Swedish Air Force – Flying Training School

Swedish Air Force Flying Training School – Luftstridsskolan

The Swedish Air Force flying training school, located at Malmen Air Base, is pretty much incomparable with other armed forces flying training schools.
Swedish Air Force Flying Training School
The Swedish Air Force flying training school, located at Malmen Air Base, is pretty much incomparable with other armed forces flying training schools. A very flat and practically non-existent hierarchy, in a place where everyone is equal, gives the students the best possible opportunities to make a success as pilots in the armed forces.

Cutting away the mandatory contract for new pilots, letting them select which type of aircraft they are going to fly before they start the education as well as the amazing atmosphere at the school are just some of the elements that makes Luftstridsskolan at Malmen something you don’t see every day.

In the past, the Swedish Air Force did what many armed forces are doing today when it comes to selecting and training new pilots. This is an approach where less than 25% of the students make it through to become a pilot so the Swedish Air Force took a decision in the seventies to optimize the whole process.

The process has been scrutinised many times before but with no real improvements. They needed to think radically and had to look away from previous points of investigation, the students, and look at different alternatives.

This resulted in an impressive improvement, moving the success rate of less than 25% to a success rate of 95% and where the last 5% isn’t usually due to bad flying skills, but rather personal problems, personality or a mental attitude that is not suitable for the armed forces. Today the Flying Training School houses 48 pilot students (12 helicopter pilots, 4 transport pilots and 8 fighter pilots, every year for two years) and almost the same amount of instructor pilots, split into three squadrons:
  • Basic training Fixed-Wing Sk 60, 1st squadron
  • Advanced training Fixed-Wing Sk 60, 2nd squadron
  • Advanced training Rotary-Wing HKP 15, 3rd squadron

As Capt. Magnus Bragvad, Commanding Officer of the 1st squadron, explains “We changed our philosophy on how we educate future pilots. We start by letting the students know what they are going to fly before they begin their training.”
Number one in the formation of two Sk 60 shows it topside

Type decisions
When the students apply for the education, they can choose between three types – fighter, transport or helicopter and they then need to apply for at least two categories in a priority order. Once they are accepted, they already know which type they are going to fly.

Capt. Bragvad continues, “This comes with the way we are picking our pilots – they should know from the start what they are going to fly. We don’t want to pick out who is going to fly what, because then we becomes judges and not educators.

We want them to know that before they start here there isn’t any competition on who’s going to fly what type – and that’s what we want, no competition. The students are not competing with the other students – only with themselves to get as good as they can get. That’s our philosophy. We look at our students as colleagues from day one – not students. The student is our future wingman.”

The educational environment
Cadet Christian Johansson, a future JAS 39 pilot – who already had civil flying experience before applying, tells “The environment in the school is completely different from the civil world and even the other branches of the military where you get called by your last name. As soon as you got here, the first thing the teachers asked was: What’s your nickname? That kind of sets the standard of how we speak to each other here and how the environment is.”

Cadet Robin Norén, a future TP 102 Gulfstream pilot, who also has civil flying experience, adds “The whole idea is to build up a relationship where you feel safe, where you don’t have anything to lose by telling the truth, because that becomes dangerous as seen in the other branches where you get a penalty every time you do something wrong, even if it’s not your intention, then later on you won’t tell what happened because you are afraid of the potential penalty.

Here we want everyone to be comfortable to tell everybody what happened, so we can all learn from our mistakes. We even discuss family relation subjects with our teachers. It’s a really trustworthy environment.”

Cadet Johansson continues, “In the civil world you have grades and here you either pass or you don’t. You never see on paper how good or bad you fly. The Swedish Air Force dropped the grades in the seventies because it starts a competition on who is the best pilot. We don’t know who’s best because it doesn’t matter. I felt that in the civil pilot school that everybody was more on their own because you should get the best grades to get the best job for yourself. You didn’t really care about each other, you were friends, but you didn’t really care.

Here it’s totally different, we really care for each other. If someone has a bad day, we all learn from it and we don’t judge. We help each other to go from there to the next level.”
“As soon as you got here, the first thing the teachers asked was: What’s your nickname?
A Sk 60, flies high above the Swedish midland around Linköping

The ‘office’ of all the pilot students of the Swedish Air Force
Helping each other
“The students help each other out within the student community and they wouldn’t do that if they were competing against each other to be the best in the class, just to be sure to fly the type that they want – because they want that seat.” says Capt. Bragvad.

