Taranis and the epic UK spotting fail

We’ve waited a long time for details of the UK’s Taranis flight test campaign to emerge, but BAE Systems (company-sourced image below) and the Ministry of Defence have finally broken their silence about the programme.


It turns out that the first Taranis flight took place on 10 August 2013, at an undisclosed test location (although the smart money’s on the Woomera range in South Australia). Multiple additional sorties were conducted in a first programme phase, but exact numbers are classified. You can read more about the programme on our defence news channel, and also see some video footage of the activity.

But here’s one of the more surprising aspects of this story: before the stealthy technology demonstrator was loaded into a Royal Air Force C-17 and flown overseas, BAE conducted low-speed taxi trials on the runway at its Warton site in Lancashire, in broad daylight and seemingly unnoticed.

Taranis at Warton

Missed me!

Pop onto the Airliners.net website and you can see how many shots there are showing Typhoons and Tornados involved in flight testing, so it’s remarkable that no-one witnessed the event. No small amount of luck probably, but the company did up its chances by conducting the work on a Friday afternoon, and along a short stretch of tarmac which runs across the main strip. If any local spotters did see it and didn’t twig what it was, they should be kicking themselves!

14 Responses to Taranis and the epic UK spotting fail

  1. Thad Beier 6 February, 2014 at 4:05 am #

    No question that it’s Woomera, the runway matches perfectly the pictures on Google Earth. That and the fact that the shadow is far to the south of the plane landing on runway 18…

  2. Jack 6 February, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    Is it just my imagination or does the chase aircraft’s shadow look an awful lot like an F-16?

    How would that be possible at Woomera? It’s in the last few seconds as the aircraft is landing, the shadow is on the runway above it.

    Perhaps the flight test program was actually split? That’s why the MoD is being so coy

    Consider, loadable in a C-17 the aircraft is relatively easy to re-position. The aircraft went out to Australia some considerable time ago and nothing was heard about her. Perhaps there were problems, flight or design issues that couldn’t be solved at Woomera and the aircraft was moved to the United States for help?

    We all know the MoD has a passion for secrecy for its own sake but the refusal to say where the first flight happened is particularly obtuse, no?

    • Craig Hoyle 6 February, 2014 at 9:37 am #

      I don’t know what they normally use as chase planes at Woomera, but your shadow recognition is better than mine – I thought it looked a bit like a two-seat Skyhawk!

      • Jack 7 February, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

        Spartabus’ is obviously better than mine because once you say ‘two seat hawk’ it’s pretty clear.

        Still this obtuse refusal to identify the test site by name is so tiresome.

  3. Spartabus 6 February, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    It is Woomera and the chase aircraft is an RAAF Hawk, which are used on the range as chase aircraft the same way that they are used in the uk. No conspiracy to see here, move along the bus

  4. Martin Bayliss 6 February, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    The Taranis on the ground has a low profile sideways on wiht no vertical tails, it is relatively small and grey, so could quite easily be overlooked.

    The chase plane in the video is a Mk 128 Hawk judging from its shadow.

    I reckon it has a top speed of Mach 1.5 ish, similar to the much missed SEPECAT Jaguar.

    Makes the F35 look a bit old hat. How can a fighter with a blow torch out the back be stealthy – might as well forget stealth and go for max performance and maneuverability with say, a Typhoon, and fly mixed sorties with Taranis doing the stealth bit and the Typhoon doing the shear bloody brute force.

  5. Gordon McRae 6 February, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    Looked like a Hawk to me.

  6. Wayne Bennett 6 February, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    I’m pretty sure it’s a Hawk, as flown by the RAAF and BAE themselves

  7. Craig Hoyle 6 February, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    Great call on the Hawk, everyone – obvious now you’ve told me! And apologies for the delay in getting your comments online; it’s a manual vetting process, but once done your future comments should appear straight away.

  8. doc 7 February, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    the hawk and the Taranis seem to share the same Adour engine

    • Craig Hoyle 7 February, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

      They do. The Adour is also used with Europe’s Dassault-led Neuron UCAS demonstrator.

  9. Jack 8 February, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    There are medium res versions of the published images on BAE’s website.

    They show some interesting details.

    For example, there appear to be dielectric panels on either side of the lower fuselage, inline with the aft part of the nose gear doors. They’re unlikely to be hatches or doors as they’re not serrated.

    Also, the two yellow communications antennae (obviously just for testing) each sit in the middle of what appear to be serrated bay doors of some kind. Interestingly, there seem to be two shorter serrated bay doors between them.

    Obviously, one of the real tests of stealth aircraft is the manufacturing tolerances one can achieve and so any serious demonstrator would have to prove the ability to at least fabricate opennings and bay doors of sufficient dimensional accuracy. Who knows if they will serve a purpose later but they are clearly intended to prove the ability to manufacture things like weapons bay doors. These are distinct from landing gear doors as they must open under far more challenging aerodynamic loads and close with much greater speed.

  10. Mark 10 February, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Not overly convinced with the shot on the ground shown here. The sun is quite clearly behind on the right hand side of the aircraft,yet the left is clearly lit up. Looks like a Photoshop edit to me. Just a thought

  11. evad666 27 February, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Quite obviously the test flight was from Warton over the Ribble Estuary at low tide and then turning south to Formby Point and return.
    Plane spotters should act quickly to book their hols in Southport as Taranis can often be seen from the end of Southport pier along with its chase aircraft.

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