First hand account: Flying the Eurofighter Typhoon in the Aggressor role during supersonic air combat training

Mar 13 2017 - 28 Comments

We have had the opportunity to fly in one of the world’s most advanced fighters to experience the thrills and complexity of a 4 vs 3 supersonic aerial combat training exercise.

Much has been said about the Eurofighter Typhoon and its air dominance capabilities.

Its superb engine-airframe matching and maneuverability, in combination with its High Off-Bore-Sight armament supported by Helmet Cueing “has already and consistently proven winning against any agile fighter.” Indeed, we have also widely reported about the outcome of some mock air combat engagements between the Euro-canard and the U.S. F-22 Raptor in a past Red Flag-Alaska during which the Eurofighters managed to score several kills (in a Within Visual Range scenario whose Rules Of Engagement are mostly unknown – please read the story we posted back then to put this in the right context.)

Anyway, since simulated kills and HUD captures scored during air superiority training say little about the way a 4.5 Gen fighter plane fights (unless we have an in-depth knowledge of the actual ROE) we visited the 4° Stormo (Wing), the most experienced Eurofighter wing in the ItAF and one of the units of reference at international level among the Typhoon partner nations as well as a recognized leader in the process of optimizing the weapon system, to fly in a Eurofighter Typhoon (or F-2000 as the aircraft is designated by the Italians) during a complex air-to-air training mission.

And here’s the first hand account of what it looks like to fly and fight in the Typhoon.

Dardo 03

I’m attending the briefing of “Dardo 02-03”, the mission that I will have the opportunity to “observe” from the backseat of the TF-2000A (Italian’s two-seater designation) serialled MM55132/“4-35” and belonging to the 9th Gruppo (Squadron).

The mission is the final FCR (Full Combat Readiness) check for two pilots of the Squadron responsible for the air policing of all central and northern Italy, and Slovenia. For this reason, it’s going to be long, difficult and “crowded”, as it will involve as many as 7 Typhoons, in a 4 vs 3 scenario.

“This is the apex of the training carried out at the Squadron,” says Federico, 9th Gruppo Commander and pilot of the only two-seater in today’s mission. “No other training sortie is as complex as the one required to determine whether a LCR (Limited Combat Readiness) pilot is ready for combat: it includes multiple real-life scenarios that require the two examinees to successfully conduct BVR (Beyond Visual Range) intercepts, visual identifications on the “bogeys” as well as WVR (Within Visual Range) air combat against three Typhoons that will emulate the flying characteristics and tactics of the “super-maneuverable” Su-30 Flanker.”

We will play the role of one of those Flankers as part of the Red Air (“Dardo 03”) whereas the examinees will fly as wingmen (#2 and #4) to two experienced pilots in the 4-ship Blue Air (“Dardo 02”). Noteworthy, the “good guys” will also wear the HMSS Mk2, a futuristic helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery: information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor (the HEA – Helmet Equipment Assembly), enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision. We will operate inside the D115, a large working area located over the Tyrrhenian Sea suitable for supersonic flying and for use of chaff and flares, under positive radio and radar control of a GCI (Ground Controlled Intercept) site. The Red Air will depart first and wait for the Blues inside the area.

After a common briefing that covered the basic details of the flight (weather, launch and recovery procedures, emergencies, radio channels, transponder codes, etc.), the Blue and Red team split for the (classified) tactical briefing while I’m introduced to the Typhoon’s peculiar flight gear, a mix of British and American-style equipment. The flight helmet I’ll wear is a Gentex ACS (Aircrew Combat System) a lightweight, dual visor HGU-53/P derivative, with the EFA/ACS oxygen mask and the typical inflatable bladder system that acts on the nape and whose aim is to prevent the G-induced Loss of Consciousness (GLOC). I’m also given a survival jacket, the anti-g pants and, since the water temperature is 13° C, I’m also assigned a Tacconi neoprene watertight suit. I’m ready. I join the rest of the Red Air as we step to the aircraft, parked in the apron next to the 9° Gruppo. In a few minutes I find myself strapped in, with Federico copying the ATC clearance on the radio while taxing to the active runway. The plan is to perform a high-performance take off followed by a RAT (Radar Assisted Trail) and subsequent southbound navigation towards D115.

We enter runway 03 and line up, waiting for the other two “bad guys” to reach us. We will take off in sequence, with 10 seconds separation between us. With the three Typhoons aligned on the tarmac we perform the engine checks. All is ok.
“Tower, Dardo 03, ready for take off,” Federico radios. The answer immediately arrives: “Dardo 03, Grosseto Tower, you are cleared to a high-performance take off, wind is calm.”

