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This Month in Aviation History

Aircraft of the Month for May 2001

Panavia Tornado GR Mk 4/4A

by Alex Stoll


he Tornado GR4/4A is the RAF's Mid-Life Update to provide covert operational capability to their Tornado Mk1/1As, at a cost of around 850 million. It aims to keep the aircraft operational until 2015, when they will begin being replaced by the Future Offensive Air System. The program began in 1996 and is scheduled to be completed in early 2003. The first upgraded Tornado was delivered on 31 October 1997 and entered service on 30 September 1998. 142 Mk 1/1As will be upgraded in three eqipment stages, thirty-two of these being combat-capable traning versions. Twenty-six of these will be converted to the Mk 4A dedicated reconnaissance variant, with specailized equipment installed in the airframe. On an external fairing on the front fuselage, a FLIR sensor is installed, its images being projected on a wide-angle HUD. A Hughes Raptor reconnaissnace pod can be carried. The new avionics system, which features a MIL-STD-1553B databus, is controlled by the main computer to link the new systems and allow complete integration of an improved defensive aids suite. It also improves navigation and flight performance. A 1760 weapons bus, which controls the release of a wide range of weapons, such as the Brimstone "smart" anti-armor munition, the Sea Eagle anti-shipping missile, the ASRAAM air-to-air missile, and the Storm Shadow stand-off missile, and provides improved adaptability to future weapons through the missile control and weapons programming units. Other upgrades include a Night Vision Goggle-compatable cockpit, a new color multi-function HDD for the pilot, TIALD (for autonomous target acquision), laser designation facilities, a Defense Aids Sub-System to protect from SAMs and radar-directed anti-aircraft guns, and GPS. HOTAS may be added in the future.
Preliminary work is carried out at the RAF at St. Athan in Wales, and main conversion takes place at BAe Warton, in Lancashire.

This Month in Aviation History
(Bold indicates anniversaries of multiples of five)
1 May 1965 - The YF-12A sets a number of world's absolute Class C, Group III records
4 May 1959 - First flight of the PC-6
7 May 1958 - A YF-104A sets a world altitude record of 28,470m
7 May 1969 - First flight of the Westland Sea King
7 May 1984 - First flight of the first pre-production PC-9
9 May 1952 - The second XB-51 crashes to destruction
9 May 1953 - First flight of the XF2Y (later F-7)
9 May 1966 - First flight of the JJ-5
9 May 1967 - First flight of the F28 prototype
9 May 1974 - First flight of the second YF-16
9 May 1981 - First flight of the Do 228-200
13 May 1949 - First flight of the Canberra
14 May 1994 - First delivery of the Avanti to the Italian Air Force
15 May 1948 - First flight of the only completed YB-35
15 May 1984 - First flight of the AMX prototype
15 May 2000 - First delivery of the CH-60S
16 May 1953 - First flight of the Leduc 0.21
17 May 1946 - First flight of the XB-43
17 May 1957 - First flight of a Napier-powered S-58
19 May 1986 - First flight of the Hawk 200 demonstrator
19 May 1991 - First flight of the Rafale C
20 May 1965 - First flight of the DHC-6
20 May 1977 - First flight of the T-10-1
20 May 1977 - First flight of a prodution EMB-121
21 May 1973 - First flight of the SF 37
22 May 1999 - Construction of Raptor 03 is completed
23 May 1967 - First flight of the Nimrod
23 May 1989 - First flight of the second X-29
23 May 2000 - First delivery of the T-6A
23 May 2000 - First X-32A taxi tests
25 May 1953 - First flight of the first of two YF-100s
25 May 1968 - First flight of the EA-6
26 May 1977 - First flight of the C-123K
26 May 1982 - First flight of the M-17
27 May 1958 - First flight of the F4H-1
28 May 1988 - First flight of the Ching-Kuo
30 May 1958 - First flight of the DC-8
31 May 1960 - First flight of the G91T
31 May 1991 - First flight of the first PC-12 prototype
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