Operational test and evaluation and pilot training for first RAF aircraft to take place at BAE Systems' Warton site

BAE Systems is due to fly the first production standard Eurofighter, IPA 1, next month, with the first aircraft for the UK Royal Air Force likely to fly in April. IPA1 was due to fly in August 2000 under the terms of the production contract signed in February 1998.

Ross Bradley, BAE Eurofighter managing director, says the four-nation consortium must have IPA 1 in the flight-test programme by April for the ambitious development and delivery schedule to remain on course. IPA 1 and the RAF's first aircraft are in final assembly at BAE's Warton factory in northwest England.

Bradley says IPA 1 could have flown earlier, but it was decided to wait and fly an aircraft that could join the flight-test programme immediately. There have been development issues, he adds. IPA 1 will fly with entry-into-service PSP 1 software and capability level, rather than being grounded to upgrade systems.

The first RAF aircraft will be delivered to a unit formed at Warton for operational test and evaluation, and to train the air force's first Eurofighter pilots. Germany, Italy and Spain will follow a similar pattern, operating their initial aircraft from the national Eurofighter partner companies, EADS Germany, Alenia and EADS Spain, respectively.

IPA 2 at Alenia and IPA 3 at EADS Germany are also due to be flown in March, although IPA 4 at EADS Casa and IPA 5 at BAE will not fly until April 2003 and April/May 2003, respectively.

The RAF will locate its operational evaluation unit - 17 Sqn - at Warton from 2003-4, eventually basing 12 aircraft at the BAE airfield. Initial pilots and ground crews will be trained by BAE.

In 2004, 29 Sqn will become the Eurofighter operational conversion unit, training pilots for the aircraft. By 2005, Eurofighters will be delivered to full PSP 3 level, able to perform same-mission air-to-air and air-to-ground roles. The RAF will declare its first two Eurofighter squadrons to NATO in 2006.

Source: Flight International