at Cranwell by
A new shape graces the skies of Lincolnshire, but an old name has re-emerged in the process. Where once the Avro Tutor was used to instruct pilots progressing to Bristol Bulldogs in the thirties, the new Grob Tutor is replacing Scottish Aviation Bulldogs, at Cranwell, near Sleaford.
Used in the primary training role, the modern-day Bulldog is nearing the end of its service career. Introduced in the mid seventies to replace the Chipmunk, the Bulldog is a militarised version of the Pup, a four-seater private aircraft developed and produced by the Beagle aircraft company, subsequently amalgamated into Scottish Aviation and eventually British Aerospace. Service modifications to the Pup to produce the Bulldog Series 130 standard included removal of the two rear seats, installation of a 200-bhp Avco Lycoming engine and later an ILS, VOR and UHF/VHF radio fit. However, twenty-six years of student fliers have taken their toll, most of the airframes having reached or almost reached their fatigue index. Careful management of the fleet and constant recalculation has extended the index to 116%, equating to approximately 6-7,000 hours per aircraft, but to enable the airframes to continue flying would require a re-sparring of the wing, one of the more complex engineering tasks on the aeroplane. In anticipation of the Bulldog becoming too costly to operate, during 1996 the Ministry of Defence issued a tender for a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract to support the national graduate training task, with the option of retaining the existing Bulldog fleet or providing brand-new aircraft, which would be owned by the successful contractor. Known as the Light Aircraft Flying Training (LAFT) contract, nineteen potential tenderers were approached.
It was quickly established from the tenders supplied that refurbishment of the Bulldog was not an option. Four companies offered bids at this early stage, with aircraft types including the Zlin 242, Robin R160, Slingsby Firefly and Grob 115. Under evaluation by the CFS, both the Zlin and Robin were unable to match the specifications laid down by the RAF, and thus consideration boiled down to the Firefly and Grob. The former appeared to have an advantageous position as it was already operated by Hunting Contract Services for the Joint Elementary Flying Training school at Barkston Heath, although five Grobs were in service with the Royal Navy for grading duties.
By early 1997 a preferred tenderer had been selected, and proposed to the Defence Minister. The General Election then held the decision until 1998 after the new Government had re-appraised the whole process, and finally it was announced on 1 April that Bombardier Aerospace Defence Services had been successful. Bombardier is a French-Canadian company, its United Kingdom operation comprising of the Shorts company in Belfast which was taken over in the early eighties. Consideration as to which type of aircraft to use continued, with the Grob package emerging as the preferred, and on 30 January 1999 the contract was signed and sealed. The whole process from inception to signing had taken just three years, despite a change of Government midway, a much shorter timescale than most modern military procurement programmes.
A name was needed for the new trainer, for which Bombardier sponsored a competition. Although the company operates the Grob 115D on behalf of the Royal Navy with the name 'Heron', the RAF's 115E model was considered significantly different to warrant a new title. 'Gauntlet' had been promoted, as the type replaced the Bulldog within Fighter Command in the thirties, but having considered many suggestions the company agreed to the name 'Tutor'. Alterations from the 115D include a three-bladed constant speed propeller instead of a two-blade, a 180-bhp Textron Lycoming AEIO-360-B1F engine in place of the 160-bhp unit, and carbon-fibre control surfaces. A feature in common with the Fireflies at Barkston is the seating of the student pilot on the right of the aircraft, a shift from tradition of him (or her) occupying the left hand seat in previous types. This enables the student to fly the aircraft with the right hand, using the left to operate the throttle, as most front-line aircraft are configured.
Cockpit instrumentation is largely standard 'off-the-shelf' equipment, with some RAF specific fittings, most notably UHF primary radio and Differential GPS. The latter enables ILS-type approaches to be made to a ground station, meaning small fields such as Newton can be utilised if need be. It can also provide the duty instructor on the ground the precise location of all his aircraft across the country at any one time, and their course. The contract also provides for the supply of parachutes and flying helmets for the crew, so there can be little excuse for chickening out!
