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Visit to RAF Leuchars - Tuesday 18 March 2008

The Scottish Region visited RAF Leuchars on Tuesday 18 March 2008 and were given a briefing on the history of the airfield before being taken on a tour of some of the various facilities, culminating in a visit to 43 Squadron.

RAF Leuchars dates back to 1916 when the airfield was established as a training unit. After the First World War, it became a Naval Fleet Training School and trained pilots who flew spotting aircraft from the battleships and cruisers of the day. In March 1920 it became RAF Leuchars, although retaining it's naval links. In 1935 it was home to Number 1 Flying Training School, but during the second war was a Coastal Command station, the Flying Training School having been moved to Netheravon.

In 1950 the station passed from Coastal Command to Fighter Command. Over the years a wide variety of aircraft have been operated by the various squadrons based there, including the first jet aircraft operated by the RAF, the Gloster Meteor and de Havilland Vampire and subsequently the Gloster Javelin, Hawker Hunter, English Electric Lightning, McDonnell-Douglas Phantom and today, the Panavia Tornado. By 2010, the Eurofighter Typhoon will replace the Tornados.

Two of 56(R) Squadron's Tornados at RAF Leuchars.d

Two of 56(R) Squadron's Tornados at RAF Leuchars.

© John G. Fender 2011

The Tornado was developed by the UK, Germany and Italy and there are two main versions, one for ground attack and the other as a fighter. Both versions are operated by the UK and Germany, while Italy only bought the ground attack version, although later the Italian Air force leased 24 fighters from the RAF. Saudi Arabia also took some of the fighter versions. The Tornado is a "swing-wing" aircraft and can change it's geometry in flight.

The Tornado is 18.62 metres in length and has a wing span of 13.91 metres fully extended or 8.6 metres when the wings are fully swept back. Powered by two Rolls-Royce/Turbo-Union RB199 turbo fans the aircraft is capable of reaching Mach 2.2 at 40,000 feet, or Mach 1.2 at sea level. It's ceiling is around 60,000 feet and the aircraft can carry a wide variety of armament.

Currently three Tornado squadrons are based at RAF Leuchars, Numbers 43, 111 and 56(R), although 56(R) Squadron will be disbanded in April as part of the preparations for the introduction of the Typhoon. The Eurofighter Typhoon is a highly agile multi-role aircraft and it is planned that the RAF will have 232 examples.

The Tornado is currently provided with in depth maintenance at RAF Leuchars and aircraft that are due for heavier servicing than can be given at squadron level are sent here. Normally, the squadrons undertake all routine maintenance, but if a more serious fault develops that cannot be fixed at squadron level, aircraft are sent to Leuchars. On arrival at Leuchars, aircraft are taken into the maintenance hangar and all removable panels and components are removed fro the aircraft. This allows the technicians easier access to the airframe and other components.

Detailed inspections follow, with repairs and maintenance being undertaken as required. As work progresses, the aircraft move through the hangar at predetermined intervals until all work is complete and the aircraft is reassembled and re-painted as necessary before being test flown. If the test flight is deemed satisfactory, the aircraft returns to service. During the visit, a number of Tornado aircraft were seen at various stages of the maintenance cycle and detailed explanations of the complexities of the work were given.

Next the group was given a presentation on the survival equipment that aircrew are issued with and were able to examine a typical flight suit and survival raft as well as inspect a Martin Baker Mk10 ejector seat and parachute. A short video was shown of pilots making use of the ejector seat, both in trials and in real emergencies. Pilots are all trained in various survival skills that the may need if they have to eject from an aircraft.

Following this, the group then visited 43 Squadron and were able to inspect a Tornado at close quarters. The Tornado F3 was developed from the Tornado GR1 attack aircraft as the RAF's dedicated fighter and 170 were acquired. The Tornado F3 is longer than the GR1 allowing more fuel to be carried and has more powerful engines. It is fitted for air-to-air refuelling and can be operated in all weathers. For night flying, pilots use night vision goggles. The Tornado F3 is a two seat aircraft, the pilot in the front seat flies and fights the aircraft, while the rear seat weapons systems officer controls the radar and defensive countermeasures systems.

The Tornado F3 is fitted with long range Foxhunter radar and aircraft have been upgraded to carry the Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), and the Matra BAe Dynamics Advanced Short- Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM). The aircraft also has a 27mm Mauser Cannon, although this is very much a weapon of last resort, most engagements being made using missiles. The crew explained the various features of the aircraft and members had the opportunity to climb into the cockpit to have a close look at the controls and equipment in the aircraft.

The Scottish Region would like to thank all those at RAF Leuchars who took the time to explain the various aspects of the work of the station and Margaret Roy for making the arrangements.

Report by John Fender.


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