Report by Guy Harvey: Unconfirmed rumours in Whitehall are suggesting that the Red Arrows are about to be put out to tender, in line with other current PFI initiatives. The success of the UAS/AEF contract will see the Reds replacing their trusty Hawks, now some twenty-five years old, with brand new Grob 115 Tutors.
Cost is, as ever, the primary concern, and this new ten-year partnering arrangement will see millions carved from the Defence Budget, as well as millions carved from their fan base, some cynics are suggesting. The introduction of the low-wing, piston-engined trainer will see a drop-off in performance levels, but the team leading the bid preparation insist that the manoeuvrability of the German-built aeroplane will offset such disappointment. "Sure, the show will now need to be ninety minutes to fit in all the routines," said a MOD spokesman, "but the benefit will be that they will be in front of you much, much longer than at present when really they just go 'whoosh', and they're gone."
Also gone will be the familiar red colour scheme, as the Grobs are unable to be painted any other colour than white. The complex composite structure of the plane would be weakened by any colouring, as heat would build up, leading to delamination and possible cracking. So, a name change to 'White Arrows' is also being considered, as the spokesman explained - "They changed the name back in '65 from Yellowjacks, so why not again? It's not really that important, is it?" The Defence Minister, George Buffhoon, has also been heard to comment that it will fit in neatly with the new policy of international intervention, that of parading white flags when the shooting starts.
Specification changes to the civilian-owned and registered machines will be few, the biggest being the replacement of the Lycoming engine with a Perkins diesel. Benefits are reduced fuel consumption, and the fuel itself will be individually coloured red, white or blue - this will mix with the exhaust gases and provide coloured smoke without all the drag-inducing bolt-on equipment and associated costs. It will also have the added benefit of the team being able to make use of specially selected motorway service stations on long-haul journeys for refuelling purposes.
A decision on taking up the contract is expected to be made by 1 April, 2002.
to rival BA?
Andrew Bates reports: Following a directive from the MoD, the TriStar fleet has been ordered to become more cost effective by competing with BA and Virgin on Trans-Atlantic flights. Any spare capacity is to be taken up with scheduled services from Brize to destinations such as Orlando, New York, Chicago, Sydney, etc.
Marshall Aerospace has been awarded a contract to develop in-flight entertainment such as seat video screens, and the local children from the schools surrounding Brize have been asked to submit suitable designs for a jazzy tailfin logo, incorporating the standard RAF finflash. The NAAFI have been tasked with providing a range of suitable airline meals, but due to the RAF policy of no alcohol on military aircraft the local WI have been approached for their expertise in producing high quality non-alcoholic wines in three different flavours; carrot and coriander, broccoli and stilton, and potato and leek. Some of the RAF loadmasters have gone on a crash course at Heathrow to learn stewardess etiquette while Vivienne Westwood has been tasked with designing the uniforms for the crew, which have to be a little more flamboyant than the current standard issue.
Rumours abound that this directive may be extended to the forthcoming C17s and the Lyneham Wing, which will be able to offer 'bargain bucket seat' trips to many destinations around the world. An added advantage will be the ability to drop passengers off without actually landing, thereby saving on landing fees, tyre wear and providing quicker turnaround times.
Gary Stedman reports: In a recent unexpected announcement, the Royal Air Force has stated its intention to expand its Air-Sea Rescue capabilities. Operations will soon start with the familiar yellow painted Sea King HAR3/3As being supplemented by a new, faster partner - new-build Harrier T10s. If successful, the RAF intends to combine both types in new, expanded SAR flights.
