Originally slated for October 2009, the replacement of the Tornado F3 aircraft deployed to RAF Mount Pleasant, Falklands Islands was brought forward to 12th September 2009 as part of the MODs accelerated effort to withdraw the Tornado F3 from service.
Four Block 8 Typhoons will replace the four Tornado F3s currently assigned to RAF 1435 Flight. I expect the choice to use Block 8 airframes is to maximise the time they can be away from the UK before they need to return for a major service or upgrade. This did cause a problem with airframe selection though. The RAF only have 10 Block 8 airframes, with two being assigned to 17(R) Squadron who require the latest build for the type of work they do, that only leaves 8 airframes. Of those, 2 were only delivered in mid to late August, giving very little time to iron out any issues.
With a distance of about 8000 miles to travel the RAF covers itself for an airframe becoming unserviceable by sending an extra aircraft. Called an air spare, it’s job is to fly with the other aircraft until they are sure there isn’t any technical problem with the others. At this point it will return to its base, allowing the other four to continue on.
Carrying out the work up and delivery of the Typhoons is Number 3(F) Squadron.
With such a distance to travel the Typhoon requires air to air refueling. This was provided by a RAF Tristar and two VC-10s (which were also carrying freight) flying as ASCOT 9201.
The aircraft took off in two lots, the first a three ship at 11:00:
The remaining pair were meant to take off 20 minutes behind but a data storage brick on one of the Typhoons refused to work correctly. It was replaced but the second one didn’t load the way points correctly. The issue was resolved but it put back the take off by an additional 15 minutes, taking off at 11:37.
As you can see from the photos all the airframes were unmarked. ZJ950 had been displaying the Maltese Cross of 1435 Flight has had the markings removed. It’s unclear if they will be marked up in the Falklands or if they will stay unmarked.
It was also interesting to note that three of out of the five airframes had the PIRATE fitted (ZK301 and ZJ950 being the ones that didn’t). The PIRATE can be removed and fitted relatively easily so they may remove the others in situ and return them to the UK or they might ship out two PIRATEs for ZK301 and ZJ950.
It’s expected the air spare will go as far as the Ascension Island before returning to the UK. It’s unclear which airframe will return at this time.
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The air spare was ZJ945. It returned to Coningsby on Tuesday 22nd September as ASCOT 9615.
This means the four Typhoons deployed to the Falklands are: