Tornado GR4 Low Level

Military aircraft using the UK Low Flying System

A brief description of the more commonly seen military aircraft, photographed in the UK low flying system.

Shorts Tucano T.1

Currently based at Linton-On-Ouse in Yorkshire, the two seat Tucano T.1 was introduced into RAF service in 1989, replacing the BAC Jet Provost as a Basic Fast‑Jet Trainer, preparing students for progression onto the BAE Hawk T.1/T.2.

The RAF Tucano T.1 is a modified version of the Brazilian Embraer EMB-312 Tucano, built under licence by Shorts of Belfast. The original PT6 engine has been replaced with a Garret TPE 331‑12B turboprop engine, with a four‑bladed propellor, giving a 50% increase in power and coupled with an Electronic Engine Controller (EEC) System, greatly improves fuel efficiency. The aircraft also has a revised canopy to be bird strike resistant up to 270 knots.

Tucano T.1 ZF204 Low Level

The crew being seated in tandem on Martin Baker ejection seats, with a cockpit layout similar to the BAE Hawk, makes the Tucano an ideal training aircraft for future fast‑jet students. Being fully aerobatic and having similar handling characteristics to that of a jet, the aircraft is used to train students in all aspects of military flying, such as general aircraft handling, formation flying and low level navigation. In addition the aircraft can be flown in all types of weather, day or night.

Having a maximum speed of 300 knots (345mph), and an ability to maintain 270 knots (310mph) at low level, the Tucano can operate up to 25,000ft with an initial climb rate of 3,270ft per minute at sea level. Coupled with good fuel efficiency and lower operating costs than its predecessor the Jet Provost, the Tucano allows low level sorties to be flown from Linton‑On‑Ouse, their home base, to locations as far away as Wales and the North of Scotland.

The Tucano is soon to be retired from its training role in the RAF, to be replaced by the Beechcraft T‑6 Texan II. In addition, the Basic Fast‑Jet Training Course based at Linton‑On‑Ouse, will move to RAF Valley, Anglesy, the home of the Advanced Fast‑Jet Training Course which operates the BAE Hawk T2.


BAE Hawk T.1/T.1A

The Hawk T.1 (HS-1182) first flew in 1974 and entered into RAF service in 1976. Originally designed and manufactured by Hawker Siddeley, over one thousand Hawk aircraft of differing variants have been produced to‑date, under the successive companies of British Aerospace and BAE Systems respectively. The aircraft has been exported to numerous air forces around the world, as a training and low‑cost combat aircraft.

Designed specifically as a training aircraft, the Hawk T.1 took on the role of an avanced flying trainer in the RAF and the T.1A (a modified T.1) as a weapons training aircraft, replacing the Folland Gnat and Hawker Hunter respectively.

Constructed of an all-metal airframe, with a low mounted cantilever wing and one-piece all moving tailplane, the Hawk is a highly manoeuvrable and agile aircraft. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Ardour 151 turbofan engine, an un‑reheated version of the engine that powered the Sepecat Jaguar GR.3, the Hawk can achieve Mach 0.88 in level flight and Mach 1.15 in a dive. The crew are seated on Martin Baker zero‑zero ejection seats in a tandem cockpit, with the instructor in the rear having good forward visibility (unlike in the Gnat), due to the rear section of the cockpit being elevated over the student in the front seat.

BAE Hawk T.1 XX327 Low Level

The Hawk T.1A was used in the RAF for weapons and tactical training, being modified to carry two underwing AIM‑9L Sidewinder air‑to‑air missiles and a 30mm ADEN cannon on a centreline pod, but this role has since been transferred to the T.2. The T.1A is currently used by the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic display team based at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire and RAF No. 100 Squadron based at RAF Leeming, Yorkshire. The latters main task amongst many, is to provide operational support for frontline squadrons flying Typhoon and support‑flying for the Joint Forward Air Controllers Training and Standards Unit (JFACTSU) and Close Air Support (CAS) missions.
The Hawk T.1 is expected to remain in service with RAF No. 100 Squadron till 2027.


BAE Hawk T.2

The Hawk 128 (T.2) an advanced model of the Hawk T.1/T.1A, took to the air on its maiden flight in July 2005.
In mid-2009 the T.2 was introduced into the RAF, with training operations begining in April 2012 with RAF No. IV Squadron at Valley. The aircraft though similar in appearance to the T.1, is basically a new design. On the outside, a re‑designed wing has seven hardpoints and a longer nose housing additional avionics. The tail fin incorporates a Radar Warning Receiver and the tail section is able to house a brake parachute. On the inside, a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Ardour 951 turbofan engine has Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC).

