Patrulla Aguila could keep C-101 for several years, despite PC-21 procurement

MADRID | Despite the news that the PC-21 will take over from Spain’s ageing C-101 Aviojets from 2021, Patrulla Aguila could keep their C-101s for several years yet.

Spain’s public procurement agency confirmed rumours on Tuesday 26th November that the country has purchased 24 Pilatus PC-21s from Switzerland. Known as the E.27 in Spanish service, the PC-21s will initially replace Spain’s 35 T-35 Pillán aircraft used for elementary flying training and some of Spain’s 64 C-101 Aviojets used for basic jet training.

The first of the 24 new planes will arrive in March 2020, with the last arriving by autumn 2021. They will completely take over elementary and basic flying training from 2022 onwards.

The announcement prompted speculation that Patrulla Aguila, Spain’s main aerobatic team, could switch from the C-101 from the PC-21 within the next few seasons as the Aviojet is phased out. However, the new procurement does not affect C-101s used for advanced jet training, which will remain in service until at least 2027 according to current plans.

Photo: Peter Lawrence

Next decade, Spain is likely to seek a jet-powered training aircraft to replace the remaining C-101s, as well as its F-5B fleet. This type could also be the replacement for Patrulla Aguila’s C-101s. The M345 Master, already earmarked for use by Italy’s Frecce Tricolori, is currently considered to be a frontrunner.

Early this year, it was revealed that Spain and the Republic of Korea were negotiating an aircraft swap which would see Spain swap up to six surplus A400Ms for 30 KT-1 Woongbi turboprop trainers and 20 T-50B Golden Eagle jets from Korea Aerospace Industries. While it was rumoured that the T-50s would be destined for Patrulla Aguila, both types could feasibly be used by the team and are already flown by the Jupiter Aerobatic Team and Black Eagles respectively. Unfortunately, no deal seems to have been reached, and the procurement of the PC-21, which will fulfill the same role as the KT-1, seems to confirm this.

It is also possible that Patrulla Aguila could take on the PC-21, particularly if further examples are ordered in the future. Currently, two aerobatic teams fly the type: the Qatar Display Team and the RAAF Roulettes. However, the current order of 24 aircraft would be severely overstretched if they were to take on both the training and aerobatic role, making it unlikely that any change of aircraft takes place in the near future.

Although the C-101 entered service in 1980, it is far from the oldest aircraft used by a major military aerobatic team. The Hawk T.1 – the type used by the Red Arrows – entered service in 1976, while the CT-114 Tutors used by the Snowbirds came into service in 1963. Both jets have been retired from active duty within the British and Canadian air forces, but have been kept on solely for use with their aerobatic teams. In both cases, the ageing jets are planned to soldier on for at least another decade.