Let’s rock and roll. The throttle jerks to the full afterburner position and the Typhoon starts rolling. In spite of the two drop tanks that we carry on the underwing pylons, in less than 10 seconds we reach 120 knots and rotate.
“Number 1 is airborne!”.

Take off roll (courtesy: Giovanni Maduli)

High Performance take-off (courtesy: Iolanda Frisina)

Federico retracts the landing gear while gradually pulling the stick.

With a nose up pitch attitude of 50 degrees over the horizon, we continue to accelerate to report FL310 inside Grosseto CTR (Control Zone) following the assigned SID (Standard Instrumental Departure) that will soon bring us over Giglio Island. The rate of climb is impressive.

As we continue to climb followed by the other two Typhoons in radar-trail, I take a chance to get accustomed to the glass cockpit. The TF-2000’s backseat is quite large and comfortable. The most eye-catching thing is the wide-angle HUD (Head Up Display) with the typical green color over the whole screen. Fed by a camera in the front one, the HUD makes you fill like you are sitting at the front seat: not only does it show the same symbology but it also provides a video of the forward view (that otherwise would be obstructed by the front ejection seat). The front panel features three full colour multi-function head down displays (MHDDs) that can be arranged at will to show the system status, the nav menu, the weapons selection, as well as the moving map.

Heading to the Danger Zone!

We climb to FL360 in a fighting wing formation and after about 30 minutes, we reach D115. As planned, we proceed towards the southern part of the area. It’s time to perform the G check during which the low-breathing resistance of the mask along with the helmet’s inflatable bladder prove to be particularly useful: we accelerate to 480 knots, make a right 90-degree turn pulling 5 G, followed by a left 90-degree turn back on course, pulling another 5 G. I’ve survived this, hence we are ready to start with the first BVR exercise.

Pulling some 5-g in a turn

Approaching the southern border of the area we turn northbound to meet the “Blue Air” that has just entered D115. We split the formation spacing the planes by several miles, with altitudes from 5,000 to 50,000 feet, proceeding head-on against the hostile aircraft while the friendly GCI controller provides details about their position, speed and altitude. The first exercise is quite fast: the ability of the two young examinees to use the powerful Captor radar is assessed in a matter of few minutes: the simulated use of three radar-guided missiles ends the first engagement and we can move on to the second one. Once again we proceed southbound as the Blue Air heads north to achieve the required spacing. Before reaching the boundary of D115 we turn back again towards the furball.

The contrails of the other two Typhoons of the “Red Air”

We climb to FL460 and accelerate past Mach 1. Thanks to the supercruise capability of the Typhoon we keep a supersonic speed without using reheat. This time the exercise includes WVR (Within Visual Range) air combat, during which the examinees can exploit the HMSS Mk2 to achieve a good kill on the Aggressors in accordance with the ROE that were established for the mission.

Rolling inverted at FL460

“Although the future scenarios demand for stealth fighters capable to engage hostile aircraft from long distances, the real operations we have taken part so far still require the interceptors to come within visual range of the enemy plane to perform a VID (Visual Identification): this means that air combat at close range remains an eventuality and, as such, we have to train to exploit the aircraft and its sensor at best in WVR engagements.”

Ok, we can prepare for the last exercise during which the Red Air elements “pop up” from lower altitude as if they were just launched from a QRA base and are engaged by the Typhoons CAPping at higher altitude.

We’ve finished dogfighting, it’s time to head home.

Here’s the front office

The Aggressors will RTB (Return To Base) first, followed by the Blue Air: not only do we have less fuel but we also need to vacate the runway in time for them to practice some emergencies. We enter the Grosseto CTR at FL360 and start our descent in close formation in IMC (Instrumental Meteorological Conditions): “although this is randomly practiced, this kind of approach is useful in case of electrical failure,” says Federico as we break the overcast weather and get in sight with the ground. We cancel the IFR (Instrumental Flight Rules) flight plan and continue in VFR (Visual Flight Rules) to the Initial Point of the visual pattern for runway 03.

RTBing Grosseto airbase

The downwind leg, base turn and subsequent landing are extremely smooth. Maintaining the nose-up attitude after the touchdown Federico shows me the efficient aerodynamic braking ability of the Euro-canard. We clear the runway and reach the apron of the 9th Gruppo after 1h 50 minutes of flight.

As I’m greeted by the ground personnel of the squadron after my first hop in a Typhoon, the 4-ship Blue Air arrives overhead. Among them, two newly qualified FCR pilots.

Aerodynamic breaking (courtesy: Iolanda Frisina)

Salva

Salva

Salva

Salva

  • Renato Dallarmi

    If I remember correctly, the German planes did not use the helmet nor they had the advanced irst ( or none at all). Not sure the brits had it during the exercise with the Indian ‘shares su-30.

  • Uniform223

    Such a cool experience. Thanks for another fun article.