BAE Hawk T.2 ZK036 Low Level

The aircraft has a digital ‘Glass Cockpit’ with multi-function displays, which have replaced the analogue instrumentation of the T.1. An updated Head-Up display (HUD), the introduction of ‘Hands‑On‑Throttle‑And‑Stick’ (HOTAS) controls with a full IN/GPS navigation system and moving map display, are just some of the new cockpit displays, mission avionics and systems that have been incorporated, to prepare the student for a frontline fast‑jet, such as Typhoon or F-35.


BAE GR.9 Harrier II (Retired from service in 2010)

Originally designed by Hawker Siddeley Aviation, the single seat subsonic Harrier strike attack aircraft, first flew on August 31st 1966 and came into RAF service in April 1969 as the Harrier GR.1.

Powered by a vectored‑thrust turbofan engine, which can direct it's thrust through four rotatable engine exhaust nozzles, the Harrier can operate without the need for conventional runways. Having vertical short take‑off and landing capabilities (VSTOL) enables the aircraft to be deployed away from airbases, due to it's ability to operate with minimal ground facilities and very short runways.

In the early 1970's, Hawker Siddeley entered into a re‑development project of the Harrier (currently the GR.3) with the American Company McDonald Douglas, but pulled out due to escalating costs. McDonald Douglas carried on with the project, the end result being the AV‑8 Harrier II.

BAE Harrier GR.9

In the late 1970's, British Aerospace re-entered the project with McDonald Douglas (now part of BAE Systems and Boeing respectively). The outcome was a British derived version of the AV‑8, the GR.5 Harrier II, which entered service with the RAF in July 1987. Upgrades and modifications to the GR.5 resulted in the GR.7 and eventually the GR.9, with the latter entering service with the RAF in October 2006.

The GR.9 features an elevated cockpit which provides better all round visibility. A fuselage and new one‑piece wing, constructed of composite material which is lighter and stronger, allowing increased payloads. The aircraft is powered by a Rolls‑Royce Pegasus Mk 107 VSTOL engine, which provides a high thrust to weight ratio and retains performance in hot and high altitude conditions. (aircraft fitted with the uprated Mk 107 engine are designated GR9A).
The Harrier T.12 is a two seat version of the GR.9.

The GR.9 is capable of deploying a wide range of weapons, from air‑to‑air, air‑to‑surface missiles and general purpose and precision guided bombs.

The Harrier was retired prematurely in 2010, as a result of the Government Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), with the final operational flights taking place on the 15th December. The aircraft was officially withdrawn from service in March 2011.


Panavia Tornado GR.4

The Tornado GR.4, ‘Tonka’ or ‘Big Fin’ as it is nicknamed by aviation enthusiasts and aircrew alike, is a supersonic two‑seat, twin engined, variable‑sweep wing combat aircraft, primarily used in the ground attack and reconnaissance role, being able to fly at low level in all weather, day and night.

The aircraft was developed and manufactured by Panavia GmbH, a consortium of BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace) of the UK, MBB (formerly EADS) of West Germany and Alenia Aeronautica (formerly Aeritalia) of Italy.

Three Tornado variants were developed. The IDS (interdictor/strike) fighter‑bomber, the Tornado ECR (electronic combat/ reconnaissance) to suppress enemy air defences and the Tornado ADV (air defence variant) interceptor aircraft, with certain variants being operated by the Royal Air Force, German Air Force, Italian Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The Tornado or the MRCA (multirole combat aircraft) as it was formerly known, first flew in 1974 and was introduced into service in 1979/1980. The Tornado entered service with RAF as the GR.1 model. The aircraft had high speed/low speed characteristics enabled by by a variable swing wing, a tried and tested design used by the American Grumman F‑14 Tomcat and the General Dynamics F‑111 Aardvark. The wing can adopt a sweep angle between 25 degrees to 67 degrees depending on the aircraft speed. The 25 degree sweep enables the aircraft to fly relatively slower giving more lift, while the 67 degree sweep allows high speed flight, due to increased streamlining and reduced drag.

Tornado GR.4 Low Level

The aircraft has Short Take‑Off and Landing (STOL) performance, enabled by full span flaps and leading edge slats, which give good low speed handling characteristics. Thrust reverser equipped engines help reduce roll‑off distance after touchdown.

