This page details some of the memories kindly shared with me by the team who designed, built, tested and maintained the Tornado.
Please note that some names have been changed, I guess those of you who were there will identify the individual(s), culprit(s) involved etc.
As a youngster at Heyhouses Junior school in St.Annes I would often be out playing and suddenly hear the double bang of the sound barrier being broken. Above I could see the aircraft flying out from Warton on their test flights. It seemed magical to me and it started a desire to be involved one day. I learned later that most of the bangs were from the TSR2 or it's chase planes heading out over the Irish sea. Years later when I had completed my O levels at King Edward VII School, Lytham and I was still being tantalised by the aircraft flying overhead. The sixth form and A levels didn't really appeal but the options were a bit limited so I stayed on but started looking around for jobs in computers which was my new passion.
Two trainee operator jobs were advertised in late 1974 and I applied for both, but really only wanted one of them. The first was for British Nuclear Fuels which would of been great except for glowing in the dark, the other was for BAC Warton in the Flight Test Department. Miraculously I attended an interview and was offered the job at BAC and started there on the 1st April 1975 as a trainee computer operator.
To begin with I was working on the Jaguar flight test program, along with Stuart Miller and my shift leader Mike Highton. For those of you with any interest in computers we used two Honeywell DDP516 computers, one had 8K of 8 bit memory, the other had 16k. Laughable by today's standards when the smallest PC you buy has at least 512Mb (524288Kb) of 32 bit memory, BUT they did the job admirably.
After a couple of years on the Jaguars I moved over onto the Tornado flight testing. Here we had two BIG machines. Both were Rank Xerox Sigma V computers one with 64K the other with 100K of memory. By today's standards they were massive, rows of Blue cabinets about 6 feet tall, humming noisily with banks of flashing lights and whirling tape decks. At the heart of this was the telemetry control station. Here during the test flights one of the operators would sit, listening to the Flight Test Engineers and Aircrew whilst overseeing the positioning of the main dish antenna on the roof of the building. Generally this would auto-track the aircraft but at times it had to be controlled manually using two small rotating knobs. Keeping the signal strong was quite an art and you soon realised when the signal was fading by the shouts and insults directed to you over the headset by the 'Boffins' in the monitoring room.
Every weekday the computer room was manned by at least 3 operators, starting up at 6am on a Monday morning then eventually powering down at 10pm on a Friday night. After about 5 years in operations I was promoted into the programming side, and was trained in Fortran so that I could be a part of writing the analysis programs for the flight testing which I continued to do for a further 5 years before leaving BAe to see the outside world.
Now after over 33 years from starting in IT I am still heavily involved as a Database Manager for a large private boarding school.
The happiest and saddest days of my working life were spent in flight test, the camaraderie of the entire team being a huge perk of the job, but the loss of people you know such as Russ Pengelly who tragically died in the Tornado P08 crash being the saddest.
There were some very unusual occurrences during the years, with Warton being right on the edge of the River Ribble and Preston docks still being in use there were occasional times when the aircraft were suddenly moved into hangers or generally out of site. Normally this occurred when a fishing boat loaded with more aerials than Jodrell Bank was passing by flying a flag with a star on it. On one occasion when I was involved in Engine Runs on a Jaguar the entire team mooned one of these passing vessels, photos in the Kremlin no doubt.
I can't remember all of the operators and programmers I worked with in those days but I would like to name a few: David Scholfield (Chief Computer Operator), Dr D K Potter (Head of Flight Test IT), Mike Highton, David Leeming, Bill Fletcher, Stuart Miller, Nigel, Dave, Stan, Norman Lowe (all operators), Carol Lowe (programmer), Christine & Jackie (Kinetheodolite operators and card punch operators)
There were many more but alas the memories of names fade in time, and my apologies to anyone I have missed out from the team.
In your Tornado timeline on your very interesting site, I spotted a reference to a TWCU deployment to Goose Bay from 10 May 1983. I was on TWCU at the time (as an air comms/air radar technician specialising on the FGCS and CODA systems) and went on a deployment across the pond in May 1983. However, it wasn’t specifically a Goose Bay deployment (if I’m thinking of the same thing, and I’m pretty sure I am – unlike our operational colleagues, TWCU deployments were pretty few and far between). We were actually invited by the USAF to take part in the Armed Forces Open Day at Andrews AFB in Maryland, with the purpose of demonstrating the RAF’s latest toy to the American masses.
I think we took 4 aircraft, but I could be wrong about that. We ground crew were transported by Hercules via Gander, where we had an overnight stop and on down to Andrews the following day. The sky that day was crystal clear and the views of Martha’s Vineyard and Manhattan were absolutely superb, to some extent distracting us from the interminable noise of 4 Allison turboprops and the fact that nowhere in the cabin was comfortably warm. On arrival at Andrews, we saw our aircraft in and set about putting together our maintenance facilities. We were allocated hangar space with the USAF Thunderbirds F-16 display team, whose aircraft were absolutely pristine and made our Tornados look a bit shabby – we had done our best to clean the soot left by the thrust-reversers off the tail fins but hadn’t been too successful. The Thunderbirds line chief was most put out when he saw how leaky our aircraft were – fuel, hydraulic oil, engine oil and gearbox oil all leaked onto the ASP and hangar floors in prodigious quantities and he didn’t want to risk any of that messing up his charges, so we spent an inordinate amount of time clearing up spills – until some kind individual loaned us a number of drip trays (we had omitted to take any with us).