Coming into effect on 1 April, the contract provides the RAF with up to 35,000 flying hours per year for which it pays an hourly sum; all overheads, such as maintenance and support services, are provided within the price by the contractor. As well as engineering support, the contract includes varying levels of other activities at the thirteen locations across the United Kingdom, such as Air Traffic Control, catering and security at Wyton, the first satellite site from Cranwell to be established. Here the Cambridge University Air Squadron (UAS) has moved in from Teversham, shortly to be joined by the London UAS from RAF Benson.
To comply with the requirements of the contract, Bombardier has determined that 99 aircraft are needed to supply the RAF with the hours it requires. All will be used in the graduate-training role, equipping the University Air Squadrons and Air Experience Flights (AEF) at the various locations across the country. As the contractor owns the aircraft, they have to comply with the requirements of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and therefore carry civilian registrations. Restrictions imposed by this are few; the biggest perhaps is that flying is restricted to above 500 feet, rather than the military low-level limit of 250. One benefit of being on the civil register is that maintenance is according to the Light Aircraft Maintenance System (LAMS) under CAA regulations and not the military doctrine, meaning that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Downtime compared to the Bulldog is expected to fall from twenty percent to about three.
Constructed of carbon reinforced plastic, which is very light and strong, the new Tutor will actually gain strength with age, so won't require the regular airframe checks that the Bulldog has to endure. Stressed to +6/-3G, the smooth airframe is notable by the lack of panels or rivets, providing extremely efficient aerodynamics, enabling the aeroplane to perform equally well as the Bulldog with twenty less horsepower from the engine, although the roll-rate is slightly slower. All-up weight is similar to the 'Dog, but the Tutor can perform full aerobatics fully laden, something not possible in its predecessor. Fuel consumption is some eight gallons per hour, compared to twelve of the Bulldog, offering further economies to the RAF as the service provides all the fuel for the contract, something to do with saving on VAT!
At the time of writing (late October), sixteen aircraft have been delivered. Arriving direct from the factory in Bavaria, all aircraft will be delivered through Cranwell where they are prepared by Bombardier and given the relevant CAA certification. Cranwell is the centre of Bombardier's contract activities; eventually a new hangar will support its operations adjacent to the current CFS facility. Until all the Tutors are delivered, the contract requires Bombardier to operate the existing Bulldog fleet, in line with existing operational standards. At a delivery rate of four Tutors per month, it is anticipated that the ninety-ninth will be delivered in mid-2001, so another eighteen months or so of Bulldog sorties can be expected. Wyton is the first satellite site to re-equip with the Tutor, the flying side of the ex-Canberra base being re-activated specifically for the relocation of the two UAS's from Cambridge and Benson. It revealed some of the more challenging aspects of the PFI/civil registration arrangement, as not only must the aircraft be operated with due regard to the Air Navigation Order, but the engineering support facilities must be approved in line with Joint Airworthiness Regulation (JAR) 145. Personnel from Bombardier staff Air Traffic Control, also subject to CAA and European regulation.
Roughly two-thirds of future RAF pilots enter the service via the UAS route, flying approximately ninety hours while studying for their degrees. This accounts for some 25,000 hours a year, the balance being made up by Air Cadet experience flights with the AEF. Until April of this year four contractors provided this service, split over a myriad of regional contracts, but now it is unified into a single point of contact and delivery for the next ten years. Over this time, savings to the Treasury are estimated at some £30 million compared to Bulldog operations, within the £100 million contract. Inevitably, Bombardier will have their eyes on the nearby JEFTS contract at nearby Barkston Heath, which is up for re-negotiation in five years time.
Instructor pilots for the UAS/AEF sites will be trained at Cranwell by the CFS, a five-hour conversion course from the Bulldog being all that is needed. Once all thirteen sites have re-equipped with the Tutor, the Bulldog will quietly retire from active service and the RAF will not actually own any primary training aircraft for the first time in its history. How times change!
Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank Wing Commander Bob Marston and Squadron Leader Dave Gregory of the EFTS for their assistance.