The Turbo‑Union (joint venture by Fiat, MTU and Rolls‑Royce) RB.199 Mk 103 afterburning turbofan engines, equipped with a Digital Engine Control Unit (DECU) give the aircraft a maximum speed of Mach 1.3 and ceiling of 50,000ft, from an engine which is extremely compact, requiring a relatively small airframe design.

Flying control is by primary fly‑by‑wire, with a mechanical reversion capacity retained to safeguard against potential failure. Terrain following radar for low level flying gives the Tornado the ability to fly in this environment in all weather, day or night with the pilot in hands‑off the controls mode.

The GR.4 is a modified version/mid‑life upgrade of the GR.1. It's first flight was in April 1997, with deliveries to the RAF taking place between 1997 to 2003. Upgrades included forward looking infrared, wide angle Head‑Up Display (HUD), improved cockpit displays, Night Vision Goggles (NVG) capability, new avionics and GPS receiver. The GR.4 is armed with ASRAAM (high speed, highly manoueuvrable heat seeking air‑to‑air missiles) for self‑defence and a single internal 20mm Mauser canon for ground support. Extra fuel can be carried in 1,500 litre and/or 2,250 litre drop tanks, as well as the ability to conduct air‑to‑air refueling. The aircraft also has the capability to carry ‘Raptor’ reconnaissance pods and deploy ‘Storm Shadow’ cruise Missiles, ‘Brimstone’ anti‑tank missiles and ‘Paveway IV’ GPS/laser‑guided bombs.

During it's operational service in the RAF, the Tornado GR.4 has been almost continuously involved in World conflicts, from Iraq, Afghanistan to Libya and recently Syria. The RAF Tornado GR.4's out‑of‑service date is set for 2019.


Panavia Tornado F.3 (Retired from service in 2011)

The Tornado F.3 Air Defence Variant (ADV) was a long range, two seat, twin engine all weather interceptor, developed from the Tornado GR.1 variant, via the 18 short‑lived Tornado F.2 ADV's.

The aircraft was specifically developed for the Royal Air Force force (RAF) in the air defence role, as a beyond visual range interceptor, to replace it's Lightnings and Phantoms. The variant was also operated by the Royal Saudi and Italian Air Forces.

The F.3 made it's maiden flight in November 1985 and was in use by the RAF Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) from July 1986. The aircraft entered squadron service in April 1987, with RAF No. 29 Squadron at Coningsby, which became NATO operational in November the same year.

Though similar to the GR.1, the F.3 differed in a number of areas. The fuselage was stretched by 1.36 metres to allow the carriage of four ‘Skyflash’ or AIM-120 AMRAAM (advanced medium range air‑to‑air missiles) mounted on four semi‑recessed under‑fueslage hard points to reduce drag. Four AIM‑9 ‘Sidewinder’ or AIM‑132 ASRAAM (heat‑seeking air‑to‑air missiles) could be carried on swivelling underwing hardpoints.

Tornado F.3 taking off

With a longer radome to house the (at‑first troublesome) long range ‘Foxhunter’ radar, the F.3 became a relatively formidable interceptor. Though it carried a single 27mm Mauser BK‑27 revolver Canon, the F.3 was never intended as a ‘Dogfighter’, as compared to the more agile American F‑15 Eagle.

The stretched fuselage also enabled the addition of a 900 litre fuel tank behind the cockpit. This coupled with two underwing 2,250 litre drop tanks and an air‑to‑air refuelling capability allowed the F.3 to stay aloft for long periods maintaining combat patrol.

Powered by two Turbo‑Union RB.199‑34R Mk 104 engines optimised for high‑altitude use with longer afterburner nozzles, the F.3 had a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 (1,490 mph) at 30,000ft, or 921 mph at near sea level.

The F.3 saw combat in the 1991 Gulf War and afterwards patrolling the Iraq No‑Fly Zone. In 1993 to 1995 the F.3 acted as an escort fighter over Bosnia and in 1999 flying air combat patrols over Yugoslavia. The F.3 again saw service in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq in ‘Operation Telic’, but was withdrawn due to the absence of any airborne threat.

With the Typhoon taking over the Northern QRA duties, the F.3 was retired from active service on the 22nd March 2011, when RAF No. 111 squadron disbanded at RAF Leuchars. The last flights took place on the 9th July 2012 when QinetiQ flew their remaining F.3' to RAF Leeming for scrapping.


BAE Eurofighter Typhoon

A twin-engine canard-delta wing multi role fighter aircraft which has been in RAF service since 2003. The aircraft has also entered operational service with air forces in Austria, Italy, Germany, Spain and Saudi Arabia.

