Another RAF aviation stalwart bows out
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK.
In what is turning out to be a rather sad year for Royal Air Force aircraft retirements, last Friday witnessed another aviation veteran of almost 30 years standing making its final flight in RAF colours, joining the Panavia Tornado GR4 in the ever growing list of ‘former’ RAF aircraft types. The Short Tucano has never really enjoyed the same enthusiasts affection as the Tornado, however, it played no less an important role in serving the Royal Air Force, training thousands of pilots and preparing them for a military flying career with various squadrons up and down the country.
In this latest edition of Aerodrome, we pay our own blog tribute to the passing of the RAF Tucano by featuring a series of images taken during an enjoyable base visit to RAF Linton-on-Ouse made back in 2011, as well as including several Tucano images taken at this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo show and the RAF Centenary Airshow at RAF Cosford, held in 2018. Even though a former post war RAF training classic may also make an appearance, this 131st edition of Aerodrome is pure Tucano indulgence, as we bid farewell to the RAF’s distinctive turboprop pilot maker.
RAF Tucano 1989 - 2019
Although this latest blog is lamenting the passing of another Royal Air Force aircraft type, we do have to accept that in most cases, retirement and replacement usually only takes place when aircraft have either come to the end of their effective service life, or when the RAF are looking to provide their pilots with the most modern equipment with which to ply their trade. As the sound of the RAF Tucano’s Garrett turboprop falls silent for the last time, the Royal Air Force basic flying training program will be receiving a significant boost in capability, as a new breed of modern training aeroplanes will be preparing student pilots for the fully digital cockpit and giving them access to the very latest aviation technology.
The RAF’s Tucano T.1 was a tandem two seat, turboprop powered basic flight training aircraft, licence built by Short Brothers in Northern Ireland, from an aircraft originally designed by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer. Proving successful in a fly-off between several aircraft types competing for a contract to become the RAF’s replacement for the Jet Provost, the winner would be required to provide future fast jet basic training for student pilots destined to progress on to the Hawk T.1 and beyond.
Possessing jet like handling, excellent endurance and cost effective operation, the profile of the Tucano is dominated by its large side hinged canopy, which very much resembles that of the Hawk trainer the student pilots would be hoping to progress on to in the next stage of their training program and the eventual aim of becoming a future Royal Air Force fast jet pilot. Accepted for trials with the Central Flying School in June 1988, the Tucano officially entered RAF service the following year and some 130 aircraft would eventually wear the iconic roundel of the Royal Air Force.
The RAF Tucano began its long association with the base at Linton-on-Ouse back in 1992, with the start of the very first ground instructional phase of an RAF Tucano T.1 training course. The flying element of the same course would not begin until early the following year, but from that time, the aircraft has been inextricably linked with this beautiful part of the country, just a few miles from York city centre. Major changes to the way the RAF intended to train its future pilots brought about an important new role for Linton in 1995, with the concentration of all Tucano flight operations at the airfield. In the latest round of efficiency savings, the nearby bases at Finningley and Scampton were scheduled for closure, so all Tucano flying operations would be taking place at Linton-on-Ouse in future years. For that reason, the airfield at Linton-on-Ouse can rightly claim to have been the home of the RAF’s extremely hard working turboprop trainer.
The future of Britain’s fast jet pilot training programme will now be centred around the recently upgraded airfield at RAF Valley on the Isle of Anglesey and the introduction of two new aircraft types, the 120TP Prefect and the Texan T.Mk.I, both of which will prepare pilots for life operating the latest generation of RAF aircraft. Representing a significant technological upgrade from the Tucano, these aircraft are destined to train future generations of military pilots and it will be interesting to see whether they manage to eclipse the service longevity of their predecessor.
A memorable Tucano opportunity
Former RAF training classic Jet Provost T.3A XN589 was the first aircraft we were able to photograph during our visit
Although I am sure plenty of Aerodrome readers will have spent many happy hours around the perimeter of various operational military airfields around the country, the opportunity to be allowed access inside a base during a normal day’s operations is a rare treat we all hold dear. With that in mind, when I was offered the chance to join a local aviation society visit to RAF Linton-on-Ouse back in 2011, I jumped at the chance, but could have hardly imagined the level of access the group would be afforded. Initially reporting to the main Guardroom, once security checks had been negotiated and the safety briefing digested, we were allowed onto the airfield itself, although escorted and instructed to stay as a single group – there could be no wandering about on this day!
The first aircraft we had the opportunity to photograph was Jet Provost T.3A XN589, an aircraft which was serving as a much-loved gate guardian for this Yorkshire training base. Apparently, this airframe was selected at random from the remaining 1FTS Jet Provosts at Linton-on-Ouse in late 1992 and was intended as a poignant tribute to 30 years of Jet Provost operation at the airfield. Interestingly, the Jet Provost went on to relinquish its training role to the Tucano almost 30 years ago, an aircraft which itself would go on to enjoy an impressive 27 year association with RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
With the sights and sounds of a busy day’s flying training coming from the far side of the airfield, we were initially disappointed to be ushered away in the direction of one of the mighty hangars, but that soon faded when we discovered what was inside. Allowed to inspect and photograph anything we saw, the hangar housed everything from aircraft undergoing maintenance, to an airframe which had clearly been involved in an accident and may still have been subject to crash investigation. We could also see the attractively presented display Tucano ZF378, a rather famous airframe which we will see in a different guise a little later in this review.