  • Lawrence Mccurrach

    you are one lucky man David!!! I just wish you had described the exercises and actual combat simulations in a bit more detail! I suppose you might have been told not to divulge any details as they are classified etc, but some more info on how it actually felt etc would have been great.

    either way, fantastic post and im amazed at the level of access you get!

    • cencio4

      I wish I could explain the set up much more in detail, but unfortunately it’s almost all classified. Believe me this is the most that I was allowed to share.

      Thanks.

      • franciwzm

        Nevertheless we know from unofficial encounter between F22 and typhoon, back at Langley 2006, that captor was able to detect f22 from 40km, up to 80km…Claimed RCS is jsut for 100% frontal detection, that never happens in a real worlld scenario, expecially when is not a 1vs 1 confrontatio..Nevertheless that would translate in a real world 0,0186 rcs for F22, considering that captor is able to detect a 1 suare metre target 200km aways; BAE claims that new E-scan will be capable of detecting f35 from an hypotetical distance of 72km upward…

        • Phil Verhey

          incorrect .. but anyways, keep arm chair’ing

        • Renato Dallarmi

          Source?

          • franciwzm

            international aviation magazine 2006: main topic of debates for many many months… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AEurofighter_Typhoon%2FArchive_1 “Removed reference to BBC article
            I removed the following text from the first paragraph:

            Also in Aug 2006,the BBC indicated that,reports suggest that RAF Eurofighters have flown highly successful missions against the F-22 during recent exercises in the US,and in reference to the F-22, stealth aircraft cannot carry out tight dogfight manoeuvres at high speed.

            First of all I don’t think the first paragraph was the best place for it, secondly I doubt the statement stealth aircraft cannot carry out tight dogfight manoeuvres at high speed. I don’t think an aircraft’s stealthiness is directly linked to its manoeuverability at any speed. I contacted the BBC about this when I read it in their original article and asked them where they had got the information from. They could not provide a source for the information and eventually agreed that it should be taken out of the article”

            • Uniform223

              Horribly pedantic and not very convincing…

              Watch and learn…
              https://youtu.be/Qwh-1jRGuDc

              • franciwzm

                Since then f22 have not been allowed anymore to play dacts in bvr scenarios…So make your maths….May be is th aviation magazine tthat I linked that you find pedantic? Ahhhhh!!!!

          • franciwzm
        • Uniform223

          Cute…
          how far would the AN/APG-81 of the F-35 be able to detect a non-stealthy Typhoon? How far would the AN/APG-77 of the F-22 be able to detect a non-stealthy Typhoon? Simple answer, much much much further. So much further the Typhoon still wouldn’t be able to do much against them.
          How did you come up with your “real world” RCS of the F-22? The actual all around RCS of the F-22 is a closely guarded secret by the USAF. Also understand and know that F-22s often participate in exercises with a Lunenburg lenses

          http://www.f-16.net/forum/download/file.php?id=10657&mode=view

          Even then it would seem that current aircraft still have difficulty detecting the F-22 and/or F-35 at any meaningful ranges. The F-35 is said to have a lower RCS than the F-22. The F-35 has already proved just how stealthy it could be. F-15Es with AN/APG-82 AESA radar were unable to successfully detect and engage the F-35. F-22s constantly engage and dominate aircraft acting as aggressors before they even knew they were in a fight.

          1sq meter at 200km? Wow i would call that impressive if could believe, which I don’t. What mode was that radar operating at? Max power with its most narrow focused beam? Was it at standard output doing a broad search and scan? Was there any other interference such as weather or jamming?

          I know from reading your previous comments and posts over at F-16.net that your overly lofty claims of the Typhoon are full of male bovine excrement.

          • franciwzm

            Official max detection range of Captor vs 1 square metre target: 185-200km
            Detection range decrease by half reducing rcs 16 times…It a simple mathematic equation..Result is thta real world f22 rcs is 0,0186 ,condiering the 40km minumun detection range operated by british tuphoons..If my claims are full of bovine escrement, why you are not able to do simple mathematics? And what about BAE claims about typhoon E-caesar vs F35 ? Rememebr that british and italians operates both typhoon and F-35…May be your comments are full with male bovine excrement ?
            Lets also rememeber that any data about 2006 encounter between typhoon and f22 has been put to sleep few weeks later…But it was too late!