Developed from the British Aerospace EAP, the Typhoon first flew in March 1994 and is manufactured by a consortium of Alenia Aermacchi (Leonardo since 2017), Airbus and BAE Systems. The consortium works through a holding company, Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH, which was formed in 1986. NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency (NETMA) manages the project on behalf of the partner nations and is the prime customer.

The Typhoon is a highly agile aircraft designed as an effective dogfighter, both at supersonic and subsonic speeds. This is achieved by designing an aircraft which is inherently unstable and without quadruplex digital‑fly‑by‑wire control system, would be imposssible to be flown manually.

Typhoon FGR4 ZJ926 Low Level

With a lightweight airframe, constructed of carbon fibre composites and light alloys, coupled with two digitally controlled Eurojet EJ200 turbojets, with each engine providing up to 13,500lbs of dry thrust and 20,230lbs with afterburner, the aircraft can achieve a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and is capable of Mach 1.1 in supercruise (supersonic cruise without using afterburners).

In October 2006 and March 2011, the Typhoon took over the UK Southern and Northern QRA role respectively, from the now retired Panavia Tornado F3. Though initially introduced as a fighter aircraft, the Typhoon is maturing in the air‑to‑ground capability and will eventually take over the role carried out by the Panavia Tornado GR4.


Lockheed C‑130 Hercules

The Hercules is a four‑engine turboprop, designed and built by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) as a troop, medevac and cargo/transport aircraft. It‘s rugged design and short take‑off and landing capabilities, allows it to be operated from unprepared/semi‑prepared surfaces by day or night.

The strength of the aircrafts basic design, allowed it to be adapted for alternative roles, such as air‑to‑air refuelling, weather recconaissance, fire fighting, scientific research, military gunship, airborne assault and search and rescue roles.

The first production C‑130A Hercules entered service with the USAF in December 1956. The first RAF Hercules entered service in 1967, as a replacement for it‘s ageing pistoned engine fleet of Blackburn Beverleys and Handley Page Hastings. Sixty six aircraft were ordered and designated as C‑130K C1 models, which were based on the American C‑130E model. A 15ft stretched fuselage version of the C‑130K Mk 1 Hercues was introduced in 1979. This allowed 26 extra parachutists or 2 extra cargo pallets to be carried and was designated as the C‑130K Mk 3.

Hercules Low Level

The RAF Hercules saw service in the 1982 Falklands War and due to the distances involved, flying from Ascension Island to the Falklands, in‑flight refuelling probes were fitted. The aircraft were designated as C‑130K Mk 1P models. Some aircraft were later converted into tankers, by installing Hose Drum Units (HDU‘s) and refuelling probes, to support Harriers and Phantoms in the islands air defence role.

The Hercules ‘K’ model had a crew of five (Pilot, Co‑Pilot, Navigator, Flight Engineer and Loadmaster) and was powered by four Allison T‑56‑A‑15 four‑bladed turboprops, with a cruising speed of 325 knots (374mph or 602km/h) and a full payload range of 2,047nm and empty range of 4,522nm.

In November 1999 the RAF received its first batch of a new generation Hercules, the C‑130J, which came with refueling probes fitted as standard and a reduced aircrew of 2 pilots and 1 Weapons Systems Operator/Loadmaster.
C‑130J Mk C5 is the standard length model (97ft 9in/34.24m).
C‑130J Mk C4 a stretched version (112ft 9in/34.34m).

New more powerful Allison engines with six‑bladed composite propellors give improved engine performance, with the aircraft requiring shorter take‑off runs and better fuel efficiency negating the need for external underwing fuel tanks as on the K‑models. Other improvements apart from lower operating and maintenance costs, include a new digital glass cockpit with Head‑Up Display (HUD) and 4 x multifunction LCD displays, traffic collision avoidance system and compatible Night Vision Goggles (NVG‑s).

The C‑130J has a crusing speed of 320 knots (368mph or 593km/h).
Ferry range for the C.Mk4: 2,650nm (4,908km),
Ferry range for the C.Mk 5: 2,850nm (5,078km),
with both models having a cruising altitude of 28,000ft / maximum altitude of 40,000ft.

The Hercules since entering RAF service has been involved in ongoing World conflicts, such as the Gulf Wars, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The RAF ‘K’ model aircraft were retired in October 2013 after over 50 years of continuous service. The ‘J’ Model is destined for withdrawl in 2022, apart from fourteen aircraft which will remain in service till 2030 working alongside the new A400M Atlas.


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