United States Navy trainee pilots will soon be learning the tricks of their trade in British aircraft. Through a deal with British Aerospace more than 300 Hawk jet trainers are to be built for use by the Navy's fliers. The contract will be worth at least $1 billion to Britain and is likely to lead to an even bigger deal with the US Air Force.
The plane at the center of the arrangement, which has the blessing of US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, is a stubby single engine two-seater the Royal Air Force has used for some time to nurse its pilots through their early months of instruction.
The Hawk edged out five rival aircraft the US Navy had been considering, one of them the Franco-German Alphajet, at one time considered a probable winner of the contract.
The British plane was successful, the makers claim, because of its reliability, economy, and versatility. Another reason why British Aerospace, working with Rolls Royce, gained the contract was four years of hard selling in the US.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) has nearly 200 Hawks in service. The plane is well known to aircraft spotters as the machine used by the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team, famous for breathtaking gyrations in the sky and daredevil low flying.
The US Navy order, which now goes to Congress for approval, is an enormous boost for the British air industry. Until now sales of the Hawk have been modest.
The order will more than double exports so far. It is also likely to interest other countries in the machine.
With luck, says British Defense Secretary John Nott, the Hawk could become the most sought after jet trainer in the world.
Among European NATO officials the sale has been welcomed as confirmation that the US is prepared to honor its pledge to make arms sales within the alliance a ''two-way street.''
In the past the Americans have been criticized by the Europeans for reluctance to buy their weapons while remaining eager to sell US materiel.
The deal offered to Britain by Weinberger involves an initial contract to develop the Hawk as a naval jet trainer. Later British Aerospace and the American firm, McDonnell Douglas, will work jointly on the construction of between 300 and 400 Hawks.
British Aerospace hopes the US Air Force, which will soon need about 600 jet trainers, will also opt for the Hawk.
Britain also has its eye on the Middle East market. It hopes that the rich Gulf countries will wish to emulate the US in selecting the Hawk.