          • franciwzm

            About your f22 lunenburg lenses ,remember also that after few exercises F22 pilots were not allowed to play anymore with typhoons…First claim about lunemburg was almsot immediately negated by british pilots, but few weeks later they were not allowed anymore to release any sensitive information…You must be retarded not to understand that o,0186 i stilla very good value, but 0,0001 is impossible if you don’t have 100% allineation, that i s impossible in real world; more fighters involved, more real world rcs gonna increase (100% frotnal allineation is impossible) …You should swallow those bovine escrements yuo firstly spoke about…

          • franciwzm

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AEurofighter_Typhoon%2FArchive_1 “Removed reference to BBC article
            I removed the following text from the first paragraph:

            Also in Aug 2006,the BBC indicated that,reports suggest that RAF Eurofighters have flown highly successful missions against the F-22 during recent exercises in the US,and in reference to the F-22, stealth aircraft cannot carry out tight dogfight manoeuvres at high speed.

            First of all I don’t think the first paragraph was the best place for it, secondly I doubt the statement stealth aircraft cannot carry out tight dogfight manoeuvres at high speed. I don’t think an aircraft’s stealthiness is directly linked to its manoeuverability at any speed. I contacted the BBC about this when I read it in their original article and asked them where they had got the information from. They could not provide a source for the information and eventually agreed that it should be taken out of the article”

          • franciwzm

            “international AIR POWER REVIEW” – year 2006, issue 20, page 45.
            https://www.strategypage.com/militaryforums/6-59624-page3.aspx#startofcomments

            “”international AIR POWER REVIEW” – year 2006, issue 20, page 45. – ISNB: 1-880588-91-9 (casebound) or ISBN: 1473-9917. “more recently, there have been repeated reports that two RAF Typhoons deployed to the USA for OEU trails work have been flying against the F-22 at NAS China Lake, and have peformed better than was expected. There was little suprise that Typhoon, with its world-class agility and high off-boresight missile capability was able to dominate “Within Visual Range” flight, but the aircraft did cause a suprise by getting a radar lock on the F22 at a suprisingly long range. The F-22s cried off, claiming that they were “unstealthed” anyway, although the next day´s scheduled two vs. two BWR engagement was canceled, and “the USAF decided they didn´t want to play any more .”” I dare say that I am not surprised it if is true . Cheers .”

            Usaf didn’t want to play anymore…

            • Warriormind556

              The F-22’s were likely unstealthed at China Lake and the USAF guys were not lying. Because at Red Flag, the Typhoon was unable to match the Raptor at BVR, the Typhoon pilots were in awe of it’s BVR capabilities, and only didn’t have to fear the Raptor at the merge which is a small area of modern combat.

              Unlikely the CAPTOR could detect the F-35 at said distances, those are just claims never tested.

              • franciwzm

                American claimed they had external fuel tanks, british piolts denied: after that accident f22 were not allowed to play any more bvr dacts with typhoons….So make your maths

                • Warriormind556

                  No. F-22s fought against Eurofighters at Red Flag. At BVR the F-22 had the distinct advantage.

                  • franciwzm

                    Since langley 2004 F22 dacts are limited to wvr, as specified in international aviation magazine article linked before…Lol

                • Warriormind556

                  British pilots denying doesn’t mean anything….they werent’ flying the plane.

                  • franciwzm

                    May be external fuel tanks are quite visible by naked eye at gorund…Or not? Ahhh

                  • franciwzm

                    But they saw it: external fuel tanks can be spotted easily, expecially on ground…Lol

              • franciwzm

                BAE claims anyway that E-captor wiill detect f35 not less then 72km far, because it is phisically impossible that it will detect f35 less then 72km far..(that means much more in real world scenario because you never have 100% frontal allignement)…Please remember that UK operates both typhoon and F35….So make your maths…

                • Warriormind556

                  Yet the Britsh considered replacing the Typhoon with the F-35A….

                  BAE never tested the F-35 against the CAPTOR E…..

                  Most Eurofighters don’t even use CAPTOR E. Qataris do. EU is broke.

                  • franciwzm

                    Not at all: bot british and italian airforces consider typhoon mu ch more capable then f35 in air to air role: they fly both planes..Make your maths dude…Lol

          • franciwzm

            “Thats what ive been hearing…

            http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=6118&sid=1cdbd331be28b894152bc90018691c0c
            Typhoons (2 of them coded AA and AC from 17Sqn) were originally there purely for EW testing work on an indefinate detachment. However due to the fact the USAF have nothing that can give it a run for its money at any range, they have been paying the RAF for the Typhoons to provide dissimilar combat training for the F-22.

            In WVR the Typhoon is currently winning the majority of engagements as they are almost equal in manouverability terms (f-22 superior in instantaneous) however Typhoon is carrying hobs where as F-22 currently is not. Giving it a major advantage. Once (if ever) F-22 gets hobs, things should be pretty even.

            Also the F-22 is winning the vast majority (but not all) of the BVR engagements. Which is as expected. However, on atleast one occasion the Typhoon has been reported to have detected, tracked and locked an F-22 at 80km! It is believed that the F-22 was carrying external tanks at the time though. “

  • Many blessings to you on this wonderful opportunities