120 Pteriga Ekpedefseos Aeros (120 PEA, or 120 Air Training Wing) of the Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia (Hellenic Air Force, or HAF) is located on the western side of the joint military/civilian airport at Kalamata, in the Peloponnese region of Greece. It currently houses the Rockwell T-2C/E Buckeyes and Beechcraft T-6A Texan II trainers of Hellenic Air Force Training Command. Jetwash Aviation Photos had the honour of spending a couple of days with the unit to see how the four squadrons at this busy air base provide the training syllabus for Greece's future pilots.
This T-6A is about to land on Kalamata's Runway 35 after a morning training mission on September 15, 2014
T-6NTA Texan II with the Kalamata tower in the background
#160074 departs Kalamata in typically clear blue skies
An Instructor Pilot looks on from the rear seat as his student guide's his T-6 towards the runway at Kalamata
120 PEA was initially formed in 1970 flying the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star, with the Cessna T-37C aircraft transferring to Kalamata in 1971. The Rockwell T-2E Buckeyes were introduced into Hellenic Air Force service from February 1976 to replace the last remaining Lockheed T-33A Shooting Stars, with a further five ex-US Navy T-2C aircraft being purchased in 2001 as attrition replacements. In 1985 the HAF purchased a further 18 ex-Jordanian Air Force and United States Air Force Cessna T-37B models to supplement the existing T-37C fleet and these provided valuable service until they were withdrawn in 2002, when they were replaced by 45 new Beechcraft T-6A Texan IIs, which entered service between July 2000 and May 2003.
The current Director of Operations & Training at Kalamata air base is Colonel Alexandros Kefalas, who took over the role from Colonel Petros Doulaptsis in June of this year. Colonel Kefalas joined the Hellenic Air Force in 1983 and after completing his basic training on the T-41, T-37 and T-2, he joined 117 Combat Wing at Andravida, where he flew some 500 hours on the McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantom II. He later became an Instructor Pilot (IP) on both the Cessna T-37 and the Rockwell T-2 Buckeye, whilst also graduating the Hellenic National Defence College.
Prior to introduction of the Rockwell T-2E Buckeye, the Cessna T-37 provided HAF students with their first taste of jet powered aircraft
Colonel Kefalas (Operations & Training Director at Kalamata) gets Danaos into the air
#160084 was painted to celebrate 40 years of 363 MEA and sport's the unit's 'Danaos' emblem on the vertical fin
Danaos was a mythological ancient Greek linked to the Peloponnese area in which Kalamata resides
The crew of this T-2 Buckeye go through their final cockpit checks prior to engine start
This T-6 has just made the long taxi from the 361/364 MEA ramps at the north part of the base
We would like to thank the following people for their help in making this article:-
Brig Gen Grigoris Dimakogiannis (Commander, 120 PEA)
Col Alexandros Kefalas (120 PEA Director Operations & Training)
Col Alexandros Marinos (HAF Spokesman)
Brig Gen Lambrakis Dimitriou (HAF Chief's of Staff Office)
Caroline Makropoulos (FCO, British Embassy, Athens)
Flight operations at Kalamata are conducted Monday to Friday, being split into two shifts per day. Flight operations generally commence with ground crews 'clocking on' at 05.30 each day to prepare the aircraft for their sorties, which are scheduled to start at 07.30 and continue on until around 13.00. The second shift sees the maintenance crews arrive at 13.30, with aircraft sorties continuing on until late into the evening, sometimes until 21.00. The only exception to this generally is that no sorties are flown on a Friday afternoon, flight operations ceasing after the morning sorties, with the rest of the day being spent conducting essential maintenance on the two aircraft fleets.
