The subject of tandem-seat versus side-by-seating in a training environment requires a detailed discussion. The pro's and con's of the two alternatives have been debated since the early 1900's. The obvious benefit of side-by-side seating for the beginning student pilot is the visibility afforded the instructor pilot of the student's behavior and facial expressions. Side-by-side seating provides for easier of interaction between the student and instructor, as well as the instructor's ability to better observe the student's actions and maintain situational awareness. The cockpit instrumentation is lighter, controls are simpler, and the weight and balance problems (which impacts stability and control) are easily managed. The down side of side-by-side seating is that it is not representative the next level of training aircraft (Raytheon T-6A/B, the Pilatus PC-9, the KAI KT-1, the Embraer EMB-314, or the Pilatus PC-21). Negative training becomes a reality because once the student graduates to a more advanced trainer, they must "unlearn" practices that they were trained to accomplish in the side-by-side aircraft. Also, opportunities to train the students early for the actual intended environment are lost, which results in training inefficiencies and longer hours in the program. The benefits of tandem seating become more obvious when one considers that the primary mission of the SGT-300 and -301 family of aircraft is to prepare aviation candidates for military aviation. Unlike civilian pilot training programs, a typical formal military training program may consist of four stages. During the contact stage, basic flying is taught under visual flight rules (VFR). Practice take offs, landings, touch-and-go landings, stalls, simulated emergency procedures including no flap landings, engine-out, and forced landing procedures. Unlike civilian flight training, this entry level of training will include military style overhead traffic pattern, the anti-G straining maneuver, spins, and aerobatics (to include the loop, immelman, split-s, cuban-eight, clover leaf, barrel roll, and aileron roll). During the formation stage, two-ship formation flying is taught, including taxi, line up, and a wing take off in formation. The various formation patterns are taught, as well as position changes and battle damage assessments. Ultimately, air combat maneuvering may be taught to those pilots chosen for the fighter track.
In the United States (as in most other countries) traditions run strong. For example, the United States Air Force has a tradition of using side-by-side aircraft, and they recently continued that tradition by specifying a side-by-side configuration for their next generation of screening aircraft, the Diamond DA-20. However, the US Navy has historically used tandem seat aircraft for primary flight training. Since we envision that one of the first operators of the SGT-300 may be the US Navy, a short review of the history of naval air training in the US is in order to better understand the training culture.
The first training aircraft to be introduced into naval service in 1916 was the JN-4A Jenney, and later the Curtis N-9, both of which were tandem seat. As late as the mid-1920s, USN flight students completed part of their training in N-9 seaplanes. During that period, the Navy sought purchase a new generation of primary trainers, including the N2C Fledgling, a tandem seat aircraft. The tandem seated Stearman N2-S Kaydet and NAF N3N both saw service as trainers in the 1930's. Also in the 1930s, the original NT-1 trainer employed side-by-side seating, but this configuration proved to be inadequate for the Navy, and later models incorporated the traditional tandem configuration.
Built as a private venture by North American Aircraft in 1935, the famous tandem seat SNJ (the original North American T-6) became the Navy's advanced trainer from 1936 through the forties and its primary trainer during much of the fifties. In 1941, the Timm Aircraft Corporation produced the tandem seat S-160-K as a primary training monoplane. 262 were ordered by the Navy as N2T-1 Tutors. The all metal, tandem seat T-28B Trojan was developed as a replacement for the SNJ Texan trainer. First flown in 1953, model ultimately equipped eleven training squadrons in both the primary and basic training roles. The success of the T-28Bs resulted in the placement of an order for the tailhook equipped T-28C. Making its first flight in 1955, the T-28C became the center piece for all Navy flight training - basic, primary, instrument, and carrier qualifications.
In 1953, the Navy began evaluating the tandem seat Beechcraft T-34A Mentor. Originally produced and utilized as a trainer for the Air Force, the Navy chose to make enough changes in the basic design to warrant construction of a new model designated the T-34B. A total of 423 T-34B's were built for the Navy between 1954 and 1958. The Navy would use the T-34B for over twenty years accumulating almost 100,000 flight hours per year. One aircraft accumulated 5,115 airframe hours which included 16,459 landings, 17,904 stalls and 4,604 loops. During the 1970s the Navy upgraded the T-34B to the T-34C by replacing the conventional Continental 225 hp engine with the Pratt & Whitney 400 hp turboprop along with some structural strengthening for higher operational weights. Beechcraft produced 334 T-34C models for the Navy in a run that would last from 1977 to 1984. The T-34C is still in use as the basic trainer for the Navy, but is rapidly being replaced as the Raytheon T-6 Texan II comes on-line in full strength this decade.
The Navy has been training student pilots in tandem seat aircraft since its inception. Whys is this? In the collective opinion of the Naval pilot training community, the pro's outweigh the con's. As mentioned earlier, a symmetrical site picture is essential for consistently and properly performing such tasks as aerobatic maneuvers, formation flying, and air combat maneuvering. Students are taught to reference the canopy, wing tips and nose of their aircraft when performing these maneuvers. A tandem seat aircraft offers a symmetrical site picture, which does not change from left to right. On the other hand, a side by side seating arrangement offers an asymmetrical site picture, one that must be adjusted whether the student is looking left or right, or flying in the left or right position in their formation.
To address the concerns about observing the student's facial expressions, hand movements and body language, one only look to those flight schools that routinely perform all flight training in tandem seat aircraft. US Navy, French, Spanish, Portugese, Chilean, Brazilian, Russian and Chinese instructor pilots have become quite skilled at reading the subtle cues of student's helmet from behind. Meanwhile, students learning to fly in a the SGT-300 will begin mastering the art of military aviation much earlier than their counterparts who are seated next to their instructor. Negative training is avoided, and a build-up approach enabled and a smooth transition to the next level of complexity.