Aviation Historian 26
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M.Hirst - The Tornado + Me
Panavia Tornado XZ630 was the 12th pre-production example and made its first flight from Warton on March 14, 1977.
Flight journalist Mike Hirst jumped at the chance to “back seat” in a Panavia Tornado in 1978.
Tornado XZ630 in clean configuration during its extensive trials programme, bearing on its fin the distinctive Panavia tri-national roundel, incorporating the national markings of the three international partners - Germany (MBB), Italy (Fiat) and the UK (BAe). The RAF received XZ630 and the 15th pre-production example, XZ631, for development trials.
Following the conclusion of its career as a flight trials aircraft in August 1988, XZ630 was given the maintenance serial 8976M and used for ground duties. In 2004 it went to RAF Halton, where it was painted in the colours of No 31 Sqn, with the unit’s gold star on the fin. In 2017 it was refurbished, and continues to be used as a centrepiece for parades.
Cocooned within the cockpit of XZ630, Don Thomas and Jim Stuttard prepare to demonstrate the aircraft for the press at Boscombe Down the day before the author's flight. For the latter a camera pod was fitted to the starboard outer wing pylon, but otherwise it was flown "clean". Note the twin mainwheels, which rotate through 90 deg to the line of flight during the retraction sequence.
With wheels down and high-lift devices on the leading and trailing edges extended on the fully-forward wing, XZ630 is seen here on final approach to base. The aircraft was delivered to the A&AEE at Boscombe Down by test pilot Dave Eagles on February 3, 1978, and was used extensively by the unit for weapons-release trials.
The author gingerly lowers himself into the cockpit of XZ630 with the help of Jim Stuttard. The latter joined the RAF in 1968 and after two tours as a front-line fast jet navigator joined the Fast Jet Squadron at Boscombe Down for a tour. In 1981 he left the RAF to become a Flight Test Navigator for British Aerospace.
Making final adjustments to the skull-crushingly tight “bonedome”, the author settles in facing the wall of test nav-attack equipment in the rear seat of XZ630. The Tornado represented a major leap forward, having been designed as a “one-stop shop” for the day- and night bomber, all-weather strike and low-level ground-attack roles.
The author (right) and Sqn Ldr Chris Yeo beside XZ630 at Boscombe Down during the former’s visit to the A&AEE in the summer of 1978.