Major Kapogiannis puts his T-6 through its paces above Kalamata Air Base
The remaining student pilots then move on to complete their weapons training (it is also at this stage that some students move to Lecce, Italy to complete their training) before they join a frontline unit flying either the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, Dassault Mirage 2000 or Lockheed-Martin F-16, where they undergo a type conversion course. Phase 4 incorporates 60 sorties and 60 hours, involving both air to air and air to ground training. 362 MEA's current training course has 12 IPs and 19 students, with 363 MEA again having a similar number of personnel on strength. (The image left shows a Phase 3 Class undergoing some classroom instruction in the 362 MEA squadron building)
The Rockwell T-2E Buckeye is a tandem, two-seat trainer that entered service with the Hellenic Air Force back in 1976 and is a variant of the earlier T-2C that was then in service with the US Navy. Looking at the T-2, it clearly shows its naval origins by way of the large arrestor-hook below the rear fuselage. Powered by two General-Electric J85-GE-4A non-afterburning turbo-jets, each providing 2,950lbs of thrust, the aircraft was already of some 'vintage' when the HAF took it onto their inventory (the original T-2A model had entered service with the US Navy in 1959). Used as an advanced trainer by the HAF, the T-2E has no built-in weapons, but is capable of carrying practice bombs and rocket or cannon pods on its underwing hard-points. This provides the trainee pilots with an opportunity to hone their air to ground skills before being assigned to a frontline fighter wing.
Aside from the large numbers operated by the United States Navy, the Rockwell T-2 Buckeye has seen limited service around the globe. A small number of aircraft served with the Venezuelan Air Force, with the only other operator and by far the largest outside of the US being the Hellenic Air Force. Currently, other than three aircraft still in use at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland as 'Chase' planes with the US Navy, the Hellenic Air Force T-2s are the only ones that remain in active service.
A T-6NTA Texan II departs Kalamata for a late morning mission on September 15, 2014
Since 2008 the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI, or Italian Air Force) have been sending a small number of pilots to train on the Beechcraft T-6 at Kalamata alongside the Greek students of 364 MEA, under what is known as the RAMI course. By a reciprocal arrangement, some of the HAF students complete their training at Lecce with 212º Gruppo/61º Stormo. The students are selected for participation in the ten month RAMI course by performance evaluation, their language skills and their experiences gained to date. Once they enter the RAMI course they then benefit from sharing experiences and technical skills with their foreign counterparts, thus providing them with an even more comprehensive training programme. One of the main benefits for the HAF students is that they have an opportunity to fly the AMI's Aermacchi MB.339CD trainer, a far more modern aircraft than the T-2 Buckeye and much more suited to transition to the frontline F-16 or Mirage 2000 fighters that many HAF pilots eventually fly. Since commencement of the exchange programme at Kalamata there have been five Italian Air Force classes at Kalamata, which a total of 34 AMI students have completed.
In front of the 361 MEA squadron building, this T-6NTA sits under one of the 15 newly constructed sun sheds at Kalamata
Major Kapogiannis of Team Daedalus taxi's out at Kalamata for a practice display
One of the busy T-2 flightlines at Kalamata, with the Taygetus mountain range in the background
#026 gets its final post flight checks on the T-6 flightline at Kalamata
#160086 inside one of the maintenance hangars at Kalamata
The T-6 Texans of 120 Air Training Wing are flown by 361 MEA and 364 MEA
Of note on #160068 are the red wheels, clearly cannibalised from one of the stored ex-US Navy T-2s at Kalamata
A number of ex-US Navy aircraft were purchased to provide a flow of spare parts for the ageing Buckeye fleet
Operating alongside the training units at Kalamata is the Hellenic Air Force's 'Daedalus' demo team flying the T-6 Texan II. The Daedalus Team was established in 2005 with the intention of it performing at the first 'Archangel' airshow at Tanagra on September 18, 2005. With help from the United States Air Force (USAF), two USAF instructors were sent to Kalamata to commence the training of five 120 PEA instructor pilots from 361 MEA, with two finally being chosen to represent the HAF. The two IPs chosen were Major Nikolaos Christopoulos and Major Nikolaos Malapanis. Two pilots currently make up Team Daedalus, Capt Leonidas Dimitriou and Maj Anastasios Kapogiannis. Whilst at Kalamata, we had the pleasure of seeing Maj Kapogiannis put the T-6 through its display routine in preperation for this year's 'Archangel Days' in October.