Cadet Johansson, adds “If a student fails, the entire class fails. We are all colleagues and we will work well together in the future, and the best thing is to help your colleague out, so you know you’ll have the best wingman you can get.”

“The instructors are very happy when the students makes it and concerned when they don’t. That’s how I want all my instructor pilots to be; He wants the students to succeed, he wants them to make it, and if the students doesn’t make it, he’s concerned. The instructor pilots care about their students and that’s where we want to be.” says Capt. Bragvad.

Psychological training
Capt. Bragvad continues, “We have studied the psychology of how the brain works. You don’t learn when you are forced and stressed. We don’t want to stress and put pressure on the students; the students do this all by themselves!”

Cadet Norén continues, “It’s not a strict environment. The teachers expect us to be prepared and to have read-up the lessons. We talk a lot about the flying window. Half an hour to an hour before we go to the aircraft, we should leave our cell phones alone and sit by ourselves to think through what’s going to happen on the upcoming flight during the lesson. I never had this in the civil world. Yes, we needed to be prepared but it wasn’t that strict. You could sit with your phone, watch YouTube or what you wanted to do beforehand, then you went out flying and evaluating.

It’s very different here, as a lot of time is spent on preparation and evaluation, but it’s not strict in a way where you need to spend a certain amount of time on it. You need to figure out what works for you – your way.

Take the debriefs as an example, it’s a very open environment where we all talk it through and the teacher maybe gives us a few recommendations or sometimes they just say that you have learned a lot today and just continue forwards.”

The only trainer in the Swedish Air Force, the Sk 60
“The teachers are not judges, but coaches, helping us getting through in the best way possible.”
‘No blame’-culture
Cadet Johansson, adds “Debriefs are really an exercise in this ‘No blame’-culture, you admit to all your faults and all the mistakes you made. This is very helpful as this is done within the class and not just in a student to teacher talk. You can listen to what others have just done which is maybe what you are going to do tomorrow and the student for example says that I did this, but I should rather have done it like this. Next time you’ll think about this and use the experience that the other student shared with you. Then the next day when you are in the exact same situation, you remember what he said and you learn from their experience.

The teachers are not judges, but coaches, helping us getting through in the best way possible.”

Cadet Norén continues, “We have a lot of sessions that are not about flying, but about what’s best for a pilot such as health, training and physiology, what not to eat and what’s best to eat. It’s been very helpful. You really feel here at the flying school, that they want you to have the best opportunity to become as good as you can be.

We are not in a rush, we are enjoying it here. I think this year at the flying school has been the best year of my life. If they tell me that I should stay here for two more years, I would sing a song, grab a beer and celebrate. It’s absolutely amazing here. I have been inspired by being here and I hope that I one day can come here as a teacher. Nothing is really a problem here, we do everything together.

We have become best friends within the class and are really tight connected.”

The Nordic culture
Capt. Bragvad explains “It has something to do with the Nordic culture. I’m not sure it would work for all cultures around the world, like if you have a very segregated society. A rank here doesn’t mean so much and that’s intentional.

The philosophy is that the student has one instructor the first year. This instructor is then responsible for that student and an instructor usually only has a maximum of two students. This is to build a strong relationship between the instructor pilot and the student because that helps in learning. If you feel safe and you feel that this instructor really wants you to make it, then you won’t focus on what the instructor thinks, the only thing you need to focus on is getting as good as possible.

If the student and instructor relationship doesn’t really work, we don’t try to change the student, but we’ll change the instructor to another instructor. The two personalities needs to match.

We do not have grades, so you can’t compare yourself with your classmates to see if you are doing better. We write words, describing how the session went instead of giving you a grade. It makes it a bit harder for the instructor pilot as they need to be more specific when writing in this diary; what went good, what went bad, where the student has to develop etc.

The grade doesn’t, in our opinion, make a better a student.”
concludes Capt. Bragvad.

Two pairs of students and instructors are allready evaluating their flight,
on the way back to the squadron building
Motivation on the walls of Luftstridsskolan; “You are here for the sole reason, you will be a pilot in the Air Force and defend your country.”

The pilot course
The student already knows which type they’re going to fly once they’re accepted which helps in different ways as described earlier. Another advantage is that the structure and flow of the education can be adjusted to be more specific about the type they’re going to fly.