Here is a selection of images taken during this fascinating hangar tour.
As if this visit could not get any better, following our enjoyable tour of the hangar facilities, the next few minutes at RAF Linton-on-Ouse proved to be extremely memorable indeed and an opportunity I have always hoped I would be able to experience again, but never did. Our guide asked the group if we would like to spend a short time on top of the old control tower building – you have never seen a bunch of ageing aviation enthusiasts sprint up a metal staircase as fast in your life. The view we had up there was truly fantastic, overlooking the Tucano ramp and all the training comings and goings of the day – the slightly elevated position and favourable weather conditions made for some truly memorable photographs, but this was very much a special privilege and we were on a tight deadline.
In what seemed like just a few precious minutes, the group was ushered away from this lofty perch and inside the old control tower building, which housed the airfield’s Memorial Room and its collection of artefacts. I have to confess that I had to be prized from the top of the control tower and would happily have offered to stay there quietly for the next couple of days. After spending quite some time in the Memorial Room, our visit was almost over and we were taken back to the mess room and the chance to use the lunchtime facilities, before handing back our passes and making our way back to our cars. This proved to be an extremely memorable day, the like of which will never be available to enthusiasts again.
With the RAF Tucanos now withdrawn from service, the base at Linton-on-Ouse is scheduled to close by the end of the year and whilst the official line is that a decision on its long-term future has yet to be made, many locals hold the opinion that the airfield will be sold to housing developers. As another historic airfield potentially disappears from Britain’s landscape, days like the one I enjoyed back in 2011 will simply become a treasured memory and the pictures taken a lasting record of a once active operational Royal Air Force station.
This next selection of images were all taken during our short, yet extremely memorable stint on top of the disused control tower.
'Enniskillen' and one final Tucano display season
During its 30 years of service, several RAF Tucanos have been presented in rather distinctive liveries and have made a striking contribution to Britain’s Airshow scene, whether they appeared on the flying programme or as part of the static display. We have already seen Tucano ZF378 in its smart silver, red, white and blue livery during our hangar tour, however, this aircraft would go on to wear an even more striking scheme in 2017 and one which was applied in celebration of RAF No.72 Squadron’s centenary commemorations.
The RAF Tucano has a long association with No.72 Squadron, a unit which in turn has a proud association with Northern Ireland. The squadron operated helicopters in Northern Ireland continuously for 33 years until disbanding at RAF Aldergrove in 2002 – it was to immediately reform at RAF Linton-on-Ouse operating the Tucano T1, an aircraft which itself had links to Northern Ireland. All of the RAF’s 130 Tucano aircraft were manufactured by Short Brothers in Belfast. To mark the centenary of the squadron, Tucano ZF378 was presented in a smart Battle of Britain era camouflage scheme and given the codes RN-S and the name ‘Enniskillen’. This tribute was in relation to a Spitfire Mk.IIa (P7832) which represented No.72 Squadron during WWII and was one of 17 presentation aircraft purchased by the Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund and supplied to the Royal Air Force.
To add further poignancy to this magnificent camouflage tribute, during the final few years of operation, No.72 Squadron could claim to be the only active unit in the Royal Air Force operating a single aircraft type, to have flown Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. As you might imagine, this was an extremely popular aircraft during 2017 and was the star of many an Airshow static aircraft display. I was lucky enough to catch up with ZF378 at the Royal international Air Display and the following year as part of Cosford’s magnificent RAF 100 static display.
Thankfully, the impending retirement of the Tucano was not allowed to take place without giving the British public one final opportunity to admire this beautiful aeroplane at Airshows all over the country this past summer. Five years after the Tucano had last appeared on the UK Airshow circuit, RAF display pilot Flt. Lt. Liam Matthews was given the honour of presenting the Tucano T.1 to Airshow crowds across the UK and with it, commemorating the 30 year service career of an aircraft which was responsible for training many thousands of student pilots. In the years to come, these final displays will be considered one of the highlights of the 2019 Airshow season and allowed this trainer to share the display billing with current front line aircraft types, whose pilots will have undoubtedly spent time in the cockpit of a Tucano.
In what is proving to be a rather significant year for the Royal Air Force, although we are sad to see the retirement of the Tucano, we also look forward to seeing how its replacements fare in training the next generation of RAF pilots. It is thought that some of the former RAF Tucanos will be refurbished to fly on with new military owners, however, many of the 130 aircraft produced will definitely have seen their flying days come to an end. Hopefully, one or two airframes will be destined to become prized museum exhibits over the coming months and serve to mark the valuable military training contribution made by this handsome aeroplane.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our firstname.lastname@example.org address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 15th November, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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