Sensing the growing need for light, jet-powered dual-role aircraft, the Italian concern of SIAI-Marchetti proposed a new aircraft through a self-funded, in-house venture designated as the "S.211". The primary target of this program would be its existing operators managing the propeller-driven SF.260 light trainers. Conventional by any regard, the S.211 would allow budget conscious air forces around the world to utilize a modern two-seat training platform that doubled as a light attack aircraft. Such developments were growing in popularity and typified by aircraft types of the period including the Spanish CASA C-101 and the joint French/German Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet.
The S.211/S-211 falls into a specially identified group of aircraft that are procured with the primary intention of training up-and-coming pilots on a jet-powered platform while offering strike capabilities as secondary. Such designs generally rely upon a basic airframe with modern equipment and access to basic ordnance options. The crew of two undoubtedly spreads the workload about and the jet-propulsion supplies the needed performance capabilities for the low-level strike role. Many manufactures have supplied trainer/light strike aircraft since the 1960s and this group continues to be an important part of modern world air forces - though the dual-role functionality perhaps proving more important to developing nations or those with restrictive procurement budgets.
Externally, the S-211/S.211 is a no-frills platform crewed by two personnel sitting in a tandem arrangement under a single-piece canopy (hinged to the right side). Both crew members sit in Martin-Baker ejection seats while the airframe exhibits very smooth and clean contours from the slim, pointed nose cap to the rear tapered empennage. The tail section features a single vertical tail fin and high-mounted tailplanes with the single engine exhaust port located at the base of the tail unit. The main wing assemblies are shoulder-mounted, allowing underwing ordnance the proper ground clearance. There is noticeable sweep along their leading edges only (less noticeable along the trailing edges). Power is served through a single turbofan installation being aspirated through two small intake openings to either side of the cockpit and exhausted through a single port at the rear. The undercarriage is fully-retractable and consists of a pair of single-wheeled main legs and a single-wheeled nose leg. Construction of the S-211 body is primarily of composites, this making up some 60% of the aircraft and providing for a lighter overall end-product.
Power for the S-211 is served through a single Pratt & Whitney JT15D-4C turbofan engine developing 2,500lbs of thrust. This supplies the airframe with a top speed of over 400 miles per hour. Range is listed at 1,000 miles with a service ceiling of 40,000 feet. Rate-of-climb is reported at 4,200 feet per minute.
In the strike role, the S-211 is cleared to carry several basic, externally-mounted munitions across four underwing hardpoints (though ordnance is limited to ground-attack classes). Up to 1,500lbs of stores can be carried aloft. Munition options include machine gun pods, rocket pods and conventional drop bombs. As the S-211 lacks any nose-mounted internal radar facility, it does not support air-to-air missile weaponry. There is also no standard internal cannon in the base design.
At one point, the S-211 became a possible contender for the United State's JPATS program (Joint Primary Aircraft Training System) which sought to procure a single-minded trainer aircraft for both the USAF and USN. The program began in the early 1990s and concluded in 1995 with the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II selected the winner. The Aermacchi S-211 submission was designated as the "S-211A" and was assisted through the proposal process by the American firm of Grumman/Northrop Grumman. Only two S-211A models were produced for the endeavor and these were refurbished and modified examples of a pair of ex-Haitian Air Force systems.
Aermacchi (now Alenia Aermacchi) attempted an S-211 modernization project in 2004 resulting in the new "M-311". As of 2013, the aircraft is still considered developmental and only two prototypes have been completed. The initial prototype recorded its first flight in June of 2005 and Chile signed on with Alenia Aermacchi to locally-produce the aircraft in Chile for interested South American customers. In May of 2008, Alenia Aermacchi joined with powerhouse Boeing to help market the M-311 worldwide. In 2012, the designation of the M-311 was changed to "M-345".
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Variable - up to 1,500lb of external stores underwing to include gun pods, rocket pods and conventional drop ordnance.
S-211 - Initial Production Model Designation; 2 x prototypes completed; 58 examples produced under SIAI-Marchetti label.
S-211A - Proposed variant for US JPATS program; 2 examples modified from ex-Haitian AF models.
M-311 - Modernized, uprated variant; since redesignated to M-345; under Alenia-Aermacchi label.
M-345 - Redesignation of M-311 from 2012 onwards.
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