Sometimes building a complex aircraft today is rather like putting together a successful office team. You need wide-ranging skills, a strong work ethic and the will to win! Fighter aircraft are so complex and so expensive that only a very few countries can go it alone, and if a country does so and makes the aircraft too ‘country-specific’, they may not generate the overseas sales which are needed to support any modern program. Sometimes you get a ‘rotten apple’ in the barrel – a country which wants to have it ALL its own way, who changes specifications to suit its own air force or naval air arm, who throws temper tantrums, even – are you listening to me, France? I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anyone would do an aerospace deal with the French, ever again. After watching them ruin the Jaguar (the RAF wanted a strike aircraft, they wanted a trainer; we got a trainer which could drop a few iron bombs) and downsize the Concorde to suit THEIR route structure, I just wanted to put a LARGE fence around the country and leave them to it. Perfidious Albion, indeed!
Given the fact that a state of the art ‘future fighter’ would need to be the subject of a multinational effort, it was logical, when the Air Staff of the Royal Air Force issued a requirement for a new fighter (to replace the Tornado) – AST 403 – back in 1972, that they would seek Continental partners, to spread the economic load AND ensure a bigger market to sell into. Very fortuitously, the Luftwaffe needed a new fighter to replace their aging F4F Phantoms, and their project was called the TKF-90; this was a modern fighter with foreplanes, and two engines, quite similar to the British studies being undertaken. Since British Aerospace and the German consortium of MBB (along with the Italian company of Aeritalia) had already formed a European organization called Panavia to design and build the Tornado (in both fighter and interdictor/strike forms) it seemed a very good idea to follow the same pattern with the new fighter. The first design study gave rise to the Agile Combat Aircraft, with delta wing and canards, and it was to be powered by two of the well-proven three-spool Turbo-Union RB.199 turbofan engines, producing more than 16,000lb thrust in reheat, as used in the Panavia Tornado.
Since, within reason, it is good practice to have as many countries involved in an aerospace program as possible (and Boeing has shown what happens when TOO MANY countries are involved) both Spain and France were brought into the project in 1983; the aircraft was renamed the Future European Fighter Aircraft, or EFA. There immediately began to be problems from – you are allowed ONE guess – the French. First, they demanded that the weight be brought down, and the size reduced, as this would make possible the unique carrier version that they were insisting on for their medium-size carriers. Then when other consortium members stuck to the outline specification, the French DEMANDED that they be given ‘lead designer’ status, as, obviously, the other countries were no good at designing fighters! They left in a huff when the majority vote suggested there was no place for such tactics.
Whilst all this was going on, BAE and MBB, along with Alenia (the Italian successor company to Aeritalia) decide to build a pair of aircraft under the EAP (Experimental Aircraft Program) as a lead-in to the Eurofighter. In the end, only the British example was built (at Warton) and the German machine was cancelled. Wherever possible, technology was ‘borrowed’ so as to reduce cost and speed the test program. A pair of RB.199 engines, like those in the Tornado, were used, as well as a Tornado fin and rudder, complete. I saw the EAP fly at the 1986 SBAC Display at Farnborough, and it was most impressive. It had made its first flight on 8th August, just a few weeks before the Farnborough show, but it was vital that it make that date, as the French fighter, the Dassault Rafale was due to fly in the display. So, the two rivals for the next European fighter aircraft squared off for the first – but not the last – time. Since the EAP had more wing area and more available power, its display was more vigorous. It did suffer a little in style, however, as the Tornado fin was well out of proportion when fitted to the smaller EAP (the Tornado was known as ‘the Fin’ in the RAF, anyway!) The data gained from the EAP flying program allowed the Eurofighter project to be accelerated; now CASA of Spain had joined the Eurofighter consortium, there was another name change to Eurofighter EFA. Following the example of Panavia, yet another German-based entity, Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH, was established to control this very complex multi-national program. Each consortium member not only built their assigned components (e.g. BAe – foreplanes, front and rear fuselage, dorsal fairing, fin, canopy, and flaperons) but also assembled their own ‘national’ aircraft.
The RB.199 engines were always going to be a ‘stop gap’ until the multi-national EJ200 engine was ready. In 1992, the aircraft suffered yet another name change, becoming the EF2000. It was decided that the consortium would build no less than seven Development Aircraft (known as DA-1 through DA-7), which would undertake an intensive flying program to iron out any snags and prepare the respective air forces for the new fighter. DA-2 was built at Warton, and was ready before DA-1, which was built in Germany, but for political reasons, the German aircraft was allowed to fly first! The first flight of DA-2, (the aircraft you can see above) took place on 6th April, 1994; the new EJ200 engine wasn’t ready, so the reliable RB.199 Mk 104E, taken from the EAP, powered the prototype. The pilot on the first flight was BAe’s Director of Air Operations, Chris Yeo, and it was a very sedate affair. Slowly, the flight envelope was expanded until it was ready for major public exposure – on the static line at the Paris Airshow at Le Bourget, in June 1995. The first public flying display was at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford, Gloucestershire on 22/23rd June, 1995, where it earned rave reviews. DA-2 had gone supersonic for the first time during this month, achieving Mach 1.02 under carefully controlled conditions; it finally reached its designed maximum trials speed of Mach 2.0 over the Irish Sea (just as its ancestor the English Electric P.1 had done!)
A very busy service life followed, with continual upgrades – new software, EJ200 engines (at last), air-to-air refueling sorties, carriage of underwing stores, fitment of the definitive Martin Baker Mk16A zero-zero ejection seat, etc. In July 2000, an experimental sensor program, using 490 pressure transducers fitted to the skin of DA-2, required the painting of the aircraft in an all-over black scheme (to conceal the sensors exact locations). By accident, this meant that the aircraft acquired ‘high conspicuity’, in that it was very easily seen in the air! It is still in this scheme, seen here as it hangs in the ‘Milestones of Flight’ gallery at the RAF Museum, London. It is also carrying a low-visibility version of the RAF roundel, and a ‘quadrapartite’ roundel representing the four consortium partners. On the fin you can just make out the ‘Fighting Cocks’ symbol of the famous No. 43 Squadron, RAF, which was applied when DA-2 was sent to RAF Leuchars, in Scotland, which was the Squadron’s base in 2001.
DA-2 made its final flight to RAF Coningsby on the 29th January, 2007; it was retired, and useful parts, such as the EJ200 engines, the APU and the batteries were recovered for future use on other Typhoons, as the fighters were now known. As much heavy equipment as possible was removed, as it had been decided to suspend the aircraft in the roof of the new gallery at Hendon. Transferred as a disassembled load by road to Hendon, final re-assembly was completed on 30th January, 2008, and it now is the very first aircraft you see as you enter ‘Milestones of Flight’.
Oh, and all production machines were named Typhoon, much to the distress of the Germans, who remembered, I dare say, the punishment handed out to them by the LAST aircraft of that name. Still, they had to settle for this ‘second choice’ name, eventually. Why? BAE Systems, as it now is, originally wanted to call it the ‘Spitfire II’ !!
DA-2, an important fighter prototype, with a ‘life well-flown’, and a place of honour at the end!