This future fighter-jock already has his pose off to a fine art as he sits in the cockpit of his T-2 Buckeye
Aside from the T-6 Texans, the Hellenic Air Force training fleet is currently in need of major upgrade. The Cessna T-41D basic trainers at Tatoi-Dekelia are now some 40 years old, with the T-2 Buckeyes being of similar vintage. There is also little commonality in the cockpit of the ageing Buckeye and the latest fourth generation Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcons in operation with the HAF, which is what the majority of graduate students transition to after completion of their training at Kalamata. Both the T-41 and Buckeye fleets have long been earmarked for replacement, but the current strains on the Greek economy has resulted in these plans being placed on the back-burner, with no indication of when this may change. Surprisingly though, despite these economic constraints, the HAF has not suffered from the financial cuts that many other European air arms have suffered and the number of squadrons and bases in use today are very similar to those of over a decade ago. Aircraft such as the Alenia-Aermacchi T-346, British Aerospace Hawk and Korean Aircraft Industries T-50 are prime candidates to replace the Buckeyes; there have even been rumours of purchasing withdrawn Italian Air Force MB.339A trainers. However, with exactly what type and when this happens, only time will tell. In the meantime, Kalamata remains a stronghold for the venerable T-2 Buckeye, an aircraft that is still as popular as ever with its pilots and which despite the lack of spare parts continues to provide sterling service, which is testament to the job the maintenance crews do in keeping the fleet airworthy.
Three 120 PEA Texans at Kalamata on September 12, 2014
The 361 and 364 MEA area at Kalamata air base is located at the opposite end of the airfield to that of the 362 MEA and 363 MEA ramps. As with the two Buckeye units a lot of the facilities are shared, including the aircraft, maintenance areas and the ramp space. Until recently the T-6 Texans sat out in all weathers (mainly hot sun for the majority of the year), which exposed the avionics and especially those within the cockpit to extreme temperatures. However despite the budgetary constraints that the HAF are suffering, fifteen sun sheds have recently been constructed and have now been in use for around a month. Although these are clearly inadequate to accommodate the whole fleet, it is a start and the maintenance crews are hopeful that further funds will become available to construct some more in the future. Not only do the sun sheds protect the aircraft from the extreme temperatures that can be experienced in this area of Greece, but they also provide some protection for the maintenance crews, allowing essential line maintenance to be completed outside.
He later served as the Director of Training at the Hellenic Aero College and Chief of Section for multi-national exercises at the Hellenic Air Force General Staff, Athens, prior to taking up his current role at 120 PEA in Kalamata. He now has some 3,000 hours in total on all types and is still current as an IP on the T-2 Buckeye.
A Pratt & Whitney PT-68A turbo-prop engine being re-fitted to a T-6 in one of the maintenance hangars at Kalamata
Phase 3 (Advanced) and Phase 4 (Operational) training sees the pilots transition to the Rockwell T-2 Buckeye with 362 MEA & 364 MEA, where the students learn the art of flying a high performance jet aircraft. As with the two T-6 squadrons, the T-2 units share the responsibility for both phases of the training syllabus. Prior to commencing their flying training with the T-2 Buckeye, students complete a ground training element of the course. Phase 3 involves around 18 sorties and 20 hours in the T-2 flight simulators, followed by 71 sorties and 80 hours of contact, instruments, navigation and formation flying. Prior to moving onto Phase 4 the pilots are 'screened', with some being selected to fly transport aircraft or helicopters.
