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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited
Keywords Aerospace, Aircraft, Europe, Military
Aircraft engineers and technologists throughout Europe who have focused their skills and expertise on the Eurofighter project can reflect how they have helped develop one of the most challenging and successful military aerospace programmes of all time.
For today, largely unseen and away from the public gaze, Eurofighter's development is accelerating rapidly, with programme milestones being passed with increasing frequency as the project approaches its production phase.
Already seven Eurofighters are involved in various aspects of flight development work. So far this year, their achievements include the first in-flight refuelling trials, the first flight with large external stores, the first missile firings and the first attainment of Mach 2.0.
The first Mach 2.0 flight was undertaken by DA2, one of the two British-built development aircraft, flown by British Aerospace chief test pilot Paul Hopkins. DA2 is powered by two RB199 engines, installed as interim powerplants at the start of Eurofighter's flight trials programme to enable airborne experience to be built up in readiness for installation of EJ200 engines.
Hopkins said after the flight that even higher speeds are expected when the RB199s, which power the Tornado, are replaced by the lighter and more advanced EJ200 powerplants. He confirmed Eurofighter's ability to accelerate to high speed very quickly a vital asset in air-superiority roles for which Eurofighter is intended.
The same aircraft has also completed initial air-to-air refuelling trials. The first link-up in January involved joint trials with Britain's Royal Air Force for the first time, with an RAF VC-10 tanker crewed by personnel from the Defence and Research Evaluation Agency acting as host aircraft over the Irish Sea.
Meanwhile Italian-based Eurofighter DA7 has made the first missile launch, firing a Sidewinder AIM-9L short-range air-to-air missile and releasing an Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) over the Decimomannu ranges off Sardinia. Firings were achieved at Mach 0.8/500 knots airspeed.
The second Italian-based development aircraft, DA3, has begun trials with external tanks. As the first Eurofighter to fly with large external stores, DA3 has carried two 1,000-litre fuel tanks that provide a significant extension to the Eurofighter's unrefuelled range. Modified tanks are also used in the trials as on-board camera pods to monitor the firing and refuelling trials.
Progress with the Eurofighter's EJ200 engine development programme has been equally impressive so far this year. Designed to meet the demanding operational and performance requirements of Eurofighter, EJ200s have already demonstrated their capabilities on the ground and in the air.
EJ200 gives the Eurofighter, with full internal fuel and operational load, a take-off roll of just 300 metres, with its two engines producing 40,000lb of thrust. The aircraft's ferry range is 2,000 nautical miles, a result of its engines' good fuel economy. In trials, EJ200 has exceeded all thrust and fuel-consumption targets to date.
Durability, too, has been demonstrated in a series of punishing trials. One endurance run on a test bed simulated 600 hours in service including more than 8,000 throttle movements from idle to maximum power and return plus the same number of combat reheat selections.
The successful completion of such rigorous tests at a relatively early stage of overall development has underscored the contributions made by previous and current international demonstration and technology powerplant programmes.
Close attention to life-cycle costs is also paying dividends. Compared with previous military engines for fighter aircraft EJ200's costs are reduced by some 45 per cent an achievement expected to weigh heavily in the engine's favour during its manufacturers' forthcoming export drive.
Meanwhile, these Eurofighter engineering and technology achievements have been paralleled by some important political advances. The most significant of these came earlier this year with the signing of contracts covering the production and support of 620 Eurofighters, allowing the air forces of Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK to bring the aircraft into service early in the next decade.
A total of nine contracts have been signed, covering the total weapon system including engines and technical support. Valued at more than DM55 billion, their work content will be distributed between the four nations in proportion to the aircraft orders. This enables each nation to pay for its order by funding only the work done by its own industry, minimising payment for work across national boundaries.
Fixed-price orders for the first production batch of 148 aircraft are expected within weeks. The RAF, as the first Eurofighter customer, is expecting deliveries of the first of its 232 aircraft in mid-2002 and deliveries are likely to continue until at least 2014. Production will involve aircraft engineers and aerospace technologists in more than 400 companies throughout Europe.
Today development work is moving more quickly than ever. Development aircraft have flown more than 600 sorties while long-term fatigue testing of the Eurofighter structure in Germany has attained the equivalent of 15,000 flying hours more than twice the required lifespan of 6,000 hours.
Already a tribute to the success of international collaboration, Eurofighter is well on its way towards taking its place in service as the world's most advanced multi-role combat aircraft.