The modernization program for the SF-260TP is built around a two-screen glass cockpit and an infrared enhanced vision system, something not typically found in trainer aircraft. (Alenia Aermacchi)
LONDON — One of the most venerable training aircraft in air forces worldwide is getting a new lease on life as Alenia Aermacchi undertakes a major modernization of its SF-260TP primary and basic trainer.
The company will update the SF-260TP — the latest iteration of an aircraft first flown almost a half-century ago — with a glass cockpit, infrared vision system and improved ancillary equipment.
The updated version is in the final stages of testing at Alenia Aermacchi’s Venegono plant, north of Milan, with demonstrations already underway to several potential customers, the company said.
The glass cockpit centers around two Avidyne 6-by-8-inch LCD screens plus a control display unit. It is designed to offer trainees early familiarity with the increasingly advanced cockpits found in the later stages of the flight training curriculum.
It also allows the trainee to manage a wider range of information than presented by traditional analog instruments.
The LCD screens provide multiple capabilities and can present primary flight data, a digital moving map, a flight management system and an aircraft checklist display.
The included infrared enhanced vision system (EVS) is unusual on a primary trainer, and requires an infrared television camera installed on the underside of the starboard wing. This is designed to give pilots better visibility at night and in adverse weather conditions.
Alenia Aermacchi spokeswoman Barbara Buzio said it was particularly aimed at enhancing safety for inexperienced students, increasing visibility by a factor of 10 in marginal visual flight rules conditions as well as providing visibility in darkness and high atmospheric dust levels. The EVS operates autonomously, reducing pilot workload.
In addition to the new cockpit digital avionics and the EVS, a modern air conditioning system is also being integrated on the aircraft.
The single-engine aircraft, which first flew in 1964 and was marketed as the SIAI Marchetti SF-260 before being bought by Aermacchi in 1997, has sold some 900 examples and is still in service with around 20 air arms.
Alenia Aermacchi says market interest in the SF-260TP remains high, and that an undisclosed air force recently ordered 12 more.
Part of the reason behind the type’s popularity among air forces is that it can be used for weapons training or even light attack duties as well as primary training. Variants of the basic design can carry a 300kg (661lb) payload on a hardpoint under each wing, typically consisting of a small rocket pod or podded machine gun.
It has seen combat service in several countries, notably in Sri Lanka against the Tamil Tigers and in the former Rhodesia in the late 1970s, when some 30 SF-260s were smuggled into the African nation by its separatist white government then fighting black African guerrilla forces.