The new crop of 5th Generation combat fighters require and equally-new approach to flight and combat training. Right now, leading world air forces rely on a two-step approach involving basic (turboprop-driven or jet-powered) and advanced jet training to bring along new candidates. This provides the student with a relatively gradual evolution from low-and-slow to high-and-fast before advancing to the real thing. British startup Aeralis (founded in 2015), and their "all-in-one, end-to-end" training solution (regarded a "first" in the military sphere), might very well fill the void through a new cost-effective design approach - a common modular airframe design built around a common cockpit with common training system to boot.
This singular aircraft would be used to satisfy the demands of integration, adaptability, and more efficient training of pilots geared toward the newer class of 5th Generation flying platforms such as the Lockheed F-35 "Lightning II" strike fighter being adopted in greater numbers globally while also having the capability to support modern 4th/4.5th Generation platforms.
The common cockpit display (with Helmet-Mounted Display = HMD) can be adapted to cover both flying requirements - basic training and advanced training - and this system would be part of a fully-configurable airframe: straight wing mainplanes with laid back handling characteristics with power from a de-rated, non-afterburning turbofan engine of 3,500lb of thrust. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) would be in the range of 3,500 kilograms with an estimated top speed of 350 knots. This same platform could then be transitioned, with relatively minimal work, into the advanced trainer form sporting the same configurable cockpit display and helmet integration but carry swept-back, variable camber wing mainplane members allowing for supersonic flight. Power would stem from an uprated afterburning turbofan engine offering 9,000lb of thrust. Alternatively a dual-engine, 12,000lb (2x6,000lb) thrust output scheme, could also figure into the mix. This version would have an estimated MTOW of 5,000 kilograms and reach speeds of Mach 1.2, offering combat pilots the "next step" to supersonic performance training. Other facets of the cockpit cold be changed to suit customer requirements - such as flight stick HOTAS (Hands-On-Throttle-and-Stick) orientation (either side- or center-mounted) to better mimic placement found in modern fighter platforms.
The original aircraft concept, revealed back in 2015, was known as the "Dart Jet". The two distinct modern versions are now recognized as "Aeralis A" and "Aeralis B", the former signifying the Advanced Trainer model with the latter covering the Basic Trainer concept form. With a modular, common airframe, the aircraft would share up to 90% commonality of parts between them. A third, super-high-performance aerobatic-minded form, may also figure into the mix to round out the family offerings.
The basic aircraft form mimics the largely accepted design lines seen in competing types such as the BAe Hawk and the Aero L-39 (both detailed elsewhere on this site). There is tandem seating for the crew of two - student and instructor - with the rear seat elevated beyond the shoulders of the forward operator (this position usually reserved for the student). The nose is sharp with a downward taper offering excellent vision out-of-the-cockpit to the front and sides of the aircraft. Regardless of number of engines installed, the aircraft will use a split-intake flow system to aspirate the jet propulsion scheme. Wing mainplanes are high-mounted, for a good balance of drag and lift, and the tail incorporates a single vertical fin with slightly-downward-angled horizontal planes. A retractable tricycle undercarriage would provide the needed facilities for ground-running.
The wholly-unique concept of a modular trainer is an interesting one and stands to revolutionize the military trainer procurement process should the project come to fruition. The logistical benefits are most obvious in production cost and maintenance/repair while high performance training is what is required of next-generation platforms and students alike. Only time will tell if the concept catches on - Aeralis estimates life-cycle savings with their approach to reach 30% over what is possible with a traditional two-airframe arrangement.
The next step in the project, beyond securing additional funding, is selection of the engine to power the nimble design. So far this has focused on the usual defense aero-industry powerplant players in Honeywell, Rolls-Royce, and Williams International. In turn, this would show the potential fits to be the F124, the "Adour", or the FJ44 family of compact turbofans. Aeralis is planning to have a flyable form in the skies as soon as the early part of the next decade - and selection of the engine will figure heavily into this schedule.
A key potential customer for the Aeralis concept is the British Royal Air Force who currently operates a fleet of Hawk jet trainers in T.1 and T.2 guises. The Royal Navy also has access to seventeen T.1s. While still capable platforms, these are aircraft rooted in the Cold War period (1947-1991). The British military has also recently taken delivery of its first examples of F-35 fighters aboard its new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Some values on this page are estimates on the part of the author and will be updated as the program advances.