While the construction of Kalamata Airbase started in 1960, it was not until 1970 before the 120 Air Training Group was established. By that time, the HAF was operating the T-37 Tweety Bird and the T-33 Shooting Star as its primary trainers. In 1974, the HAF acquired 40 T-2E Buckeyes, an advanced trainer replacing the ageing T-33. The first T-2’s only arrived at Kalamata in the Spring of 1976. In August 1977, the 120 Air Training Group was renamed to 120 Air Training Wing.
During 1978, the fleet of 25 T-37C was extended with another eight T-37B’s from the USAF; while another ten former Royal Jordanian Air Force T-37B’s were added to the inventory in 1988.
By the end of the Nineties, it became clear that the ageing T-37 needed to be replaced and an order of 45 T-6A Texan II’s was placed at Raytheon (now Beechcraft). After having been in service for almost 38 years, the T-37 was finally decommissioned in August 2002 when the T-6A Texan II had fully taken over its training-role.
Today, the 120 PEA consists of four Mira Expedefsesos Aero (MEA) or Air Training Squadrons: 361 and 364 MEA operating the T-6A Texan II, while 362 and 364 MEA are operating the T-2 Buckeye. Also part of 120 PEA is the Sea Survival Training School (SSTS), which provides special formed trainings to pilots and aircrews of cargo and rotary-wing aircraft/helicopters. The SSTS is operating the Bell 205 helicopter.
Kalamata is also home to the HAF demo team “Daedalus” flying the T-6A Texan II. The team was established in 2005 in the context of the first International Air Show “Archangel” held at Tanagra airbase. With the help of two USAF instructors, five pilots of 361MEA were trained at Kalamata for over one month to become demo pilots. Since their first performance in 2005, the team has become a familiar sight at national air events and occasionally performs abroad.
Kalamata Airbase has one single runway, which is used by both the HAF as well as civil airliners. A small civil air terminal is located in the southeast corner of the airfield, while the area opposite the runway belongs to the HAF. Flying usually takes place between 07:00 and 18:00 in two shifts per day. However, at Kalamata the HAF is allowed to operate from sunrise until sunset; resulting in operating hours until 21:00 during the summer. With over 2600 hours of sunshine per year and approximately 60% of the time clear skies, Kalamata is an ideal location for a training base.
THE TRAINING SYLLABUS
All future pilots start their career at Tatoi-Dekelia, a HAF-base just Northeast of Athens. If found suitable for flying, they will have their first flights on the T-41D Mescalero, operated by 360 MEA. The elementary flying lessons will continue for approximately three months after which those who eventually qualify will continue at Kalamata for the next phase in their journey to become a pilot at the HAF.
After arriving at Kalamata, a student will be assigned to one of the two T-6A units for the second and third phase of the training. During these phases, the student will go thru the initial – or second – stage and basic – or third – stage of the training. The initial phase comprises topics like flight procedures & safety, standardisation and aircraft systems, while the basic stage deals with topics like meteorology, decision-making, teamwork and leadership.
During the initial phase, the student will fly approximately 55 hours on the T-6 while another 75 hours is flown during the during the basic stage. Besides actually flying the T-6, the student will also spend considerable time on the flight simulator and make use of computer based training (CBT) to practice his/her skills further. By the time the second phase is concluded, almost two and a half years have gone by since the first day the training started at Tatoi-Dekelia.
Before moving on to phase four (the final phase), the student will first go back to Tatoi-Dekelia to finish all theoretical exams. Once passed, he/she goes back to Kalamata where the next phase starts with a new aircraft: the T-2 Buckeye. Basically, the same steps will be repeated: both air and ground based trainings by use of the T-2; flight simulators and CBT. In this stage (which last for six months), the student will fly approximately 80 hours or 70 sorties on the T-2 Buckeye to gain experience in flying a high performance jet. Like the T-6, the majority of the time will be flown together with an instructor.
Once phase four has concluded, the advanced phase of the training has come to an end. By this time, the students will be selected to either start flying a fighter-jet a transport aircraft or helicopter. Those who are selected to become a fighter-pilot will continue to fly on the T-2 for another 60 hours, to train on weapons and further improve their air-to-air and air-to-ground skills. Another six month of training will go by, before the student will join the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at one of the major HAF bases to become acquainted with the new fighter-type. Those who will become a pilot on a transport aircraft will continue training on the T-6 for another period of time.
CURRENT AND FUTURE STATUS
The current fleet of 120 PEA is well equipped with 45 T-6A Texan II for the initial training phase. Given the many training hours that are flown yearly, there is also quite some maintenance needed, resulting in almost half of the fleet being in different stages of maintenance at any given time. For this purpose, the base has expanded its infrastructure in recent years. Amongst others, sun sheds were built for the T-6 trainers, making the work of the maintenance-crews a bit more comfortable in the scorching heat during the Greek Summer.
Even though the T-6A II is a modern trainer and well equipped for the job, technology is not standing still. Maj. Anastations Kapogiannis of 361 MEA says: “The T-6A is a very easy to fly trainer with a lot of capabilities. However, we are constantly looking to improve our training capabilities. At this moment we are testing off-the-shelf smart technology like the digital camera (as shown in the picture) which will help us to give our students better insights in their performance during various training-routines.”
While the training fleet is up to standards with the T-6A Texan II, this certainly is no longer the case for the T-2. Having been around for more than 32 years within the HAF, the ageing T-2 is in desperate need of replacement. Being the only operator in the world left, it has become increasingly more difficult to keep the current fleet airworthy due to lack of spares. Mainly for this purpose another 12 T-2C’s were obtained to be used as spare part sources for the current fleet. When talking to the Chief Of Maintenance in the large and modern maintenance facility he explains: “the T-2 is a relatively easy aircraft to maintain but despite the extra batch of T-2C’s received; it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the fleet in the air. We perform all regular maintenance here on-base, but extensive maintenance is taking take place at the Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) facility at Tanagra Airbase.”
While maintenance is becoming an increasing concern, another issue is that the T-2 has little commonality with modern fourth generation jets like the F-16 in service with the HAF. The T-2 is simply not at-par anymore with current fast jet trainers. As such, a replacement of the ageing T-2 is overdue. As Wing Commander Col Christos Petalos stated: “despite challenges to keep our T-2’s in flying condition, we have been resourceful and invested further in flight simulators and computer trainings, making sure our students still get the training they need according to our high standards”. When asked about the replacement of the T-2, Col Petalos elaborates: “Politics and HAF General Staff will most likely wait with a decision for replacement until the USAF has decided which aircraft will replace their ageing T-38 training fleet. It could well be the case that the HAF will then decide to obtain the same type of aircraft. As a consequence (and also given the current economic difficulties in Greece) it might take some years before a new trainer will be operational within the HAF”.
Although struggling with today’s challenges, it is has become clear that 120 PEA is still more than capable in it’s task to deliver well-trained pilots to the HAF. Increased use of technologies and resourceful maintenance play a key-role in students being able to efficiently executing the various phases of the training. Time will tell which aircraft will eventually replace the T-2 Buckeye. Until then, the skies above Kalamata will continue to be offering views on this unique “dinosaur”.