The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master is a military twin-enginetransonictrainer aircraft. The type is currently operated by the air forces of Italy, Israel, Singapore and Poland. Originally co-developed with Yakovlev as the Yak/AEM-130, partnership ended in 2000 and Alenia Aermacchi separately developed the M-346 Master while Yakolev continued work on the Yakovlev Yak-130. First flight of the M-346 took place in 2004.
In 1993, Aermacchi signed an agreement to partner with Yakovlev on the new trainer the firm had been developing since 1991 for the Russian Air Force. The resulting aircraft first flew in 1996 and was brought to Italy the following year to replace the aging MB-339. At the time, the aircraft was marketed as the Yak/AEM-130, however, by 2000, differences in priorities between the two firms had brought about an end to the partnership, with each developing the aircraft independently; Yakovlev received US$77 million for technical documents of the aircraft. Yakovlev would be able to sell the aircraft to countries such those in the Commonwealth of Independent States, India, Slovakia and Algeria. Aeromacchi would be able to sell to NATO countries, among others. A Russian version is also being pursued by Yakovlev and Sokol, under a different time schedule.
The M-346 is a highly modified version of the aircraft the joint venture produced, and uses equipment exclusively from Western manufacturers. The first prototype rolled out on 7 June 2003 and flew for the first time on 15 July 2004.
Prototype 002 at Le Bourget airshow, 2005
In January 2005, the Greek Ministry of Defence signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to become a partner in the programme and, in 2006, Aermacchi signed an industrial cooperation agreement with Hellenic Aerospace Industry.
In July 2007, the M-346 flew to the United Arab Emirates for hot weather tests and operational evaluation by the UAE Air Force.
In March 2008 the ChileanENAER signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Alenia Aermacchi at the FIDAE air show.
On 10 April 2008 one further prototype in the final configuration (new landing gear and air brake, more composite parts) was rolled out: first flight of this "Industrial Baseline Configuration" was expected in June. On 18 December 2008, the M-346 reached a maximum speed of Mach 1.15 (1,255 km/h, 678 knots, 780 mph).
In May 2008 Boeing signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on the marketing, sales, training and support of two Aermacchi trainers, the M-346 and the M-311.
The development of a full-mission simulator for the M-346 has been awarded to CAE and is under development.
The M-346 is designed for training combat pilots for front line fighter aircraft. It is capable of transonic flight without using an afterburner, which is designed to reduce acquisition and operating costs. Two engines and triple-quadruple redundant systems enhance reliability.
The aerodynamic design of the M-346 uses vortex lift to provide manoeuvrability and controllability at very high angle of attack (up to 40° degrees) using a fly-by-wire control system.
The aircraft is powered by two Honeywell F124 engines, and uses a digital flight control system by Teleavio/Marconi in collaboration with BAE Systems, Dowty and Microtecnica for actuators.
The new IBC (Industrial Baseline Configuration) prototype includes a new air brake just behind the cockpit, similar to the Sukhoi Su-30, new landing gear and some structural changes, with the use of more titanium and composite parts in order to reduce weight and production costs. As a result, the prototype weighs 780 kg less than the existing model, providing faster acceleration and climbing, increased maneuverability and max speed, as well as improved fuel capacity (200 kg) and cockpit visibility.
On 20 June 2011, a Military Type Certification was granted to Alenia Aermacchi for the M-346 Master by the General Directorate for Aeronautical Armaments of the Italian Ministry of Defence in Rome. In order to complete the certification process, the M-346 development aircraft made 180 test flights, totalling 200 flights, over the previous five months and completed over 3,300 test points.
While as a trainer jet M-346 is unarmed, Alenia Aermacchi is close to finalising a dual-role variant of the airplane. In 2014 a tests of IRIS-T missiles begun. In 2015 an armed variant named M-346 LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) was offered to Poland including a capability of operating Brimstone air-to-ground missiles.
An M-346 at "Giornata Azzurra" 2006 at Pratica di Mare AFB, Italy
The Italian Air Force intends to acquire a first batch of 15 low rate production M-346 aircraft. On 18 June 2009, Alenia Aermacchi announced they had received an order for the first six with an option for nine more.
The M-346 was named the winner of a competition by the United Arab Emirates at the IDEX 2009 defense show in Abu Dhabi on 25 February 2009. The official said the order involved delivery of 48 aircraft to be used for pilot training and light attack duties. A final request for proposals in 2010 had set the requirement at 20 trainers, 20 aircraft for combat duties, and the remainder would go toward the creation of a formation flying team. However, on 27 January 2010, negotiations to sign a contract have reportedly stalled over specifications.
On 18 November 2011 the prototype, which had been on display at the Dubai Air Show crashed after departing Dubai on return to Italy.
On 16 February 2012, the M-346 was selected by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) as its main training jet to replace the McDonnell Douglas A-4H/N Skyhawk, which has served the IAF for over 40 years. On 19 July 2012, a contract was signed between Alenia Aermacchi and the Israeli Ministry of Defence to supply 30 M-346 advanced jet trainers, with the first delivery expected in the middle of 2014. The Israeli Air Force announced on 2 July 2013 that in Israeli service the M-346 would be named the Lavi, reusing the name given to the cancelled IAI Lavi. The IAF's first M-346 was rolled out in a ceremony at Alenia Aermacchi’s factory in Venegono Superiore on March 20, 2014.
In the United States, Alenia Aermacchi is to submit the M-346 for the United States Air Force's T-X program to replace the aging Northrop T-38 Talon, rebranding the aircraft as the T-100 Integrated Training System. Alenia originally intended to be the prime contractor, anticipating moving the final assembly location from Italy to the United States if the bid succeeds. About 350 aircraft are expected to be ordered, further purchases could lead to over 1,000 aircraft being purchased overall. In January 2013, Alenia Aermacchi signed a letter of intent with General Dynamics C4 Systems, who shall serve as prime contractor for the T-X bid.
The Advance European Pilot Training (AEPTJ) program – also unofficially called Eurotraining – a consortium of 12 European nations to give advance & lead-in fighter training with a common core course and training provided by a common aircraft – has contacted Alenia Aermacchi through the European Defence agency in 2010, for further information on the M-346. But according to Aleni Aermacchi, the AEPTJ has a low priority and "...progress has been slow."
On 11 May 2013, an Alenia-operated M346 crashed near the village of Piana Crixia, in Valbormida, between Cuneo and Savona's provinces, Italy, during a test flight. The pilot was able to eject successfully and survived the crash, but received serious injuries, after jumping from the tree where his parachute had been entangled.
On 23 December 2013 it was announced that Poland had selected the M-346 to meet a requirement for an advanced jet trainer. The deal for eight aircraft was signed on 27 February 2014.
Hardpoints: Provisions for a total of 9 pylon stations (2× wingtip, 1× under-fuselage plus 6× underwing), capable of mounting up to 3,000 kilograms (6,600 lb) of external payload and up to 3× 630 litres (140 imp gal; 170 US gal) external drop tanks (only pylon stations 4, 5, 6 are wet-plumbed)