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The Shorts Tucano in RAF service Pt 1


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For my latest photo essay, I bring you the Shorts Tucano T.1 in RAF Service. I will cover the three decades of service of this recently retired trainer in two parts: Part 1 will feature the various RAF users over the years; Part 2 will cover the special commemorative or air display schemes utilised. 

 

Shorts Tucano was the successful platform chosen to meet the requirements of Air Staff Target 412, to provide a high performance turboprop to replace the ageing but reliable Jet Provost as the RAF’s basic training platform for those RAF and RN students destined to fly fast jets.  Built under license by Short Bros in Belfast, it was adapted from the Embraer EMB-312 Tucano (Portuguese for toucan) already in service with the Brazilian Air Force, by being re-engined with the uprated 1100HP Garrett TPE331 powerplant and a Hartzell four bladed propeller. Some 900 further modifications were made to the basic EMB-312 top meet UK requirements, the most notable of which was a revised cockpit to resemble more closely that of the Hawk T1 which students would progress to for advanced flying training.

The first production aircraft for the RAF – ZF135 - undertook its maiden flight at Belfast on December 30th 1986.  Trials were then undertaken at A&AEE Boscombe Down using ZF135, ZF136 and ZF137 ahead of the type being certified for RAF usage.   The first service delivery was ZF138 which joined the Central Flying School (CFS) on June 16th, 1988.  At that time, the RAF had a requirement for 130 aircraft at a reported cost of £126m. These were to replace both the Jet Provost T.3A and T.5A/B within the structure of four Flying Training Schools (FTS) at Linton on Ouse, Cranwell, Finningley and Church Fenton, as well as the CFS itself. ZF516 - the last Tucano built for the RAF, first flew on 23 December 1992.

 

The TucanoT.1 serial blocks were as follows: ZF135-145; ZF160-172; ZF200-212; ZF238-245; ZF263-270; ZF284-295; ZF315-320; ZF338-350; ZF372-280; ZF405-418; ZF445-450; ZF484-492; and ZF510-516.

7 FTS at RAF Church Fenton became the first unit to start building the necessary course infrastructure. ZF160 arrived on December 23rd 1988 and over the next two years, 7 FTS would receive 33 aircraft. 3 FTS at RAFC Cranwell was the second unit, accepting its first aircraft in late 1990 when ZF144 was transferred from Church Fenton. Subsequently 1 FTS at RAF Linton on Ouse and 6 FTS at RAF Finningley also re-equipped with the new trainer in September 1992.  The latter unit, tasked with fast jet navigator training, was to receive only around half a dozen Tucanos to replace their JP T.5Bs. 

 

Significant downsizing to the size and equipment of the RAF followed the UK Govt’s Options for Change paper in the early ‘90s. 7 FTS was destined to close, and the bulk of its aircraft together with those of the CFS were transferred to 1 FTS. Two aircraft – ZF510 and ZF511, were diverted to the EPTS at Boscombe in July 1993 where they remained for the rest of their service lives.  It had become clear by 1995 that all basic fast jet training could be consolidated under 1 FTS at Linton on Ouse.  At Cranwell, 3 FTS passed its basic flying training role on to 1 FTS on March 31st 1995. Consequently, there became a surplus of Tucano airframes and many were then flown to 27 MU at Shawbury for long term storage or resale.

 

The aircraft, originally delivered in the RAF Support Command red, white and light aircraft grey scheme, began receiving an all over gloss black scheme from 1996, when it was decided the latter colour scheme aided visibility in the air, thus reducing the prospect of mid-air collisions.   And remarkably for such a hard working training type, during its 31 year RAF service, just five aircraft were lost in flying accidents and with no fatalities. 

