NARRATIVE BY CHRIS W. BALMER & IMAGES BY CHRIS W. BALMER AND MARK ROURKE
The Texans and Buckeyes of Kalamata.
Pixelsnipers recently had the opportunity to visit the 120 Training Wing at Kalamata in Greece, and spent a few days on base to find out more about them, their mission, and the Texan and Buckeye platforms they use on a daily basis.
The Hellenic Air Force (HAF) have a dedicated training wing based at Kalamata Air Base (AB) that was established in 1970 and provides training to pilots undertaking flight and ground training. When the training facility was started in 1970, the aircraft of choice was the Lockheed T-33A, but within a year this was augmented with the T-37C which was used until the introduction of the T-6A Texan II in 2002. The T-33’s were replaced by the T-2 Buckeye in 1976, and are still in use today.
The wing comprises 5 training squadrons which include 361, 362, 363, 364 Mira Expedefsesos Aero (MEA) and the Sea Survival Training School(SSTS) – each squadron undertakes different type of training utilising a mixture of aircraft. The T-6A Texan II is used by 361 & 364 MEA, whilst the T-2 Buckeye is operated by 362 & 363 MEA. These squadrons are all encompassed under the umbrella of 120 Pteriga Ekpedefsesos Aeros (PEA).
The training of the HAF flightcrew consists of 4 stages:
1. Phase 1 – Basic flight training at the Hellenic Flight Academy
2. Phase 2 – Ground school and contact training with the T-6A
3. Phase 3 – Ground school and contact training with the T2
4. Phase 4 – Air to ground training
Student pilots begin their careers at Tatoi-Dekelia to determine whether they have the aptitudes for flying, and if successful , move onto the 120 PEA at Kalamata.
Upon arrival at Kalamata they are assigned to either the 361 or 364 MEA squadrons flying the T-6A Texan II for phase 2 of their training. This phase covers the initial and basic stages which consist of the use of computer based training systems and air training devices. The initial stage in flying terms comprises roughly 50 hours(46 with an instructor), and the basic stage covering 75 hours(58 are with an instructor).
The initial stage covers the topics of flight procedures, manoeuvres, aircraft systems handling, standardisation, adherence to flight safety rules and decision making. The basic stage advances the students and covers the enhancement of all skill learned in the initial stage as well as the promotion of team work, leadership abilities, and situational awareness. The students have access to flight simulators at Kalamata as well as the computer based training systems in order to further their skills without having to take to the air.
Once the phase 2 training has been completed the students move onto phase 3 and 4 which is geared towards the advanced and operational aspects respectively. This is achieved with a change of aerial platform in the form of the T2 Buckeyes of the 362 or 363 MEA squadrons. Again the training is split into elements of ground and air based training involving flight simulators, computer based training systems, and hands on flight time in an aircraft. The whole process consists of roughly 20 hours for the ground training, and 80 hours in the air, again with the majority of this being with an instructor. Advanced principles and instruction on the elements learned in phase 2 are applied culminating in a process whereby trainees are selected for service within different areas of the HAF. It is at this point that the in depth training for other functions such as multi engine transport aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters, or fast jets begins.
The HAF currently uses a variety of aerial platforms with a multitude of roles which include the following:
Combat aircraft – F-16 Falcon, Mirage 2000, and F-4 Phantom
Maritime Patrol/AEW aircraft – Embraer R-99
Transport aircraft – C130 Hercules, C-27J Spartan, ERJ135/145LR, Gulfstream G500
Firefighting/Observation – Canadair CL-215, Bombardier 415, PZL M18B
Helicopters – Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma, Agusta-Bell AB205 & AB212
For the trainees who are selected for the fast jet types, they undertake roughly another 60 hours of training in phase 4 that includes advanced weaponry and combat flying.
During the visit to Kalamata in September 2015, there were 22 instructor pilots(3 of which are from the Italian Air Force) and 15 students (5 of which are from the Italian Air force) for the duration of these training phases, so the balance between instructor and student is evenly balanced. For reference the co-operation with the IAF started in August 2009, so this is a long term reciprocal arrnagement that benefits both air forces. A major push in the training programme for the HAF includes English language implementation and the training of new instructors. These 2 topics are being concentrated on to enhance the training package, and are what the HAF feel is vital in order to provide a more rounded training package.
As well as the pilot training facilities at Kalamata, there are 2 well equipped maintenance units that look after the technical needs of the T-6A and T-2 aircraft. The maintenance sections carry out most elements of maintenance for the aircraft going as deep as engine maintenance for the T-2 fleet. Some aspects require work to be carried out in other areas of the HAF, but the majority is undertaken directly at Kalamata. With the recent retirement of the three T-2 Buckyes from the US Navy, the HAF is the sole operator in the world of this aircraft type, so the HAF have built and maintained excellent relationships with the US Navy who were the largest user of the type, and have an obvious inventory of spares that can be used for the HAF fleet. All T6 Texan II maintenance training is initially provided by Beechcraft for the HAF who in turn have built up a large number of qualified/certified staff for the type’s maintenance.
The base at Kalamata shares a runway with the civil airport facilities that are located on the other side of the runway, so military flying is broken into two shifts – one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. The morning shift tends to operate between 0700 and 1300 with the afternoon shift working between 1400 and 2100. Kalamata is unique in Greece in that it allows flying from sunrise to sunset – something that is not seen on any other HAF facility.
Aside from the training provided by the T-6A Texan, this aircraft is also used by the “Daedalus” Demo Team. The display team was started in 2005 in order to participate in the Greek Archangel Airshow as it’s first public outing. Training for display purposes was provided by several members of the USAF at Kalamata in a short period between July 26th and August 16th, with the first display taking place on September 18th 2005. Lt Col Socratis Serves told us that the team consists of a close knit group that includes the demonstration pilot, flight & ground safety officer, a narrator, and support/maintenance crew. The team has worked together for a number of years and thus have strong relationships and understandings between themselves allowing for very professional displays to be provided. Until recently the team had only ever displayed in Greece, but they attended the Malta Airshow in September 2015 which was received with excitement and appreciation by the airshow attendees.
Also on base at the time were 3 PZL (Mielec) M-18B “Dromader” aircraft that are used by the HAF for firefighting and observation duties. These aircraft are normally based at Elefsis, but tend to move around the HAF bases for training purposes. In this occasion they were practicing waterbombing on the runway.
A lone instance of a Bell 205 from the HAF SSTS was also sharing ramp space with the M-18Bs. The SSTS was originally established at the 111 Combat Wing as a training center of sea survival in order to provide the HAF’s pilots with training in sea survival. In 1993 the school moved and became part of the 120 Air Training Wing at Kalamata.
Both T-2 and T-6 communities at Kalamata are highly motivated and high in morale, despite Greece’s recent fiscal worries. The professionalism shown is very evident to any outside observer. The T-2 engineers, for example, have a special bond with the aircraft after many years of service, with a very extensive knowledge gained through operating the aircraft since 1976. Though it’s likely the aircraft will be replaced by aircraft such as the Aermacchi M-346 in the near future, with the monetary challenges that lie ahead it’s conceivable the Buckeye will be gracing the Greek skies for a few years yet.
Our thanks go to the following people for their assistance and guidance in the writing of this article:
Caroline Makropoulos (FCO, British Embassy, Athens, Colonel Panagiotis Ntardas, Ops & Training Director of 120TW, Lt Col Socrates Serves,364 MEA Commander, Major Dimitrios Manoliodakis, Major Ioannis Kitsios, and the Security Staff at Kalamata AB.