The next week or so was spent flying our demo sorties – not much more than 4 or so a day – and basking in the Maryland sunshine. The natives were very friendly and invited us to numerous parties. However, their enthusiasm for us was a watered down a bit when the Red Arrows air and groundcrew arrived part way through the week and stole everyone’s attention. The open day took place over a weekend and the place was mobbed. The flying displays went very well and we suffered no significant defects that I recall. It might have been good if we had, as it would have given us an excuse to stay on, however it was over all too soon and time to go home.
On the way home we staged through Goose Bay, where, having previously worked on Vulcans and having a still-current qualification for the Navigation and Bombing System, I got roped into helping with a radar fault on our similarly-equipped Victor tanker. So while my colleagues were in what passed for town doing what young airmen do, I spent most of the night beavering away in a dark, dingy and freezing cold Victor radome. From there, it was back home to Honington to enjoy the envious looks of colleagues who hadn’t been lucky enough to get on what was a pretty plum detachment.
"I started my 25 years on the Tornado project in March 1975 and had the pleasure of being a Tornado flight trials engineer for the first 8 years. ( PO2 , P03 and P06 ) I retired PO2 into RAF Honington . The original plan was to use P02 as a weapons trainer. That didn't happen and she just sat in storage hangar for years. P06 was retired into RAF Cosford. A small team was dispatched from Warton to meeting the aircraft and remove the flight test instrumentation data tape. Thousands of staff at RAF Cosford lined up to meet the aircraft...........Bang ....splutter....Bang, the aircraft did a low pass over the airfield with the left hand engine struggling to remain serviceable. The Pilot ( Dave Eagles I think ) did his best to perform the planned, now very brief, flying display. Was it safe to land on a very short runway at Cosford with only limited reverse thrust from one engine ? .........Safety First ! ...... The aircraft limped back to Warton to return some four days later. That's the reason for the notes in the L/H undercarriage bay. "
"Development problems - the most visible change was to the base of the fin. If you look at the bottom of the rudder on P02 (when it was painted red , white and blue ) There is a gap between the rudder and top of the rear fuselage/engine... and no vortex generators on the side of the fin ( they look like small aerials at both sides of the fin ) Why ? We had a small airflow problem at the base of the fin. On P02 that void was filled with the best OAK that money could buy ( yes... that oak is still in place on the aircraft all these years later ) Later prototype / production aircraft had this modification installed into rear fuselage ( metal this time ! ) "
"The early development years were filled with technical stories as we pushed forward to edges of the technology , the stories that shouldn't be lost are the people stories of those development days."
"The fuel system gave us some problems in the early days . At the slightest provocation the aircraft would vent fuel from the top of the fin . No matter what time of day , or the technical configuration of the aircraft , the fuel always vented onto a gentleman called Peter X . Pete then became famous as " Paraffin Pete "."
"The oddest story was the day we got the P03 stuck in the gents toilet ......yes it's true ! We had a new driver on the tractor and as everybody has tried to reverse a caravan will know , reversing a large object can be difficult .........pushing a multi-million tornado prototype into a hanger can be a little stressful too ! The driver was a just a little unsure that he had clearance between the wall on one side and the next prototype on the other . He went forward and backwards a number of times .......a small crowd of well wishers gathered to offer assistance. The right hand wing came ever closer to the gap in the wall that lead to the gents toilet. Two more movements of the tractor steering wheel resulted in the wing tip being lodged in this gap !!!! The local management team were not very amused !! Result = Knock down the wall !! "
"It was lucky for us that ZE210 had its mishap when it did or we would never have got the project finished. As I remember there were over 200 items documented as robbed from ZE250 with another 100 'undocumented' borrowings. We would demand a spare part, it would arrive, be placed on the shelf next to the a/c and then be nicked by one of the squadrons during the night! The main BASOV (Bleed Air Shut Off Valve) was a favourite item, we started hiding the parts but they cottoned on to that one."
"The canopy from ZE210 had a big scratch in it caused by the rear crew's helmet hitting it during the collision. We managed to blend it out within limits. ZE210 sat in the hangar for a long time while they planned what to do with it, I believe that it was eventually scrapped."
"The main damage to ZE250 was caused by a fire in the cross drive clutch which spread through the SPS bays and as far up as the base of the fin. To repair it the centre part of the SPS bay forward frame was cut out and replaced with a new piece and butt straps. There was lots of wiring damage and all the hydraulic pipes had to be removed and refitted (several years later). When we finally put electrical and hydraulic power on it there was one small hydraulic leak and the airbrake wiring had been reversed! In for Out and Out for In! Soon fixed that one."
(Fragment from UK Government website (Hansard Report) Crown Copyright)
Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the date and circumstances of the accident to Tornado F.3 serial number ZE250 carried out on the aircraft since its accident, and by which unit; what is the estimated additional number of man hours required to complete repairs to the aircraft; and what is the estimated total cost of restoring the aircraft to front line service following its accident.
Mr. Soames: Tornado F3 ZE250 was damaged on 27 March 1992 during engine ground runs. To date, RAF tradesman have expended 9,025 man hours on the repair, and it is estimated that a further 7,090 man hours will be required before the aircraft can be restored to service. The labour costs of returning the aircraft to service are estimated at approximately £800,000. The cost of spares and materials, which have been provided from existing stocks, could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
This page was last updated :21/10/2012