Tornado ZA326 was the ninth production aircraft in the UK and assembly was
completed in July 1980.
During acceptance testing fire, caused by a fuel
spill during engine testing, caused damage to the aircraft. When delivered
the aircraft was essentially Batch 1 due to the time elapsed until
delivery and financial constraints to raise it to date standard.
engineering and equipment terms a unique aircraft was produced. As this
standard would have been difficult for the RAF to manage it was allocated
for research to RAE Bedford.
ZA326 was delivered to RAE Bedford from BAE Warton by Sqd Ldr Ed Strongman
and Flt Lt Daz James on 26 May 1983. The aircraft with a group of Aircraft
Dept engineers is shown below.
A MODAS recording system and a full set of
sensors was fitted to the aircraft providing a high quality flight data
recording system for post flight analysis purposes suitable for a range of
flight test programmes.
The aircraft was acquired from MoD initially to support the assessment and
development of the Terrain Following Radar system. The system performance
and safety had been reviewed by a specialised scientific team prior to the
aircraft delivery. The team produced several products that needed to be
tested in flight. They were subsequently introduced to the aircraft fleet
to improve performance and safety.
The MODAS system allowed recording of the radar data at its transmission
rate and provided the means to understand the radar functionality
particularly under anomalous conditions. Flight performance could be
checked against predictions from mathematical modelling, a key research
requirement at the time.
The increased understanding of the TFR system
resulted in solutions for counter-counter-measures and weather conditions,
especially rain and the spurious radar reflections. The acquired knowledge
allowed robust algorithmic development, some of which, like the Clearance
Range Ahead Monitor, found their way into the fleet production equipment.
This success led on to developments in terrain-referenced navigation which
introduced covert techniques
for guidance and control and a multi-mode
laser radar for the purpose of cable and obstacle detection. This CO2
Laser Radar, or CLARA, was developed with industry and jointly with the
French. It demonstrated a highly effective method for obstacle detection.
It is mounted in a pod attached to the centre fuselage pylon in the
Other programmes included all-weather approach, stores and weapons
carriage research, aerodynamic flow-field measurement and speech
recognition with direct voice input equipment as applied to a military
aircraft under high g.
The approach modes of the Tornado GR Mk 1 automatic and flight director
system had not been cleared for Service use in 1983 and early flight
trials with ZA 326 confirmed that the standard flight path approach
performance was unacceptable in terms of azimuth performance. The early
equipment standard was the source of the issue. The AFDS performance in
elevation was confirmed to support Cat 2 type operations.
For the stores and weapons research two special rigs were available for
stores carriage and release work, one traversing the pylon and one fixed,
each of which carried airflow-sensing heads used to measure air flow speed
and direction around the pylon stations. This work provided an
understanding of the complex air flow around the store location and
provided evidence to the flight clearance authority.
The speech recogniser led, with industry, to the evaluation of a
flight-worthy recogniser, ASR 1000, which was subsequently evaluated.
Following the closure of Thurleigh airfield in March 1994 the aircraft
operated from Boscombe Down until December 2005.
The aircraft is now in new ownership at the South Wales Aviation Museum (
Progress with the restoration of ZA326 can be found at
This web site also includes a comprehensive interactive time-line summarising the life of ZA326, including its work at Bedford.