In 1993, Aermacchi signed an agreement to partner with Yakovlev on the new trainer the firm had been developing since 1991 for the Russian Air Force. The resulting aircraft first flew in 1996 and was brought to Italy the following year to substitute the aging MB-339. At the time, the aircraft was marketed as the Yak/AEM-130, however, by 2000, differences in priorities between the two firms brought about an end to the partnership, with each developing the aircraft independently, with Aermacchi retaining worldwide marketing rights except for Russia and the other CIS nations. A Russian version is also being pursued by Yakovlev and Sokol, under a different time schedule.
The M-346 is a highly modified version of the aircraft the joint venture was producing, and uses equipment exclusively from Western manufacturers. The first prototype rolled out on 7 June 2003 and flew for the first time on 15 July 2004.
Prototype 002 at Le Bourget airshow, 2005
On display at Farborough airshow 2010In January 2005, the Greek Ministry of Defence signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to become a partner in the programme and, in 2006, Aermacchi signed an industrial cooperation agreement with Hellenic Aerospace Industry.
In July 2007, the M-346 flew to the United Arab Emirates for hot weather tests and operational evaluation by the UAE Air Force.
In March 2008 the Chilean ENAER signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Alenia Aermacchi at the FIDAE air show.
On 10 April 2008 one further prototype in the final configuration (new landing gear and air brake, more composite parts) was rolled out: first flight of this "Industrial Baseline Configuration" was expected in June. On 18 December 2008, the M-346 reached a maximum speed of Mach 1.15 (1,255 km/h, 678 knots, 780 mph).
In May 2008 Boeing signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on the marketing, sales, training and support of two Aermacchi trainers, the M-346 and the M-311.
The development of a full-mission simulator for the M-346 has been awarded to CAE and is under development.
The M-346 Master is the only new generation advanced/lead-in fighter trainer currently available in Europe. The aircraft is tailored to train pilots to fly new generation combat aircraft and is well suited for every phase of advanced and pre-operational training, to reduce the flight hours on the more expensive aircraft. The aircraft embodies the latest “design-to-cost” and “design-to-maintain” concepts, with avionics modelled upon those of new generation military aircraft such as Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale, F-16, F-22 and the future JSF.
The M-346 features innovative design solutions. Vortex lift aerodynamics, together with the full authority quadruplex Fly-by-Wire control system, allow the aircraft to remain fully controllable at angles of attack over 35° degrees. With this technological achievement, Alenia Aermacchi confirms it can autonomously design and manufacture advanced aircraft with Fly-by-Wire controls. This, combined with the twin-engine configuration and thrust/weight ration close to 1, translates into safety levels unattainable by its competitors. The M-346 also integrates digital avionics with the ability to simulate sensors and threats in flight. These characteristics and its performance make the M-346 the world’s leading tactical pre-operational training aircraft.
In November 2009 the Italian Air Force signed the contract about the first batch of 6 M-346, including also simulators and integrated logistic supports, to fulfill the advanced/lead-in fighter training requirements for pilots that will fly the future generation combat aircraft. This contract forms part of a broader agreement to supply a total of 15 M-346 and related support.
In February 2009 it was selected by the United Arab Emirates for their new training air fleet and the negotiations are at the last stage for the acquisition of a complete Integrated Training Solution comprehensive of 48 M-346. Furthermore, it is also in the short list (two competitors) in Singapore within the Fighter Wings Course (FWC).The M-346 programme also involves other Finmeccanica Group companies including Selex Galileo, Alenia SIA, Sirio Panel and Selex Communications. CAE, the world leader in simulation and integrated training solutions, is developing and validating the simulator for the Initial Training Capability. CAE enters the programme with Selex Galileo.
Crew: two, student and instructor
Length: 11.49 m (37 ft 7 in)
Wingspan: 9.72 m (31 ft 9 in)
Height: 4.76 m (15 ft 6 in)
Wing area: 23.52 m² (253.2 ft²)
Empty weight: 4,610 kg (10,165 lb)
Loaded weight: 6,700 kg (14,770 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 9,500 kg (20,945 lb)
Powerplant: 2× Honeywell F124-GA-200 , 27.8 kN (6,250 lbf) each
Never exceed speed: Mach 1.2 (1,460 km/h, 915 mph)
Maximum speed: 1,255 km/h (779 mph)
Stall speed: 166 km/h (104 mph)
Range: 1,890 km (1,181 miles)
Service ceiling: 13,715 m (45,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 6,401 m/min (21,000 ft/min)
Wing loading: 285 kg/m² (58.3 lb/ft²)
Nine hardpoints for a variety of guns, bombs, rockets and missiles