In the May issue of AirForces Monthly we take a look at the varied work of No 41 (Reserve) Test and Evaluation Squadron at RAF Coningsby. AFM spoke to members of the unit that is responsible for ensuring the Royal Air Force gets the very best out of its Tornados and Typhoons.
In broad terms, No 41(R) TES tests and assesses fast jet systems and upgrades that are bound for the operational units.
The drawdown in different fighter types flown by the RAF is reflected in the 41(R) TES inventory – today it fields just three Tornado GR4s and six Eurofighter Typhoons. Its sister squadron No 17(R) TES is responsible for the F-35B under a similar mandate across at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Although its days in service are numbered, the Tornado GR4 team at No 41(R) TES remains busy in light of the type’s current heavy involvement in Operation Shader against so-called Islamic State. On March 2, its three remaining examples departed once again for Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake in California.
The latest detachment will probably be the last for the squadron’s Tornados, however the unit’s Officer Commanding (OC), Wg Cdr Steve ‘Ras’ Berry, gives a wry smile as he says: “When I joined the unit in December 2014, the Tornado was going on its ‘last hurrah’ in spring 2015, then it was going to be in the autumn of 2015, but then we opted to leave the jets out there until spring 2016. We took them out again last autumn for High Rider 16-4 and now they’ve gone again. That’s the fifth ‘last hurrah’ the jet has had.”
A few years ago it was decided to reduce the No 41(R) TES Tornado complement to two, but three had to be retained just to cope with the squadron’s workload.
“The point is that she might be old, but she is so easy to get [new] capability on,” Wg Cdr Berry continues. “On the Typhoon and F-35 you really have to invest in technologies to get new stuff, but with Tornado you can just bolt it on. Which is why she is an absolute workhorse. She will keep going strong until the day she dies.”