A shortfall in the number of available British Aerospace Hawks and an ageing fleet of test aircraft has forced the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) to buy 12 ex-German air force Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets. These will be used at test centres in the UK. Thailand is concluding a similar deal for 25 aircraft.

Fairchild Aerospace's German subsidiary, Dornier Luftfarht, will return six of the aircraft (with an option on a seventh) to airworthy condition. The remaining aircraft will be stored and used for spares. The first delivery is planned for next February, with the others arriving at a rate of one a month.

DERA says the deal is the first for replacement aircraft since the agency was formed four years ago. It adds that "it breaks the pattern of many preceding years of under-investment in fleet replacement aircraft". It declines to disclose the cost of the aircraft, but says it is the most cost-effective solution to DERA's needs.

The Alpha Jets will replace four Hawker Siddeley Hunters, a Gloster Meteor, three Hawks, and possibly two BAC Canberras in a variety of roles including continuation training and chase activities - acting as safety aircraft during flight trials.

Two of the Hawks are being returned to the Royal Air Force, which is faced with a shortfall of available aircraft as the result of a life-extension programme. The Alpha Jets will allow DERA's other Hawks to be used for test pilot training, a task not well-suited to the Alpha Jet, says the agency.

Source: Flight International