed a lot since he was a student: “The syllabus has gotten better over the last 15 years. When I went through as a FLIT student, we never used to do close air support at all. Now we have a robust close air support phase to help us better support our ground forces engaged in the land battle below. We did do self-escort strike, but at that time we didn’t do time-sensitive targeting or dynamic targeting. These are all things that you’re doing every day in the modern battlespace, so the training has changed to reflect what is being done [in the] real world. That is very exciting. A lot of the comms and the tactics have changed to reflect what is really going on. It’s a building-block approach, yes, but we are as close to the front line as you can possibly be, but still giving them the developmental learning, entry-level examples, and increasing the intensity from there.”

Beyond the Hawk

The training command is keeping a close eye on Canada’s future fighter project. Despite remaining an industrial partner in the F-35 programme, Canada cancelled its 65-aircraft order in November 2015, following a change of government. A new competition now includes the F-35, Gripen, Super Hornet and Typhoon. LCol Marks believes that a new jet is probably needed to train future pilots in the best possible way. He said: “The two projects are linked together. Wherever the government wants to go with the future fighter, the training command will take that as the lead and we will change our training to best suit whatever aircraft they buy. Whether we will buy our own future fighter lead-in trainer to replace the Hawk or whether we participate in an allied pilot training centre, there are a lot of options.” In 2017, the RCAF extended the NFTC contract with Canadian training services supplier CAE until at least 2023, with an option to extend it for an additional year. This will reportedly allow the government the time necessary to determine its future pilot training requirements.

The full article appears in the February issue of AFM, available in the shops, from our online store and as an app.

The squadron maintains a ‘1,000ft bubble’ training rule, meaning that students will fail that specific sortie if they consistently get any closer than 1,000ft to another aircraft. Dirk Jan de Ridder


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