The majority of Texans sit outside in the baking Greek sun
It is hoped that funds will be made available for more sun sheds to protect the aircraft's avionics from extreme temperatures
The Hellenic Air Force's initial pilot training commences at Tatoi-Dekelia with 360 Mira Ekpedefsis Aeros (MEA, or Air Training Squadron) on the Cessna T-41D Mescalero, where the young 'Icarus' pilots complete their basic training, which is fundamentally a flight screening course to establish whether the prospective candidates 'have what it takes'. The pilots then move to 120 PEA at Kalamata to further their training. Phase 2 of the training course with 361 MEA & 364 MEA flying the Beechcraft T-6A Texan II is split into the Initial and Basic stages. The Initial Stage involves around 50 hours of flying from 40 sorties and consists of contact and instrument training. The objective of the initial stage is to provide the knowledge and skills required for basic flight procedures, manoeuvres, aircraft systems handling, standardisation, adherence to flight safety rules and decision making.
The basic stage involves a further 75 hours flown during 58 sorties and consists of contact, instrument, formation and navigation sorties. The objective of the basic stage is to further improve the knowledge, competencies and skills acquired in the initial stage, develop leadership skills, cultivate team work and improve the students information handling and situational awareness. During these two stages, the students' also complete some 524 hours of ground training, which incorporates some computer based training studies (CBTS) and around 25 sorties flown in the simulator. There are two simulators at Kalamata for the T-6; one is a very basic cockpit version, whilst the other is a full-mission simulator built by Flight Safety International in the USA.
The current personnel on 364 MEA at the time of our visit was made up of 23 Instructor Pilots (IPs), four of which are Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) pilots, six AMI students on the Basic Stage and eleven HAF students on the Initial Stage, with three AMI students conducting their ground training. As far as ground personnel are concerned, current strength consists of one AMI Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), two HAF NCOs and two enlisted personnel. We were told that although numbers vary slightly from course to course this was a fairly typical make-up and that 361 MEA operates with a similar format. Since March 2006 when 364 MEA was formed alongside 361 MEA, a total of 307 HAF pilots have completed their training at Kalamata.
The T-6NTA Texans operated by 120 PEA (above) are only identifiable externally by looking under the wings for the hard-point mountings
An easier way to identify them is to look at the serial numbers, as 001-025 are T-6A versions, with the T-6NTAs serialed in the 026-045 range
The Beechcraft T-6 Texan IIoperated in the primary training role by the Hellenic Air Force are a mixture of 25 standard T-6A and 20 T-6NTA models, the latter having six under-wing hard-points which are capable of carrying a variety of air to ground weapons that provide them with a limited ground-attack capability. The centre hard-point on each wing is also 'plumbed-in' to enable them to carry an external fuel tank for increased range. The extended range available to the NTA models makes them capable of reaching Cyprus with a fuel stop in Crete. In addition to the six under-wing stores stations, a FN-Herstal weapons control system and Avimo gun-sight increase the capability of the T-6 as a weapons trainer.
Delivered to replace the fleet of Cessna T-37s operated by the HAF, the T-6A Texan II is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT-6A-68 turbo-prop engine and was designed to have similar characteristics to modern fighter aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The power-plant provides 1100shp and a range of some 1,036 miles (1,667km), with a climb rate in excess of 3,300ft/min (1,000m/min). The maximum cruise speed of the aircraft is 310mph (500km/h) and it has an altitude ceiling of 31,000 feet (9,500m). The T-6 also benefits from a pressurised 'glass' cockpit with Smiths Aerospace multi-function active matrix liquid rystal displays and a Martin-Baker Mk.US16LA zero-zero ejection seat.
Aside from major depot level maintenance, the T-6 is fleet is kept airworthy by the engineers at Kalamata
#004 is seen above with the engine removed for servicing
One of the many rows of T-6s at Kalamata Air Base
One of a small number of ex-US Navy T-2C Buckeyes is seen on the Kalamata flightline
120 Air Training Wing
Hellenic Air Force
This T-6NTA was painted with this special scheme to commemorate 50 years since the establishment of 361 MEA
Displaying its naval origins, the large arrestor hook on the T-2E Buckeye is clearly visible on the image above
#160074 taxi's towards Runway 35 as part of a two-ship flight
#160062 departs Kalamata for a morning mission on September 15, 2014
A line of T-6 Texans bask in the afternoon sun at Kalamata