Geoff Thomas

It was a visit to an air display at RAF Wattisham in the late Fifties that whetted Eurofighter Typhoon test pilot John Turner's appetite for aviation.

"I was only five or six, but Triple One Squadron's famous Royal Air Force display team - the Black Arrows - enthralled me so much that I knew that I had to fly fast jets, preferably Hawker Hunters," he says.

Forty years on- and Turner is one of the best-known pilots in world aviation, having logged more hours on the EF2000 than anyone else in the programme.

As befits someone with flying in his blood, Turner obtained his private pilots license at 17 and only then thought it was strange that he had to get lifts to the airfield as he had never got around to learning to drive.

After taking an honours degree in physics at the University of York, where he was sponsored by the RAF through a university cadetship, he went through the usual circuit-bashing on the Hunting Percival Jet Provost, gaining the coveted wings at RAF Cranwell.

And then, disaster struck. Just two days before converting onto the British Aerospace Hawk (and two weeks before his wedding) he was invited on a two-day Royal Marines' training event, fell off some apparatus and broke both his elbow and, more seriously, his femur.

"During recovery, I kept my hand in by flying Chipmunks, although I couldn't fly solo because the compass is between your knees and it was affected by the pin in my thigh."

Contradicting the rumours

And the wedding? This was the one bit of the story to go ahead as planned, contradicting the rumours being spread around by his 'friends' that the fall was a premeditated ploy to avoid the impending nuptials.

Indeed, Turner remains happily married to this day, living with his wife and two teenage children at St Annes on the Lancashire coast, within easy reach of British Aerospace's airfield at Warton where the UK's Eurofighter programme is based.

When fully recovered, and after a refresher course on Jet Provosts, Turner finally got to RAF Brawdy to train on Hawks before being posted to 92 Squadron in Germany, as an air defence pilot flying F-4 Phantoms at RAF Wildenrath.

Three years of front line flying were followed by a spell in the mid-Eighties when Turner was posted to RAF Valley in Wales as a flying instructor on Hawks and subsequently flight commander of No 4 Flying Training School. During this time he was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air after safely landing a Hawk which suffered an engine failure just after a night take-off.

"Thankfully, it started producing power and although it sounded dreadful, we got around the circuit for a relatively normal landing. After it was all over, I recalled looking at the water around Anglesey and wondering how cold the water was- and which hospital we'd be taken to for our post-ejection check-up.


"As the rules stated that you're meant to eject if an engine fails at less than 250kts (460km/h), they didn't know whether to chastise us or offer their congratulations - but the award of the Commendation suggests that we did the right thing."

The incident was caused by a front-end blade failure and such was the resulting mess that nobody who saw it could understand how it delivered any power at all.

By 1986, Turner had moved to the Empire Test Pilots' School at Boscombe Down where his activities included a preview evaluation of the F-18 at the US Navy's Patuxent River base.

It was in 1987 that Turner's flying career began to take the direction which was to lead unerringly toward his current role with the Eurofighter project. He was posted as officer commanding of the experimental flying squadron at RAE Farnborough. There he concentrated on testing and developing the TIALD target designation pod and helmet mounted sight on a variety of aircraft including the Andover, Buccaneer, Harrier, Hawk, Hunter, Jaguar and Varsity. During this time he also put in hours on the A-6, BAC 1-11, F-18, PA-31, Tornado ADV and T-38.

His experience led to his being appointed a flying instructor on night low-level flying techniques with electro-optic sensors (much of it on Jaguars) and an adviser on cockpit human factors and simulator trials design.

Much of the work he did at this time proved valuable during the Gulf War when his students put his work on FLIR and TIALD into practice.

Having reached the grand old age of 38, Turner left the RAF as a squadron leader to join British Aerospace just before Desert Storm. He was working in Riyadh with the Royal Saudi Air Force on Tornado developments as hostilities became inevitable and he got out with just two days to spare.

Appointed to the Eurofighter programme in 1992, Turner soon became the project pilot and he has subsequently flown the majority of UK test sorties. He took DA2 to the Paris Air Show in 1995 for static display and flew the aircraft's first aerobatic display - again in development aircraft 2 (DA2) - at Farnborough two years ago.

Farnborough displays

More recently he shared the EF2000 display at Berlin in May when he flew DA5, alternating with DASA test pilot Chris Worning. The two will be dealing with the Farnborough displays in the same manner, Turner flying DA5 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Avionics are Turner's speciality and anyone talking to him soon realises that he has a tremendous admiration for the capabilities of 'his' aircraft.

"Eurofighter takes military aviation into a different realm," he says, "and I can honestly say that it has performed as we were expecting - or better - in every aspect of the flight envelope we've explored so far."

Now that the EJ200 engine has been fitted, the difference for pilots is dramatic. The new engine gives the same power 'dry' as the interim RB-199 produced using re-heat, so the problem is not to go supersonic when displaying at low level, especially as the recent first experience of flying at Mach 2 was accomplished with the RB-199 installed.

The Farnborough display will be tailored to the prevailing weather. Assuming a minimum cloud-base of 900m, the duo will fly the full display. Even if it's only possible to climb to 450m, a 'flat' display will be flown.

Totally 'carefree'

Turner says that the display will be totally 'carefree', with unrestrained stick inputs both aft and in roll. Twice in the display, the pilots will demonstrate EF2000's unique 'high alpha velocity vector roll' - a combat manoeuvre where the aircraft appears to a pursuer to roll around the reheats, before accelerating away in any direction selected by the pilot.

During the display, the pilots will demonstrate an angle of attack of 27° and they'll be pulling 7.25g in the tight turns. Both these figures will be increased by 20% in production aircraft, meaning that the EF2000 is a true '9g' aircraft. Eurofighter's roll rate is "-in excess of 200° per second," says Turner, and this feature will also be demonstrated. "This proves," he says, "that you don't need vectored thrust to make an aircraft as agile as Eurofighter."

When he retires from test flying in around a decade's time, Turner hopes to find a job in aviation-related media - and judging by his recent appearances in a series of programmes on test flying (shown on satellite TV in the UK) he will not have too much difficulty finding a job.

Source: Flight Daily News