Training the Fighter Pilots of Tomorrow
Flying a fighter aircraft like Gripen is a dream for many pilots. But behind the realisation of this dream is an intense training process that encompasses everything from preparing the body for challenging scenarios to understanding the fighter inside out. In action are trainers with decades of flying experience, simulators that create realistic battle scenarios, and a process that keeps expanding to include new trends in defence technology.
"The intensive training is there for a reason. These pilots are responsible for flying an advanced fighter that has been integrated with the latest technologies. Once Gripen is released for operational deployment, the pilots need to be at the ready 24X7. Upon being alerted, the Gripen pilots have to be up in the air within 15 minutes, even if it is midnight. The training prepares the pilots for that," says Mats Palmberg, Head of Gripen India Campaign.
Saab recently released a video on the training of the operational pilots at the Gripen Center, F7 Wing in Sweden. The video takes its viewers through a typical training day for the Brazilian Air Force, from morning briefings to simulator sessions and actual flights.
The entire training program of Gripen pilots is divided in several parts. First, the pilots undergo the centrifuge training, water survival training, and hypoxia symptom recognition training (to survive oxygen deficiency) at the Qinetics Physiological Flight Center in Malmslätt, Linköping. This part of the training is important because it physically prepares the pilots to handle Gripen.
Then begins the theoretical training with experts where the pilots understand the fighter systems, its parts etc. Next, the pilots undergo several sessions in the Gripen simulator which creates authentic environments and challenges. Pilots training in a Gripen simulator train both individually and in groups, even acting against other aircraft. The major part of the training, namely the conversion training consists of 50 sorties taken over a period of 11 weeks, and the combat readiness training has 25 sorties which take 8-9 weeks to fulfil.
“We don’t just take the pilots to Sweden to acquaint them with Gripen development process, we introduce them to our ways of working. There is a cultural shift involved. This is the beginning of a process that ends with these pilots leading the Gripen programme in their country,” Mats says.
By the time the 36 Gripen fighters are delivered to the Brazilian Air Force by 2024, about 350 Brazilian professionals would have experienced an immersion process that would add new dimensions to their professional lives.
“Much like Brazil, where Saab has already trained more than 200 Brazilian professionals on Gripen development, manufacturing, and operations, Saab proposes to take Indian professionals on a complete training program as a part of its Gripen package. If Indian chooses Gripen, Saab will train the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots in a similar process,” Mats says.