 

By the beginning of the 21st Century, 1 FTS was the sole operator of the Tucano with a complement of some 78 aircraft.  It was decided in July 2002 to introduce a reserve status to training squadrons.  Thus, the two Tucano fast jet training units under No 1 FTS became 72 (R) Sqn and 207 (R) Sqn respectively, many of their aircraft gaining sqn markings in the process.  And in 2007, the Low Level and Air Defence Training Squadron (LLADTS) - the unit within 1 FTS responsible for training Weapons System Officers (WSOs) (previously navigators), became 76 (R) Sqn.

 

The UK Govt’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) led to further changes:  With sizeable reductions to the RAF frontline fast jet strength, in particular the early retirement of the Tornado F.3, the need for WSOs was drastically reduced. Consequently 76 (R) Sqn was disbanded in May 2011 followed by 207(R) Sqn in January 2012.  This left 72 Sqn to soldier on with around 40 Tucanos to meet both the RAF and RN’s needs until reaching the out of service date which fell on 1 November 2019. The final Tucano Basic Fast-jet Training (BFJT) course graduated on 25 October 2019, which was marked with a nine-ship flypast over the local area. It was announced in July 2018 that with the retirement of the Tucano imminent, RAF Linton on Ouse was to close. Henceforth the task for Basic Flying Training for fast jet students has been met by the Beechcraft Texan T1. 72 Sqn, continuing in that role, is now resident at RAF Valley, as an element of 3 FTS. Many of the surplus Tucanos found new homes on the civil register, particularly in the US.

 

During their service with 1FTS 72 and 76 Sqns, several Tucanos received names/inscriptions beneath the cockpit on the port side:

 

ZF161 carried “Quachas Nek”

ZF169 carried “Makesi”
ZF170/MP-A  carried “The Black Prince”
ZF172/MP-D carried “Dorothy”

ZF205 carried “The Black Horse”
ZF209 carried “Enniskillen”
ZF210 carried “Miners of Durham II”
ZF239/MP-T carried “Topsy”

ZF244 carried “Moshoeshoe”

ZF264/MP-Q carried “Queenie”

ZF269/MP-O carried “Oh-De-Oh”
ZF287 carried "City of Leeds"
ZF338/MP-W carried “Whizzo”

ZF339 carried “Nix Six Primus”
ZF343 carried “Basuto” and “Moonshine/Sunshine”
ZF349 carried “Lewis & Harris Fighter”

ZF378/MP-W “Whizzo” later carried “Enniskillen”

ZF447 carried “Basuto”

ZF448 carried “Basuto”

ZF483 carried “Jason”

ZF512 carried “Basuto”

ZF513 carried “Basuto”
ZF515 carried "Argonaut”

 

 

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The first RAF Tucano T1 deliveries were to the Central Flying School at RAF Scampton. This CFS example – ZF205, is seen in static at the IAT at Fairford in July 1991.

 

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Tucano T1 ZF244 in the markings of 7 FTS RAF Church Fenton, the initial flying training school to operate the type. This image from September 1991 was taken at an airshow at Kleine Brogel AB Belgium.

 

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This 3 FTS Tucano wears the RAF College Cranwell blue band. It was the second unit to get the new trainer in 1990 but relinquished its aircraft less than 5 years later. In this image ZF338 is seen in May 1993 at Cambrai AB France.

 

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1 FTS Tucano ZF448 wearing the unit’s original markings of the Yorkshire white rose. 1 FTS had the distinction of being the longest and last RAF user of the Tucano from 1992 through to the type’s retirement in November 2019.

 

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Fast jet nav training was conducted on Tucanos by 6 FTS /LLADTS at RAF Finningley. When that station closed in 1995 the role moved to 1 FTS, initially at RAF Topcliffe. This 6 FTS example – ZF405 is pictured at the IAT at Fairford in 1993.

 

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From 1996 the fleet began to appear in overall gloss black livery, replacing the red, white and light grey RAFSC scheme the type was delivered in. This 2010 photo shows 1 FTS Tucano T1 ZF491 on finals at Linton.

 

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For Comic Relief’s ‘Red Nose Day’ 2001, 1 FTS decorated Tucano ZF413 in a suitable manner.

