A new version of a fighter jet built by thousands of Lancashire defence workers has taken to the skies for the first time.
The Tranche 3 version of the Typhoon, built at BAE Systems at Warton and Samlesbury, near Preston, has started flight tests ahead of entering frontline service with the RAF.
It made its first flight from the runway at the Warton site under the guidance of BAE test pilot, Nat Makepeace.
Mark Kane, managing director of its Combat Air division, said the aircraft was ‘future-proofed’ with hundreds of ‘under-the-skin changes’ which he said meant it would be prized by airforces across the globe.
“For casual observers the aircraft is little changed from its predecessor, but has a number of provisions that will allow it to take on additional capability in the future. One of the few visual clues is a number of small panels on the fuselage which are there to accommodate the fitting of conformal fuel tanks.
“Once fitted, these would give the aircraft greater range and free up positions under the aircraft for larger or additional weapons.
“At the nose, a new internal structure has been built and work carried out on power, cooling and electronics so a new E-Scan radar could easily be accommodated.”
Taken together there have been hundreds of modifications, changes and additions.
The first Tranche 3 has been produced for the RAF by the Eurofighter consortium and assembled by BAE Systems.
In November, the first in a series of flight tests to integrate the MBDA Storm Shadow missile onto the aircraft took place. Earlier this year, Eurofighter Typhoon announced a contract to develop the integration of the Meteor weapon system.
Under the Tranche 3A contract signed in 2009, a total of 112 aircraft have been ordered for the four European partner nations of Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, with 40 aircraft bound for the Royal Air Force.
Phil Entwistle, the Unite union representative for manufacturing workers at BAE’s Lancashire sites said: “This puts in a more competitive edge in the export market. We have got to make sure on the back of it we win some export orders.”
According to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), published more than two years ago, in March 2011, each Typhoon costs £73m. The inclusion of development costs and the cost of capital push this figure to £126m.
BAE Systems employs 11,000 people at its sites at Warton and Samlesbury, near Preston. It began work on manufacturing the first Typhoon in the late 1990s.