The first two years of the education is similar for all students. The students starts with a standard armed forces Junior Cadet education which lasts for six months. This is a basic armed forces education, which isn’t only for future air force pilots, but for all branches of the armed forces.

They’ll then start on the National Defense College Aviation (NDCA) program once they’re Junior Cadets. The first one and a half years of the three year programme is spent at the Military Academy Karlberg in Stockholm, where they learn the theory in tactics, military techniques, leadership, as well as physical training.

Once the first year at the academy is completed, the students get split for the next year. The fixed wing students will head to Luftstridsskolan at Malmen Air Base, close to Linköping. Here they’ll go to 1st squadron, the basic fixed wing training squadron, flying the Sk 60. Rotary wing students will go to Bückeburg in Germany for their basic rotary training, flying the Eurocopter EC135.

Bachelor degree in war science
After this year of flying, the students head back to the academy in Stockholm to complete the NDCA programme with a six month officer’s exam. This will make the students officers in the Swedish Armed Forces, earning them a bachelor degree in war science, a degree that’s of equal value to any other degree from civilian university.

The fixed wing students then return to Luftstridsskolan at Malmen to join 2nd squadron to begin their advanced flying training. The transport pilots will stay in 2nd squadron for five months before heading off to civil aviation training in Ljungbyhed, then heading to their future squadron for type rating and combat readiness training (CRT).

The fighter pilots will stay in 2nd squadron for eleven months to complete their advanced fixed wing training, all done in the Sk 60. They’ll then go to F 7 at Såtenäs for six months for the conversion training (CT) to the JAS 39 Gripen. Here they learn all about the fast jet, as well as all the avionics, sensors etc of the Gripen. Once they have cleared the CT, they’ll head to their future squadron for CRT. The student don’t pick their own squadron, as this varies from year to year between the three Swedish fighter wings: F 7, F 17, and F 21.

The rotary students will return to Bückeburg for further six months of flying training which then concludes their basic flight training. They’ll then join up with 3rd squadron, the advanced training Rotary-Wing, at Luftstridsskolan. Here they’ll fly the HKP 15 (AgustaWestland AW109) for the next two years.

“When you have a fast, dynamic jet, things can go wrong and with the speeds they’re flying.”
Break, break! A pair of Sk 60 breaks away
The iconic silhouette of the Sk 60, during sunset

Fixed Wing
The basic flying training starts off with theoretical training combined with some simulator work. Within the first 3-4 weeks the students will find themselves in the Sk 60 for their first flight. The Swedish Armed Forces might be the only air force in the world to train its fixed wing pilots in a jet from day one, which is an advantage, as you can do everything with the jet trainer from day one.

The theoretical training, combined with simulator training continues, as they are flying. The students have around two hours of theoretical training for every flight they do. One flight can include multiple theoretical sessions, making the ratio of theoretical to flying larger.

The basic flying training consists of simple handling, aerobatics, instrument (Instrument Flight Rules – IFR), navigation, formation etc. The students go solo quite late, usually after around thirty hours of flying, compared to around fifteen hours before reaching solo when you’re flying a prop plane. When you have a fast, dynamic jet, things can go wrong and with the speeds they’re flying, they can go wrong fast. Having the pilot get to thirty hours before going solo, makes a difference and keeps everyone safe.

The side-by-side configuration of the Sk 60 has its advantages in the early stage of training, making the interaction between the student and instructor a lot easier, where the instructor gets a lot of information about the student by just looking at him. The instructor is able to monitor the students, making notes on where their hands and feet are, where the student is looking, and how he or she behaves.

When all the fixed wing students are back after completing the NDCA program, they’ll start of the advanced flying training together but they will be split up after a short while. The transport students will get a short taste of the air-to-air role, but will never do it solo. They will stay at Malmen doing advanced flying training for five months, before moving to the Trafikflyghögskolan in Ljungbyhed, to train for multi crew, multi-engine types and to get the required commercial pilot license (CPL).

Travel to Finland
Once done in Ljungbyhed, the students will move on to their assigned squadrons to get their CT. In the squadrons, the pilots will get the type rating in the type they are going to fly as well as getting their combat readiness training.

