During the 1970’s, British Aerospace had undertaken studies into designing a combat aircraft that could replace several RAF aircraft such as the Phantom, Harrier and Jaguar. The new aircraft was to be tailored primarily toward the ground attack role but with a true self defence capability against enemy aircraft. Given the success of previous European collaborations such as the Panavia Tornado the new aircraft was intended to be a follow-up with the Panavia partners of Germany and Italy contributing funds and technology. However, very quickly the West Germans showed a lack of financial support and the Italians followed suit leaving the project entirely funded by the UK Ministry of Defence and the members of the British aviation industry who invested in the project.
The first and only EAP (Experimental Aircraft Program) was rolled-out of BAe’s Warton facility in April 1986. After a series of ground trials the EAP made its maiden flight in August of that year and during this initial sortie the aircraft reached Mach 1.1 – an impressive feat for an aircraft’s first flight. The aircraft was powered by a pair of RB.199-104D turbofan engines, the same engines powering the Panavia Tornado ADV and which were quite advanced for the 1980s being equipped with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) that controlled all aspects of the engine to gain the most out of it at all times. Within the following months the aircraft managed to comfortably attain a speed of Mach 2.0.
Other testing was aimed at investigating or proving some of the new technological developments the aircraft was intended to demonstrate. The aircraft researched the full fly-by-wire concept for an aerodynamically unstable aircraft with a canard/delta configuration. It also tested the efficiency of the new cockpit which incorporated three large screen Multi-Function Displays as opposed to the traditional cockpit with gauges and switches. Although weapons trials were not part of the test program the aircraft did fly with dummy Sky Flash missiles on the fuselage stations and two dummy short range missiles on the wing pylons.
The aircraft was extensively tested during its lifetime pushing it to the very limit of what it was capable of as well as thrilling air show crowds. By the time of its very last flight in May 1991 it had flown 259 sorties totalling 195.21 flying hours. During that time the aircraft displayed excellent agility that would rival even today’s modern combat aircraft. Its high-alpha performance was unequalled compared to any other aircraft of its class being able to achieve an angle of attack up to 36 degrees in controlled flight. Without the EAP program the Eurofighter Typhoon would not have been possible (or at least delayed by many years).
- Crew: 1
- Role: Technology Testbed
- Powerplant: 2 × Turbo-Union RB199-104D turbofans, 9,000 lbs thrust (dry)/17,000 lbs (afterburner)
- Max Speed: Mach 2
- Service ceiling: 60,000 ft
- Empty weight: 22,050 lb (10,002 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 32,000 lb (14,515 kg)
- Length: 48 ft 2.75 in (14.7003 m)
- Wingspan: 38 ft 7 in (11.76 m)
- Height: 18 ft 1.5 in (5.525 m)
- Wing area: 560 sq ft (52 m2)