This surprising development is the result of a RAF study into shortening SAR response times, as the Harrier's far shorter transit time, as well as its obvious ability to land at many incidents, being a major advantage over other types that were studied. The T10's rear cockpit will be modified to accommodate a casualty and will have its flight controls removed, together with most of its avionics. The modified aircraft will not be interchangeable with regular T10s and may well be re-designated HAR-12. The advantage that they will bring in ferrying accident victims to hospitals should be considerable, the aircraft being able to land at any incident a conventional SAR helicopter can attend. Incidents at sea will still require the attendance of the existing Sea Kings, although future plans will give the Harriers the ability to carry inflatable lifeboats on the underwing pylons to drop to survivors while awaiting a Sea King. Studies are still ongoing as to when the underwing personnel pods, suggested for special forces operations some years ago, will now actually be acquired.
The first two T10s will operate with 203(R) Squadron (the RAF Sea King OCU) at St Mawgan, where combined Sea King and Harrier trials will begin in the next few months. Under current plans the first operational flight to operate both types in tandem will be 22 Squadron's 'B' Flight at Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk, operating two Harriers in addition to its existing Sea King HAR-3As. Wattisham's flight is seen as the ideal environment to test the concept, the flight having responsibility for a large, busy area. With the RAF Harrier force due to scale down in the immediate future, further T-10s may become available for operation in the SAR role if the forthcoming trials are deemed successful.
22 Squadron's CRO at Wattisham, Flt Lt Ian "Stitch-up" Stutchbury, is looking forward to their arrival: "The arrival of the new HAR-12 should cut our response times by half - this must be good for the local community". As far as local spotters are concerned however, the return at last of RAF heavy metal to Wattisham is also equally good news, even if they are painted yellow and wearing "RAF RESCUE" instead of the more familiar tactical overall grey!
For EFA read EFUAV?
Tom McGhee reports: Coming only six months after the decision to omit the cannon from production Eurofighters, a further Government initiated cost-saving measure is to be implemented "on at least the initial" batch of Britain's new fighter. Citing US research studies in which it have proven that the more unstable an aircraft is, the more manoeuvrable it can be in a dogfight, the decision to remove the 'weakest link', the pilot, has enabled the software to produce a vast increase in manoeuvrability and consequent G-force, providing the ultimate in instability.
With the advent of increasingly low-cost and very powerful processors this produces a more cost-effective fighter. Massive computing power is used to control the aircraft, one pilot 'flying' several Typhoons from an E3 Sentry via a secure databank based upon Link 16 technology, covertly referred to as 'Link 69'. It is rumoured Intel is actively developing this system, in partnership with Microsoft, to produce a fast, robust and reliable hardware and software solution. By removing the pilot, ejector seat and instrument console a significant cost and weight saving is achieved, enabling the cannon to now be re-installed.
Estimated cost-savings in pilot training for this project will allow the Government to build another two-mile stretch of bus-lane on the M4, so allowing the empty commuter buses to travel all the way to Reading unhindered.
Gary Parsons writes: Reports from India suggest that Motorcycle manufacturer Radjeek, long renowned for producing a modern-day version of the British Silver Enfield motorbike, is to turn its attention to the aviation world. Radjeek has just obtained all the blueprints from British Aerospace of the TSR2, a famous design of many years ago.
A spokesman for Radjeek said enthusiastically, "We are so excited - when we heard that the blueprints for the TSR2 were up for sale, we knew we had to have them. To have such advanced technology from the sixties, of a plane that would still be a world beater today, is a chance not to be missed! We have many small nations in Asia and South America that want a cheap, reliable yet potent means of tactical nuclear weapons delivery, and of course interest in our venture has been immense from such quarters!"
It is widely rumoured that Radjeek paid well over the odds for the plans, giving weight to the stories of many tin-pot dictator nations paying recent visits to the factory in downtown Rangoon. Fears are strong that the stability of power in many continents could be threatened if the Mach 2 bomber becomes available at a reasonable price, estimated to be in the region of 1,000,000 rupees each (with a three-year warranty).
However, just a couple of days ago, the Managing Director of Radjeek was found hanging in his apartment, the apparent victim of intense rivalry between the competing dictators. Police have since determined it was actually suicide, after a design review meeting finally agreed on the correct fitment for the torpedo...