Paramount Group’s Top Gun jet academy based at Polokwane will expand its pilot training services to include helicopter and transport aircraft, with helicopter training currently at the planning phase.
This is according to Paramount International Marketing CEO John Craig, who told defenceWeb that Robinson and Gazelle helicopters will be used. Transport training will also be done in the future.
At the moment the academy is training a group of students to fly Dassault Mirage F1s but another intake is planned for next year. Cessna 172 and Alenia Aermacchi SF-260 propeller aircraft are used for ab initio training, followed by an Atlas Impala jet trainer and two-seat Mirage 5 for fast jet conversion. Paramount Aerospace developed a new F1 simulator for student pilots and also has simulators for the SF260 and Impala. This brings the costs and risks of training down.
Fighter pilot training will take between five and seven years, depending on how fast students progress – often they have to learn English before proceeding with actual pilot training, as English is the language of aviation.
At the moment all student pilots are from African countries which have bought refurbished F1s from Paramount Aerospace. They will convert onto single-seat F1s in their home country. In 2003 the South African Air Force put 21 Mirage F1 aircraft up for disposal by way of Armscor. Paramount purchased the entire Mirage F1 package, including airframes, spares and support equipment in 2006. Paramount Aerospace has sold F1s to Congo Brazzaville and Gabon.
Craig said the F1s are in good condition. The avionics were updated prior to delivery but otherwise few changes were necessary, he told defenceWeb.
Although the Top Gun school started out training pilots for F1 customers, Paramount Aerospace will offer its services to non-F1 customers and is expanding its offerings to include helicopters and transports. Craig said the academy is looking at expanding into the air force training environment with an eye to training South African Air Force student pilots.
Ivor Ichikowitz, Executive Chairman of the Paramount Group, last year noted that Paramount had identified a need and demand for a dedicated pilot training academy, especially from small and medium air forces. Briefing the media recently, he said the Top Gun school is the only privately owned facility in Africa that takes pilots from ab initio to fighter jets.
In addition to pilot training, a technical school also based at Polokwane trains ground crew to maintain and service aircraft. Their training course is three years long and they become qualified tradesmen.
The jet training academy falls under the recently created Paramount Aerospace division of Paramount, which emerged from Paramount Group’s acquisition of Aerosud Aerospace Systems. The recent acquisition complements Paramount’s takeover of ATE (now renamed Paramount Advanced Technologies) and consolidate its aircraft upgrade, maintenance, integration, logistics, design, development, manufacturing and training services.