The fighter pilots stay for eleven months with 2nd squadron, doing simulated fighter and recce missions, air-to-air, and air-to-ground missions, NATO-procedures, as well as a “Tour Europe”. The “Tour Europe” is a flight to a European country, where the student needs to do all the planning, coordination, approvals, permits etc. to facilitate such a flight with a Swedish military aircraft. This teaches the students about all of the processes such a flight requires.

Once the transport pilots have left Malmen, the fighter pilots begin their extended air-to-air training. The air-to-air training is very advanced and creates a high demand on the students as they go solo without limits.

The students will also go to Finland to take part in the final air-to-air exercise at the Finnish flying training school – a Red Flag event for students. This is a relatively new concept, which illustrates the strong bond and cooperation between the Nordic countries.

The fighter students will also go to Flygvapnets Luftstridssimuleringscentrum (air combat simulation center), FLSC, in Stockholm, to do familiarization flights in the JAS 39 Gripen simulator. The FLSC consists of eight simulators, all linked up, giving them the opportunity to do a 4 vs 4 in the simulators. This gives the students a hint of what’s coming, before they head out to the F 7 wing at Såtenäs to conduct their JAS 39 training to become the new generation of Swedish fighter pilots.
“The students will also go to Finland to take part in the final air-to-air exercise at the Finnish flying training school – a Red Flag event for students.
On approuch for runway 19 at Malmen Air Base. This is the view that the students face when returning from a traning sortie.

Rotary Wing
The course for the rotary students is a lot different when compared to the fixed wing students. The rotary students start their basic flying training in Bückeburg in Germany, flying the Eurocopter EC135 and covering navigation, IFR (CPL), mountain flying, basic night vision goggles (NVG) training. There is one Swedish Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) based at Bückeburg.

The basic flying training for the rotary students is longer than the basic flying training for the fixed wing students, as they will return to Bückeburg to continue the basic flying training when the fixed wing students return to Malmen for their advanced flying training. This means that the students will get 115 flight hours in Germany before heading permanently to Malmen.

When the transport students leave Malmen to go to Ljungbyhed, the rotary students begins their advanced flying training in the 3rd squadron, and the 14 QFI, at Malmen, where they will fly the HKP 15 – AgustaWestland AW109. The advanced flying training consists of low level flying, mountain flying, formation training, advanced NVG and finally solo-flights.

The rotary students will stay eleven months at Malmen for their advanced flying training, gaining them an additional 110 flying hours. Once done with their training, the students will move from the 3rd squadron to get their CRT. The HKP 14 pilots will get CRT in France, HKP 15 pilots will stay at Malmen and HKP 16 pilots in the USA. Once they have their CRT, they’ll join their future squadron.

Getting the Sk 60 ready for a new sortie
Instructor courses
Besides having the student pilot courses, Luftstridsskolan also runs other courses, one of them being the Qualified Flying Instructor course (QFI). This course trains pilots from different Swedish front line squadrons to become qualified flying instructors, which gets them back where their flying career started.

The Swedish QFI course takes a different approach to many other countries QFI courses. The most noticeable difference is in the first two segments of the course. Here they have a lot of theoretical training about psychology and pedagogy as well as a “live practice” segment, which really tests the future instructors to their limit. This is to get the instructors to have the right knowledge, mind-set and skills to train pilots and to give them a chance to practice this. The course turns the future instructors into coaches rather than judges.

It’s important that the instructors don’t judge a student for having a different personality to their own. This helps them to become as objective as they possibly can be. If a sortie is “failed”, it is as much a failure for the student as for the instructor. In most other countries instructors just control that the student is doing the right things. Instead the focus is on the learning process and trying to create an environment that is optimal for learning.

The student and the instructor are in it together and their goal is to get through it together. This method has three pillars: the relationship between student and instructor, communication, and self-confidence. It’s a very open relationship between the students and the instructors, and it has to be like this, as they don’t want to end up in a “higher officer and cadet” situation, where the cadet is afraid to speak to the higher officer. Students and teachers can say anything, every right and wrong thing they do, every thought they have, absolutely anything.

This is where they build the foundation of the future pilots, via the future instructors. The instructor needs to build the students self-confidence as much as they can. It is scientifically proven that confidence makes better learning possible and that if you learn during stress you don’t get the deep learning process.