 

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In July 2002 it was decided to introduce a reserve status to training squadrons. The two Tucano fast jet training units under No 1 FTS became 72 (R) Sqn and 207 (R) Sqn. These two views show Tucanos ZF140 and ZF290 sporting 207 Sqn colours.

 

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Many of the 72 Sqn Tucanos gained the famous fighter sqn’s blue and red fuselage bars such as ZF205 seen here at Linton on Ouse in 2010. In WWII, 72 Sqn named some of its Spitfires after organisations that had funded aircraft for the squadron, such as Lloyds Band and their famous black horse. The latter day 72 (R ) Sqn maintained the tradition on some of their Tucanos.

 

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72 Sqn Tucano ZF287 ‘City of Leeds’ seen at Linton in 2011.

 

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In 2007, the Low Level and Air Defence Training Squadron (LLADTS) - the unit within 1 FTS responsible for training Weapons System Officers (WSOs) became 76 (R) Sqn. Upon reformation its aircraft received squadron codes representing the unit’s wartime Halifax bombers such as ZF269/MP-O ‘Oh-De-Oh’ seen at Linton in 2010.

 

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To mark the retirement of the RAF Tucano, the 2019 display aircraft – ZF448, received the badges of all units that had operated the type during its 31 years of service. Photo courtesy of Stuart Miller.

 

In Part 2 I will examine the many special air display and anniversary schemes worn by the RAF Tucano.  Thanks for looking, c&c always welcomed.

 

Mark

Edited by canberraman
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A truly lovely set of an oft-overlooked type, Mark.

 

It wore some lovely clothes over the years and I can't wait for the next instalment!

 

Thanks for sharing this detailed post. 👍

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Was it really that long ago? In around 1990/91 I asked for a posting to Scampton and got put onto the Tucano Acceptance Flight. 

We were a small band who checked them out when they were flown over from Belfast.

After they'd sat on the other side of the airfield for a week! Just in case. The RAF police dogs had to do a sniffer test before we went to get it.

There was still a risk of 'troubles'. One dog ate an intake blank, and we had no end of trouble trying to get another. 

There was another team at Cranwell. They got odd numbered ones & we got the evens. Or was it the other way around? So we got about one per fortnight.

Which means that the factory sent over one a week. Which meant that as soon as it left their runway, The MOD man wrote a cheque. So the workers got paid.

To this end, Shorts employed a small team of ex RAF SNCO's who fixed factory related faults that we found on our checks. We also did MODs/STI's  etc.

 

I think this lasted around 18 months or so and then it was announced that Scampton was 'going Civvie'.

The new Tucano's were all going to Cranwell for acceptance checks from then on. Four of us asked for, and got, Chivenor.

1994 and Chivenor was being given to the Royal Marines. So I took Voluntary redundancy. We bought a house near Scampton.

I ended up going back there to work for Hunting on Tucano servicing. That lasted for about six months. Then Scampton was to be closed.

Some of us applied to BAE for jobs in Saudi. On the strength of our work on Tucano's,  a few of us got a job on Pilatus PC-9's in Riyadh.

So, summing up, It wasn't a terribly difficult Aircraft to work on but the build quality could be wanting.

My time on them stood me in good stead though, so, no complaints.

 

 

 

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Thanks for the photos, the Tucano was a backdrop to my life from the time it entered service to the end. Mrs T came from North Yorkshire and although a student in Leeds when I met her she was living at Rainton and the Tucano was a regular from 1988, she then lived in York and when we moved to Rothwell the Tucanos were still around, even after 7FTS closed as Church Fenton was still used and they were frequent touch and go visitors to Leeds Bradford. Very distinctive engine note meant you always knew they were around. Lovely pictures of an aircraft that was always going to be around until one day it wasn't. 

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2 hours ago, Pete in Lincs said:

Which meant that as soon as it left their runway, The MOD man wrote a cheque. So the workers got paid.

 

3 hours ago, Pete in Lincs said:

, It wasn't a terribly difficult Aircraft to work on but the build quality could be wanting.

