The story behind this photo of a BAe Test Pilot flying a Tornado with the canopy off

The story behind this photo of a BAe Test Pilot flying a Tornado with the canopy off

By Dario Leone
Aug 1 2023
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Tornado with the canopy off

Taken in 1988 the unique photos in this post feature British Aerospace (BAe) Test Pilot Keith Hartley conducting the ‘cockpit habitability trial’ in his open top Tornado XZ630.

As BAE Systems explained on Twitter:

“In 1988, our test pilot Keith Hartley flew at 500 knots in a Tornado aircraft with the canopy off, testing the emergency escape procedures of the jet; just one example of the lengths we go to test the safety of the planes we build for the RAF.”

The story behind this photo of a BAe Test Pilot flying a Tornado with the canopy off

The Panavia Tornado XZ630 was the first British pre-production aircraft which flew on Mar. 14, 1977 and participated in weapons release trials at the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down.

Noteworthy Pre-production Tornados incorporated a number of refinements over earlier prototypes that would be incorporated onto production aircraft.

Former Lightning and Tornado F3 pilot Ian Black said that “While the first ten aircraft could be considered true prototypes, the first real Tornado for the RAF flew in March 1977 (XZ630) and it was quickly assigned to the A&AEE at RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.”

That time a crewless RAF Tornado flew away after the Navigator ejected himself and his pilot from their serviceable aircraft
The pilot in this picture is British Aerospace (BAe) Test Pilot Keith Hartley conducting the ‘cockpit habitability trial’ in his open top Tornado XZ630

After a successful career as a trials aircraft, Panavia Tornado XZ630 was retired to ground duties and has been the Gate Guardian at RAF Halton’s Recruit Training Squadron Parade Square since 2004. It was refurbished to resemble a GR4 from 31 Squadron, currently based at RAF Marham, and known as the ‘Goldstars’. The refurbishment was carried out by Serco contractors.

The Panavia Tornado

Development of the Tornado began in 1968, when the United Kingdom, West Germany and Italy initiated a collaborative project to produce a low-level, supersonic aircraft. Panavia Aircraft, a new tri-national company established in Germany, built the variable sweep wing aircraft, and the first prototype flew on Aug. 14, 1974.

Keith Hartley onboard Tornado with canopy off

Tornado has been a vital part of air forces from the day it went in to service in 1979: with a max speed of 1.3 Mach and an expansive range of integrated weaponry the Tornado is a formidable aircraft that is renowned for its ability to operate in any weather conditions, at low level at any time of the day or night.

The Tornado was exported to the Royal Saudi Air Force, and is still in use by them today.

Photo credit: Kate Yates, BAe Heritage Centre

Panavia Tornado GR4 model
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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