You’ll always need some amount of pressure, but the Swedish Air Force makes sure never to pressure the students too much, by understanding the cone of stress, where there is a fine balance between the levels of stress you have and how well you perform. Once they learn the elements under the right amount of pressure, then it’s going to be how they do it by instinct. When the students later come under stress in a live war situation, then they know how to handle the situation as they have already had the experience and instinct for it.

Visual, Auditory and Tactile
The instructor pilots have to evaluate and adapt to student’s personality and learning style. This is an important skill for the instructor to master. If the student and instructor are too alike, they might not be a match as some might be too much of a perfectionist, where the opposite would be chaotic. It should be a fine balance, where the students and instructors line up mentally. The instructors are instructed in the three learning styles; Visual, Auditory and Tactile so they can adapt to the way that the student learns the best. These important skills are the first that the instructors must learn and develop.

After this basic training, they’ll head into the “Live practice” segment, where they take volunteers, more or less “from the street” with no previous flying or military experience. The instructors are then supposed to teach them how to fly within three weeks. They will fly once every day from day two. The instructors have to put theory into practice and really adapt and show what they have learned.

The volunteers selected are based on the instructor’s knowledge, to get the person least similar to the instructor as possible. This is done to challenge the instructor as much as possible and to get them in the worst-case scenario from the beginning to see what they are capable of.

The pair will then fly special sorties that are known to be confusing in terms of communication between the instructor and the student to test the instructor’s abilities to teach, observe and communicate with students. It’s a very intensive three weeks, as they make mistakes and learn each day, giving the instructors the equivalent of almost a year of experience in just three weeks. Compared to talking about it, doing theoretical practice, and then getting a real student, this is an effective way of training instructors.

This will, in the end, give the instructors the mental tools they need to teach future pilots to be autonomous and have the self-confidence to make those split second decisions when they sit alone in the cockpit of a fighter jet in a war situation.
The sun is setting behind these Sk 60s, before they return to base

Sk 60
The Swedish Air Force bought a total of 150 aircraft back in 1965 to replace the aging De Havilland Vampire fleet. The aircraft were divided into three principal variants:
  • The Sk 60A for training and liaison duties using a four-seat configuration.
  • The Sk 60B for light attack missions in a twin side-by-side seating configuration.
  • The Sk 60C dual-role attack and reconnaissance aircraft equipped with various cameras in the aircraft’s nose.

Today the Swedish Air Force flies the Sk 60A and Sk 60B models, using them for training and liaison duties. The first student pilots started flying the Sk 60 in July 1967, making 2017 the 50th anniversary of the Sk 60, making the workhorse of the Swedish Air Force fixed-wing pilot school an old lady.

“Only time will tell what the Swedish Air Force and Luftstridsskolan will end up with, if it is one aircraft replacing the Sk 60 for either basic and advanced flying training or a two type aircraft configuration.”
The final break of the day, for this pair of Sk 60
The future
SAAB received a contract in December 2008 to extend the support of operations of the Sk 60s in the Swedish Air Force trainer fleet up to mid-2017. This has then been extended to mid-2020.

The majority of the Swedish Sk 60s are based at Luftstridsskolan in Malmen with a number of planes throughout the three air bases too, F 7 Såtenäs, F 17 Kallinge and F 21 Luleå. All of the Sk 60s that are not at Malmen will be moved from their base during the summer of 2017, to Malmen as time is running out for the airframes and the Air Force need to concentrate on getting all the hours possible from these aircraft to train the future pilots of the Swedish Air Force.

What the future will bring is currently uncertain, as a request for information (RFI) was issued in April 2015, by the Defense Materiel Administration for a new Military Flying Training System to provide long term basic and advanced training fleet functions. The advanced trainer requirements specify the presence of an embedded training capability including simulated radar and weapons use, as well as tactical displays in the cockpit resembling fourth and fifth-generation jet fighter aircraft.

Replacement aircraft, such as the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, BAE Systems Hawk, Embraer Super Tucano and Pilatus PC-21 have been suggested. SAAB and Pilatus Aircraft signed a memorandum of understanding to offer the PC-21 to the Swedish Air Force.

Only time will tell what the Swedish Air Force and Luftstridsskolan will end up with, if it is one aircraft replacing the Sk 60 for either basic and advanced flying training or a two type aircraft configuration.

A huge thanks to Luftstridsskolan and especially Capt. Jan Westman, Capt. Magnus Bragvad and Major Michael Rosenquist for making this article possible.