Yea, Shorts was a lame duck by then, I'm afraid. The MOD bailing out of the Belfast Heavy Lift and giving all the money to Lockheed was a real body blow for the company. Any and all foreign interest evaporated instantly. 

Many good men and much expertise were laid off in the late 60s, my Dad among them. 

I remember biking to school and one of those beauties out on circuits and short finals into what is now the City (George Best) Airport. 

But all the British plane makers were getting systematically done in by the powers that be at the time. 

The little Tucano looks and sounds OK, doesn't it? I do like the gloss black livery. 

Thanks for a great bunch of references and background. 👍

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Chaps,  many thanks for the likes and additional information. It is interesting to read some of the historical context regarding the Tucano purchase by the MOD, and also what it was like to work on by those who were there at the outset.  Part 2 coming up!

 

Mark

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Great set of reference photos for anyone making a model.  At the time they were introduced I heard that the choice of the Tucano was made to prop up Shorts in NI and that the RAF would have preferred the Swiss offering the PC9 - not sure of the truth of that.

Edited by ColinChipmunkfan
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3 hours ago, ColinChipmunkfan said:

not sure of the truth of that.

You're aren't far off at all. Both were good to fly from the perspective of the pilots, The PC-9 had the edge, I heard.

But, Pilatus wouldn't consider changing the canopy for a birdproof windscreen, and weren't keen on it being licence built.

Short's in Belfast, however, needed work and, in a similar fashion to DeLorean, were basically propped up by the Government.

It was said at the time that a lot of the cost per unit was down to the avionics fit.

Having worked on both types, I'd say that I prefer the Pilatus.

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Colin, Pete,  many thanks for the additional insight.

 

Mark

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Lovely overview!, hard to believe the Tucano has been retited already.

 

The original scheme is still my favourite. 

 

Cheers,

 

Andre

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On 1/23/2021 at 12:51 PM, Pete in Lincs said:

You're aren't far off at all. Both were good to fly from the perspective of the pilots, The PC-9 had the edge, I heard.

But, Pilatus wouldn't consider changing the canopy for a birdproof windscreen, and weren't keen on it being licence built.

Short's in Belfast, however, needed work and, in a similar fashion to DeLorean, were basically propped up by the Government.

It was said at the time that a lot of the cost per unit was down to the avionics fit.

Having worked on both types, I'd say that I prefer the Pilatus.

Story I heard at the time was that the Tucano was chosen as a sort of quid pro quo for the help Brazil gave to the U.K. in the South Atlantic and with all the changes, any similarity to the original Tucano was minimal.

 

As for licence building the PC-9, Pilatus obviously changed their mind with Beech for the Texan II.

 

If you want a pre owned Tucano, then look no further.....

 

https://www.trade-a-plane.com/search?model=TUCANO+MK1&s-type=aircraft

 

Trevor

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The story I heard was the Shorts one.  It is true that changes were considerable, despite this being against the original requirement which was for a more "off-the-shelf" airframe.  However the performance wasn't good enough, so an uprated engine was permitted so that Shorts could be said to win.  Pilatus were working quite closely with BAe at the time, so I don't think that there would have been any problem with licence building.

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2 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

Pilatus were working quite closely with BAe at the time, so I don't think that there would have been any problem with licence building.

After all, Pilatus contributed the PC-9 in the first BAe-led Al Yamamah weapons deal with the Saudis. 

 

Cheers,

 

Andre

 

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17 minutes ago, Hook said:

Pilatus contributed the PC-9 in the first BAe-led Al Yamamah weapons deal with the Saudis. 

So they sold it to BAE, who sold it on to Saudi Arabia. Lots of money changed hands. Actually, I think they paid in Oil stocks.

Speaking of which, where can I get a million Dollars to buy a Toucan?

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Just now, Pete in Lincs said:

Speaking of which, where can I get a million Dollars to buy a Toucan?

Well, you could try asking nicely... ;)

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